By Timm Otterson, DVM
an urban practitioner of veterinary medicine, I can’t help but consider the
role of pets in modern society. To better understand the present, one has to
step back and contemplate the domestication of animals by human cultures
thousands of years ago. The contributions of bovines, horses, fowl, goats,
sheep, and pigs are obvious as a source of food, labor, clothing, and more. But
consider our closer companions, the dog and cat? What were the human benefits
of domestication of these creatures and what are the benefits today in urban
were domesticated (more distinctly than cats) to serve a variety of roles in
society. They have served as protectors against predators and as herders of
sheep, and they have assisted in the hunting of game. But in this sort of role,
how much use is a Chihuahua or Maltese in Buffalo today? Granted, they can sure
make a lot of noise when facing an intruder. The benefits of these smaller companions are more subtle
than their working brethren, such as a Border Collie, but just as valuable to
society. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the health benefits of
owning a pet.
The emotional benefits for people result from having an increased
self-worth from caring for, training, and nurturing another living being. Pets
also relieve loneliness, reduce anxiety, and can be invaluable for children.
Pets also provide a connection with the wild world outside. Studies have even shown that hypertensive
people who own pets often require less medication to control their elevated
blood pressure. When you add in
that walking your dog every day forces you to get some much needed exercise and
introduces you to neighbors you would never meet otherwise, I often wonder when
we will be able to deduct pet care expenses from our taxes as a health care
role of animals has always been evolving in society. Take cats for example.
Following their domestication by the Egyptians for the purpose of protecting
grain from rodents, they achieved a god-like status. Killing a cat in ancient
Egypt was punishable by death. The Siamese breed was so revered in Thailand
that only royalty were allowed to own them, and they were prized as gifts. But
for most of their coexistence with humans, felines have just been tolerated as
mousers. Ironically, they were persecuted during the Middle Ages in Europe when
their mousing skills could have been put to use reducing the rodent population
that propagated the Bubonic Plague that killed millions.
In modern America, cats
hold a complicated position. Millions live on the margins of society as ferals
feeding out of dumpsters and having almost no interactions with people (visit www.AlleyCatAllies.org to learn more about
ferals), while their pampered housecat brothers have become the most popular
pet in America living a lifestyle most people in the world would envy. My
veterinary colleagues from a century ago would likely not believe that most
veterinarians in America today only work with companion animals and that some
of us work at practices that treat only cats.
brings us to organizations like the Pet Emergency Fund, which I am pleased to
serve as a member of the board of directors. Almost a decade ago, the
veterinarians of Erie and Niagara Counties created the PEF to assist pet owners
in financial need afford medical care in emergency situations. In the last
decade, we have given out over $250,000 in care through local hospitals and
helped over 2000 pets.
To celebrate our ten year anniversary, we have
undertaken a project that would have sounded ridiculous just decades ago, but
to modern people sounds like a lot of fun. We have partnered with local artist
Brian Nesline of Faces of Buffalo (www.FacesofBuffalo.com) to create a unique community mosaic using
pet portraits drawn by owners. We will be collecting the portraits through the
summer at local veterinary hospitals. If you want to immortalize your pet in a
lovely mosaic that will be sold as a fundraiser for a pet charity, portrait
forms can be found at local veterinary hospitals and online at www.PetEmergencyFund.org or at www.FacesofBuffalo.com/pets.htm.