Character building

By: David Haugh

Recent months have seen a number of new animal welfare regulations introduced and more are coming in future months. Traditionally, regulations have covered adequate food, water, shelter and appropriate handling, but there is a movement toward incorporating animals’ mental needs as well as their physical needs. Far eastern religions have long recognised non-human living creatures as sentient beings – having feelings. Now in the west, we are gradually writing into law the recognition that “animals are conscious beings with rich experiences of the world and suffer from pain, feel emotions and build strong relationships. Animals under our care should be protected from injury and disease and get rapid attention when something does happen, and they should have the ability to express normal patterns of behaviour for their species.”

When I had a dog and took her out walking, she would always be stopping and sniffing at a myriad of different things. It didn’t do a lot for me, but I told myself here was a creature with a sense of smell infinitely more sensitive than mine and this was her special time. I guess the countless hours she spent at my feet while I watched TV didn’t do a lot for her.

As pet owners and stockmen, we know our animals best and we are in the best position to speak up when something is not right. We can do that best when we are really observant of what is normal: weight, shape, posture, gait, eating, drinking, toileting, playing and reacting to people they know and don’t know. What do you notice when you walk a mile in their moccasins? Happily, most of us measure up and mostly because we want to, not because we have to. Sometimes when we fail in our duty of care it is because of our illness or injury, but sometimes not.

In the aftermath of the mosque killings on March 15, I have been very heartened by the demonstrations of unity and calls for tolerance and understanding of our differences. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, from the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  My dream for our country is that everyone is not judged by the colour of their skin, their sex, spiritual beliefs or lack of, where they were born, what their IQ or wealth is, how good looking or charismatic they are or (in a world of endless paperwork) how good they are at getting the boxes ticked … but by the content of their character. What builds good character? You know, lots of things: kindness, honesty, being a good listener, having a sense of fair play, loving your family, working hard and …here it is: taking good care of your animals.

David Haugh, Wellsford Vet Clinic


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