The not so secret lives of pets





copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.



Just how “secret” is the life of the pets that live with you? The imaginary lives we give our pets can make for great blockbuster entertainment in films like “The Secret Lives of Pets” but what about the real story? A New York Times reporter took a look at what goes on behind the scenes for a few real life city pets. Remote cameras allow live time monitoring of dogs raiding the refrigerator, sleeping, waiting by their food bowl when meal time approaches, shredding a roll of paper towels, mounting a pillow, sitting alone in a doggy day care and yes, eating their own poop and more.





Knowing what our pets are up to when we are not with them let’s us know what they are missing if we pay close enough attention. Mostly it is us that they are missing. The NYT quotes dog behavior expert, Alexandra Horowitz on dogs being home alone: “This is not when they come into themselves. It is when they’re waiting for the person to return so they can resume normal programming.” But there is comfortably waiting around even if we may not believe it. Dr. Horowitz told the newspaper that she got a second dog to keep her first company when she was not around: “Our two dogs spent a truly impressive amount of time asleep rump-to-rump on the sofa.” Now we know that dogs do want to do things and they do want to do them with us. We also know that there’s also a lot of down time just being a dog. Dogs sleep 12-14 hours per day- if 8 of those hours are with you at night-there’s a good bit of napping to get in during the day. Seeing that sort of social connection of two dogs sleeping together is one of contentment or comfortably waiting while getting in nap time.


And there’s being driven to distraction by boredom- a puppy, shredding a roll of paper towels is most probably doing this because that roll of paper towels is what is available to play with and offer that intrinsic shredding satisfaction. There is being able to do what they would like to do when you’re home but can’t-raiding the refrigerator is a definite “no, no” when humans are around, as is mounting or getting to ricochets off the furniture. There’s what they’re not getting-the dog that poops on the floor and eats it-needs a dog walker (one that comes on time), and the one sitting alone in a sea of dogs at day care probably needs to be home instead.


Most pet owners live with animals because they love animals and treasure the human animal bond. They want to provide their pets the best welfare possible whether with them or not. But are pet owners looking at welfare from the pet perspective? Or do they even know what exactly “welfare” means?


Animal welfare is how the animal perceives their world from their own perspective. It is now widely accepted that basic animal welfare includes freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from injury and disease, freedom to express normal behaviors and freedom from fear and distress. Some examples of how we can provide some aspects of these “five freedoms” are seen when we offer our pets the right diet and access to fresh water, a clean litter box or a good dog walker for a mid day walk, comfortable resting spaces including cat and dog beds with at least three raised sides along with soft throws and spots to rest on our own furniture. And that pet perspective means different needs for different species-those comfortable resting spaces for cats in addition to beds, are elevated surfaces and places to hide because that is part of normal cat behavior. Allowing for natural behaviors for dogs is getting to chew on not just bones and toys but a meal fed in a Kong instead of gulped out of a bowl and for cats feeding with food puzzles satisfies hunting and foraging behaviors over an extended period of time. And both provisions prevent boredom and allow for a richer life for the animal to have when they are home alone. Fear and distress is alleviated by avoiding and preventing the situations that cause those like keeping feeding times regular, along with adding in the enrichments shown to alleviate stress such as classical music which can also be listened to without an owner present.


Seeing the secret life of our pets without us can better inform us what they need if we look and listen and provide it both when we are home and when we are not.


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