Our Dogs: More Than Just Companions…

More Dogs Than Children in the USA

“There are more dogs than children in the US,” said Ben Jacobs, the 26-year-old founder and chief executive of Whistle, a San Francisco start-up. His company markets a just below $100 device that attaches to the dog’s collar. It tracks the dog’s every move and sends the information to the owner’s smartphone.

So what does it mean that there are more dogs than children in our lives? More than ever, we turn to our pets as loved ones – for companionship and emotional support. The “working” dog and the “sporting” dog were always more to us than utilitarian tools. But those of us who don’t hunt or require a “catch” farm dog, look to our pets as nurturers. However, laws in our country don’t recognize the changed nature of our relationship with pets.

As Kelly Oliver, PhD, noted, the law recognizes animals as either pets or something that has entered our lives “as a result of trauma, disease, or disability” (Bark, Sept/Oct 2012). If dogs are considered pets, then they are property. However, in order to be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, dogs can’t be pets. They must be “assistance aids, such as wheelchairs.” They must be specifically trained to perform tasks – like turning on lights. Just having a calming or therapeutic effect is not enough.

As Dr. Oliver states: Doctors prescribe dogs instead of pills for everything from post-traumatic stress to depression. The military is using dogs in war zones not only as bomb-snifters, but also to comfort battle-weary soldiers, and veterans returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder also have dogs prescribed to help them. (This is an about-face for the military, which, until 2000, had a policy of treating “war dogs” as equipment to be disposed of after they were no longer useful.)

Moreover, colleges now allow dogs in dorms for emotional support, and “Yale Law School has instituted a program whereby students can “check out” a dog from the library to help alleviate stress.”

So, why, as we are changing our attitudes, do others treat psychological and emotional dependence “as a sign of childishness at best and craziness at worst?” Dr. Oliver suggests that it is time for our cultural and legal attitudes to change.

Kathleen Parker, a syndicated Washington Post columnist, poignantly and wittily made the case for allowing pets as well as service dogs on Amtrak trains (WP, June 5, 2013). Airlines allow dogs for a fee, and if small enough, pets can be tucked under a seat. She adopted her blind, “genetically challenged,” seven-year-old, 6.5 pound poodle four years ago from a kill shelter. As she says, “I am his seeing-eye human.”

There are at least four bipartisan members of Congress who are offering “an opportunity for humans to be the kind of people our dogs think we are.” These members have sponsored the Pets on Trains Act of 2013 to allow people to travel with their domestic pets. Amtrak would have to devote at least one car for passengers with kenneled pets traveling fewer than 750 miles.

You may wish to get in touch with your representative about supporting the bill. Until it is passed, or if you don’t travel by train, consider that Olde Towne Pet Resort can provide special services to make your disabled pet feel at home when boarding with us.

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