The 2015 Better with Pets Summit was jam-packed with mind-opening information about pets and emotional wellness. Here are some our favorite highlights.
In his amazing story about the power of dogs in Huslia, Alaska, Senior Purina Researcher Arleigh Reynolds, Ph.D., D.V.M. explained how training with dogs connected the native Athabaskan community to their roots and created a renewed sense of optimism. As Reynolds put it, “Dogs hold together the web of traditional culture in our modern world.” Learn about this powerful story and help support his cause here.
There are countless theories for why cats rule the Internet, but at the Summit’s panel discussion on millennials and cats, cat behaviorist Mikel Maria Delgado, Ph.D. Candidate, CCBC, posed a new theory: we share what our cats are doing because we’re trying to better understand them. As she put it, “One of the reasons cats are so popular on the Internet is because people are trying to fill in the blank of what’s going on in their minds.”
It’s easy to think of pets as goofballs, fetch-lovers or all-day snugglers, but the potential of pets is almost endless. As Purina C.M.O. Nina Leigh Krueger put it, “Pets don’t just make our lives better as individuals. They make our families, our neighborhoods and our communities better in so many ways.” This was fully evidenced throughout the day, from the agility dogs showing amazing energy and discipline at the event to the stories about the eye-opening power of therapy pets.
In a panel about raising pets and kids, Instagram-famous photographer and wonder-mom Stasha Becker shared her own family’s story. Noting that her husband is in the Navy, she explained, “We move a lot… and the only constant my son has is his dogs. We change our house; we change continents; [my son] Julian changes his school, but he always comes home to me and his dogs.” As for herself, she says her dogs return her love in spades. “My dogs are the ones who give me emotional support.” Learn more about her family’s incredible story.
Did you know humanity’s relationship with cats has vastly differed throughout history? As Western Carolina University professor Hal Herzog said, “Thousands of years ago, cats were deified. Cats fell on hard times in the Middle Ages when they were associated with Satanism and witchcraft. In Europe, they wanted to exterminate the whole species. This changed in the Renaissance, and now 31% of millennials have a cat.” Let’s just say if an alien species landed on earth today, they might think cats were kings.
Deciphering what might be stressing out our dogs can be a lifelong mystery. But as Purina senior scientist Ragen T.S. McGowan, Ph.D., put it, “The biggest hidden stressor for our dogs is ourselves. They’re so good at reading you that they’ll pick up on your anxiety.” If you’re wondering if you can do something to help your dog, start by examining your own stress levels. If you seem ill at ease, your dog probably will too.
One surprising way that having a pet helps children? It gives them a chance to model and share kind behavior. As Stasha Becker said, “Everything my son has learned about handling the dog, he learned from my husband and me. I’ve noticed he’s started to teach his friends how to treat his pets. He’s projecting this kind behavior onto society, and hopefully it can become a global thing.” Just one more way pets make the world go ’round!
As Charley Bednarsh, M.P.A., director of children’s services at the Brooklyn Family Justice Center, explained, “talking about the journey of rescue pets to children in homeless shelters levels the playing field so they can let their feelings out and voice who they are.” The parallels our lives share with pets can be amazing tools for sharing empathy.
Anyone who’s had a dog break into a bag of treats might think they love binging on food without having to earn it by doing tricks and being obedient. But that’s not always the case! For dogs, food tastes better when they’ve earned it. As McGowan put it, “Earning their food, or ‘contrafreeloading,’ is more fun for dogs. Take salmon and apples frozen in ice versus a pile of salmon and apples on the floor. Will they choose the one that’s easy to eat or the one they have to work for? We found dogs chose the ice.” Her advice? “Don’t forget to exercise your pet’s mind,” by providing new ways for them to earn their food.
Finding creative ways to work with dogs is common now, but what about cats? They may be missing out. As Herzog put it, “The most important stimulation for a pet is a food puzzle. You can’t go to the zoo without seeing that the animals all have food puzzles. We need to help cat owners understand what food puzzles are.” So start spreading the word that cat puzzle feeders are what’s up.
You don’t often hear about people taking their cats and dogs to therapists, but that doesn’t mean pets’ emotions aren’t a huge topic. According to “America’s veterinarian,” Marty Becker, D.V.M., this subject is starting to take off in a big new way. (It also happened to be our Summit theme!) Becker works hard to help remove stress from common pet environments, like shelters and veterinarian’s offices. Removing elements that can lead to chronic stress for a cat or dog can make a huge difference on their wellbeing. One surprising fact: not all stress is bad stress for pets. As Becker shared, “The [stress of] learning a new trick can be beneficial. Only when [stress] is chronic does it lead to problems.”
Thanks to Marty and the countless other brilliant minds at the 2015 Summit, there were endless new things to learn. We hope that we shared some of the best with you here! Make sure to check out our online experience to learn more about your pet’s wellbeing.
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