How Do We Appreciate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

In the month marked for expressing gratitude, I’m going with the spirit of Thanksgiving, minimizing my usual peevishness. After all, we are blessed to share our lives with our animal companions and all they share with us.

So, I offer a humble litany of thanks for…

…Dogs who teach us joy in all that is encountered. From our wagging friends, we learn the need for jaunts outdoors and that water is the best drink of all. Dogs, great and small, model what it is to be family and a good friend: loyal, loving, quick to forgive, and thrilled to see a beloved every time they walk through the door.

…Our feline friends who instruct us in the art of stretching, often overlooked despite our stressful lives. More introverted than dogs, cats teach us to set aside a space and the time for solitary quiet reflection. With a purr, they teach the value of expressing thanks for simple pleasures in life. And don’t forget the lessons gleaned from a quick cat nap to revitalize for the rest of the day.

…Birds who bring a splash of color to our lives. Ever curious with a keen intelligence, they teach us the ongoing value of taking a perpetual interest in the world around. They also teach us to eat vegetables and fruit.

…Fish who convey tranquility, mesmerizing us with the beauty found in their aquatic realm. While birds of a feather flock together, fish teach us acceptance of diversity found in their microcosmic communities reflective of their natural homes.

…Horses who teach us the value of working together, creating a ballet achieved moving as one. They show us the freedom to be found in a wild frolic and the wisdom of warming down. Horses teach the value of trust earned, for these large-eyed creatures are less quick to friendship than dogs. You know you’ve done well to have the love of a horse.

…Long-toothed rabbits, mice, and rats (and fellow rodentia) who teach the need for community. They know the warmth of the family nest, and contentment of snuggling together and preening one another. They make the most of small places and know the value of frugality.

…Snakes, lizards, and turtles who teach patience, keeping an eye on long-term goals. Reptiles teach the value of finding a sunny spot to bask in warmth. They teach acceptance of a slow pace and meditating on all that is observed.

This list of animals is incomplete, let alone the listing of their many virtues or the benefits we glean by proximity. This summary only begins to illustrate why we should give thanks for their tolerance and acceptance of us.

In return, they ask for gentle handling, water, food, and a home appropriate to their n needs. They give much with expectation of little. Shame on the humans who can’t provide in kind (couldn’t help myself with one little finger wag), and a big thank you to those who appreciate the blessings and lessons bestowed on us by the finned, feathered, scaled, and furred.

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First published in Pets in the City Magazine, November 2013

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Pets for Your Health: Peace and Calm

 

Pets are good for your well-being. For example, multiple studies have shown that pets reduce stress and depression.

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When we are stressed, our bodies produce more harmful hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine. These lower our immunity, making us more susceptible to illness and disease. By reducing stress and depression, pets thus bolster our immune systems, keeping us healthier.

Stress also raises our blood pressure. Again, studies show that pets lower blood pressure readings. In one study, people in stressful situations who also had pets had better blood pressure readings than people without pets.

Interactions with our pets also increase “good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine that have calming effects and are associated with happiness.

Remember the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor a way”? While no one would argue the benefits of fiber, the doctor should add pets to the prescription.

Animals In Art: From Classics to Your Own Creations

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Paleolithic art in Lascaux, France

Since the Stone Age, animals have inspired artists the world over. Their likeness has been engraved upon pottery, weaved into tapestries, molded and shaped in clay and rock, and painted on walls and canvas, bringing beauty and grace into our living space.

Artists depict these muses in all aspects of our lives, both religious and secular. Sometimes, their portrayal is realistic, other times fantastical, expressions of the imagination. Yet, while the purpose and definition of art perpetually changes over time, art – at its core – is a reflection of our relationship with our environment. “All art is but imitation of nature,” to quote the Roman statesman, Lucius Annaeus Seneca. That seems particularly true when conveying the importance of animals in our lives.

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Egyptian depiction of cat catching birds, circa 1350 B.C.

What drives artists in their creative pursuits, employing animals as their models? For those of us in awe of those who can wield a brush or mold clay to their whims, it’s interesting to hear artists share their perspective on subject and media choices.

Terence K. Stephens , a well-established artist and owner of the recently opened Art 270 Gallery and Art Space in Salt Lake City, believes animals ground people. “I love any aspect of animals, and I want people to love animals as much as I do. Plus, they’re easy to live with when on the wall or sitting on the coffee table.”

His work includes painting, sculpture, and mixed media (such as “Big Boy” featured on the cover). The owner of a rescued Pit mix, dogs are his biggest focus when working with animals, but he’s also committed to “anything that’s endangered.”

Of course, on the flip side of creation, the other end goal of artists is to sell their work (or, we’d never see it!). Fortunately for them, many of us are ready to oblige.

