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Why I write about cats and dogs-part two

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This is the second part of an excerpt from the new book: Cats and Dogs; Living with and Looking at Companion Animals from their Point of View

This book works through some of the most common behavior topics for cats and dogs. You cannot work through behavior topics for cats and dogs without talking about humane handling. I write much about what humane handling looks like and how to get there. Often, when I am told about a dog or a cat’s behavior the narrative describes the animal acting alone: “My dog pulls” or “barks” or “growls.” “My cat scratches” or “hisses” or “is always meowing.” The dog is pulling against something or somebody and barking about something or somebody and growling towards something or somebody. And the cat is scratching or hissing at something or somebody and meowing for somebody to hear the cry.

When examined, it turns out that most of the time this “problem” behavior is a response to what is occurring in the environment at that moment. Usually what is happening stems from our interactions with our cats and dogs. The spaces we create for them, what we permit them or prevent from doing, how we handle them or don’t. Learning humane handling and how to best pet a cat or walk a dog is learning how to best use our own bodies around these animals including posture, modulated voices, averted eyes and soft hands. As simple as that sounds many of us have never ever learned what it means or what it looks like or feels like when done properly or improperly. We spend much time teaching our children to avoid dogs that are sleeping or tied or eating or not our own. We teach them to ask before petting a stranger’s dog. And then we stop. We fall short on teaching how and where to best pet our dogs and cats.1 And if we have not learned this as children or have been doing it wrong all along, how can we know?

As much as we know about animals, as many theories exist on behavior, resources are scarce for acquiring applied skills in humane handling. There is much written about training animals to do what we would like them to do with varying methods of how we should accomplish this and not enough out there on humane handling practices. Humane handling is based on considering the animal and proceeding from that species specific point of view as to what determines welfare with regards to natural history, behavior, contact, affiliations, environment and resources.

When I began teaching a vocational course for aspiring pet care technicians I searched extensively for material on humane handling practices to use in my classroom. This is why I know how scarce the resources are and what age the target audience is. I was happy to use material aimed at children as long as it was sound and even happier when I could show highly esteemed experts like Ian Dunbar lecture that those same approaches to strange dogs applied to adults as well as children (“How to approach a strange dog? Never!”). More work was out there about dogs, which was both good and bad as inhumane handling practices were just as likely, if not more, to be found as humane ones. Cats were pretty much ignored as far as handling was concerned; much was written about their needs but little about how to go about physically interacting with them. And so I could show my students (and others) what these very things should look like, I began to make videos of how to pet a cat and a dog, how to pick up a cat, how to walk a dog and more and I wrote about it. I needed to utilize practical methods to teach humane handling from a species specific point of view and if the methods were my own I would be guaranteed that they would be humane and they would now exist as a resource.

I also write on some of the practicalities of living with pets; from creating feline and canine friendly spaces, winter proofing your dog to how to prevent heat stroke to deciding on your child’s first pet, choosing a vet or a pet sitter and other things that go into the day to day of living with cats and dogs.

If you are reading this, you, like me are no doubt an “animal lover”. Good for us, good for us to take the time to consider the animals and to love what we see. I believe that one of the things that make animal lovers who we are is that from that measure we have made the rightful room for these animals not just in our homes and in our world but in our hearts. With that room; comes the space to allow, at least part of the way, the possibility and potential that each animal’s experience be what they might choose for themselves had they the freedom to do so. By knowing more about how to interact with the animals in our lives in ways that are truer and closer to who they are we can come closer to that choice.

1 For both cats and dogs, move slowly, approach from the side without direct eye contact, and speak softly announcing your presence and intentions. For dogs: offer a hand outstretched at nose level-do not reach over the head and allow the dog to sniff first inviting contact. Softly stroke the fur once or twice behind the back of the neck. For cats: offer an outstretched finger at nose level, avoiding reaching over the cat’s head and watch for forward movement or interest, confine contact to stroking once or twice along the side of the muzzle and behind the ears avoiding the body.

-Excerpted from Cats and Dogs: Living with and Looking at Companion Animals From their Point of View by Frania Shelley-Grielen available at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and animalsbehaving.com

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