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Frederick Morgan, Feeding the Rabbits, circa 1904

From fine art to folk art, the styles and subject matter are endless, accommodating all tastes. There is no right or wrong. While many of us may be unable to articulate why a piece appeals, we know what we like when we see it.

Where to start?  If you want art on your walls, the ever-popular classics (and modern pieces) are readily available as inexpensive posters. You can recreate the Louvre in your living room.

Original pieces too can be found for reasonable prices. Artists display their wares at art festivals, farmers markets, restaurants, stores, and online, looking for venues to showcase their art to those who might hesitate to walk into an art gallery.

Want to commission art work, like a painting of your pet? Etsy.com is the go-to site for buying custom pet portraits, generally starting around $75 and up, depending on the size of the painting and number of animals.

Local Utah artist, Allison Nash Hutto, creates such commissioned pieces, painting from submitted photos. “People love their pets as if they are their children, and I love knowing how much the painting means to them,” Hutto says. “I like to portray a bright and lively feel in my pet portraits, and have found that animals give me a chance to be relaxed and use colors more freely.”

So far, Hutto’s requests have been for cats and dogs, but she “would love to paint less common pets like … a lizard. I am up for anything that you name and feed!”

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Monkey Painter, 1833

Of course, art isn’t strictly the realm of those who called themselves artists.  You can paint your own too.  I have, and – on my own – I barely manage recognizable stick figures. Yet, under the guidance of professionals at Painting with a Twist in Murray, I painted four treasured portraits of my cat and dogs. I won’t be selling art anytime soon, but my own created art of my furry beloveds is priceless.

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Author’s portrait of her Beagle, Buzz, with assistance from Painting With A Twist

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picm_aug2015First published in Pets in the City Magazine, August 2015

When Dogs Fly

 

dsc07145Picture this. A dog eagerly jumps up into a truck bed, excited to go on an outing.  As the truck cruises down the road, the dog is the quintessential image of canine joy: ears flapping in the wind and tongue lolling to the side…

…Until the truck slams on its breaks to avoid a collision, swerves to miss an obstacle in the road, slams into another vehicle, or the dog simply leaps from the truck, lured by a distraction. Thrown from the truck, she dies from impact or from being struck by traffic.

What if she was tethered? The collar became a noose. If the lead was long enough for the dog to reach the ground, she was then dragged on the road or run over by her owner.

Only Takes Once

Many years may have gone by without mishap. However, it only takes once for the idyllic scene to be shattered, with the consequences far outweighing the thrill of the ride.

A Lucky Dog

According to the American Humane Association, 100,000 dogs are killed each year in accidents as a result of riding in truck beds.

That 100,000 doesn’t include injuries. If the dog is “lucky” enough to survive, possible injuries include broken bones and spines; joint injuries requiring amputations; head, abdominal, and thoracic trauma; road rash so severe that skin is stripped away; internal injuries to organs; and, serious cuts and bruising.

A Deadly Chain Reaction

Then it’s a matter of whether the owner has deep enough pockets to cover the ensuing surgeries and medical treatment, with the price tag for veterinary care running into thousands of dollars, depending on the severity and length of treatment. Even then, the dog may not recover to full health.

The issue extends beyond the dog’s welfare too. A dog flying from a truck or running loose on the road is a public safety concern. If the dog lands on another driver’s windshield, the passengers in that vehicle might be killed or maimed. Cars swerving or striking the dog can cause a chain reaction, resulting in death, injury and property damage to others – all because “the dog liked going for rides” or “there wasn’t room in the cab.”

Some states ban the travel of unsecured dogs in truck beds. Not Utah[1], of course. For example, in Washington, the law states “It shall be unlawful for any person to transport any living animal on the running board, fenders, hood, or other outside part of any vehicle unless suitable harness, cage or enclosure be provided and so attached as to protect such animal from falling or being thrown therefrom.”

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Have You Driven a Ford Lately?

The Ford Motor Company is weighing in on the issue, encouraging drivers of its trucks to keep all passengers safe. The recommendations include:

  • Have animals ride inside the cab, preferably in the back seat (if available) where the odds of being injured or a distraction are less
  • When possible, crate the dog or use a dog harness and seatbelt to secure her
  • Never leave a dog unattended in a vehicle

Doug Scott, truck marketing manager with Ford, says, “We’re not asking people to go to onerous lengths while driving with pets.”

If the dog MUST be in the back, no harness is considered adequately safe. Crates are an option in warm weather, if securely tied down.

Painting a Prettier Picture

Of course, riding upfront is still a joyous event for a dog.

Picture this instead: A dog eagerly jumps into a truck cab, happy to be close to her loved one and on another adventure, heading for a destination where she will safely arrive.

Picture perfect, if you ask me.

 [1] Utah is one of the few states that fails to restrict humans from riding in truck beds too. However, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety: “It’s much better if people ride inside the cab of the truck and use safety belts.”

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picm_march2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, March 2014