Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
The Benefits Of Having A Family Pet
Companionship, stress-relief, exercise — pets bring so much to our lives
By Matthew St. Amand
We all remember our first pet.
It was the spring of 1977, and I was six years old. My parents left my brother and I with our grandfather for the afternoon.
When they returned a few hours later, mom and dad had a mixed terrier puppy with them, from the local Humane Society.
My brother and I gave the dog the improbable name of “Tara Sal”. She had a Zorro mask of black fur on her white face, a black coat, and white at the tip of her tail. She was a great dog, a treasured member of the family who cut her teeth chewing our shoes and the leg off my Steve Austin action figure.
She learned, firsthand, why it’s a bad idea to chase skunks. Twice. The white accents of her fur were pink from us bathing her in tomato juice. She was so meek and mild, she didn’t bark during her first few months with us. When she finally did, my brother and I ran up from the basement rec. room shouting: “Mom! The dog barked!”
Tara Sal lived to be 17 years old. I was 23 when she passed away.
In a perpetually changing world, the few things that remain constant are the loyalty of dogs, the sly aloofness of cats, the beauty of birds, and the incomparable companionship that animals provide us.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, pet adoptions have increased dramatically. In times of crisis, it seems, people get back to basics. It’s as though we just innately know the mental health benefits of having pets in our lives.
“Frogs And Snails And Puppy Dog Tails, That’s What Little Boys Are Made Of”
Christopher (last name withheld) shares his experience with Dexter, his family’s seven year old Black Labrador: “Dexter is a regular member of our family. His hugs have the ability to make most things seem infinitely more do-able, even when times are tough. Throughout the pandemic, he’s been a source of comfort, laughs, love, even exercise — taking him for walks.”
Along with his husband Ben, their son, Izaiah, needed some time to warm up to the dog.
“For Izaiah, the relationship with Dexter was slow to build,” says Christopher. “He had to learn to trust this big dog that has a habit of bursting into any room he enters. But, Dexter’s tail is wagging and he’s rushing to stand outside the bedroom door at the first signs of life from our son’s room each morning.”
He goes on to comment that Dexter was a good training coach for what it meant to become a parent: he needs to be kept safe, fed, loved, taught, and entertained.
“The beauty of pets is the ability they have to absolutely fill up your heart,” Christopher expresses. “The danger to that, as with any love, is the hole it can leave when good-byes come into play.”
Pets Are Part Of The Family
Alina Sherman, Owner and Operator of The Hungry Pooch, Raw Pet Food Shop, believes pets do much to enrich people’s lives. With two Portuguese Water Dogs at home — seven year old Jellybean and five year old Augusta — she has firsthand experience.
“They make us happy,” Sherman says. “They keep us in the moment.”
She opened The Hungry Pooch in 2016 to provide a healthy food alternative for pets. The idea came when Sherman — originally from Windsor — and her husband, Attila moved to Windsor from Ottawa.
“We couldn’t find any place to get raw food for our dogs,” she explains. “Feeding our pets raw food is about getting them back to their original, primal diets.”
Since 2016, The Hungry Pooch is the largest raw pet food retailer in the region, with locations in Windsor at 2451A Dougall Avenue; 110-486 Advance Blvd. in the Lakeshore Oasis Plaza in Tecumseh, and in Chatham-Kent and London.
“Most people make a concerted effort to serve the healthiest food to their families,” Sherman continues, “but they forget that their pets are family members, as well. Too often, people buy a bag of dry pet food without a second thought.”
Approximately 90 percent of dry pet food comes from processing plants in Asia.
“The foods are raw, made from fresh meat,” describes Sherman. “They’re conveniently frozen. You just thaw it out and scoop it into a bowl. If someone is new to raw feeding, we advise them. A study in England found that dogs on this diet live, on average, three years longer.”
The company carries a large selection of raw foods, in many sizes and packages. And all of the foods are made by various highly professional brands from all over North America.
Access to pet supplies is considered an essential service, so The Hungry Pooch has been open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic doing curbside pickup, as well as home delivery — a service it has always offered.
They are proud to be a store dedicated to helping people get their pets to better health. They are dedicated to only natural holistic pet foods and supplements and all their staff undergo pet nutrition courses to give customers the best natural advice possible. Free samples and consultations can be done in-store or by phone. Their products can be found on their website: TheHungryPooch.com.
For families thinking of bringing their first pet into the home, Sherman has some advice: “It’s important people consider their household. The space they live in, who is in the home — toddlers, teenagers, elderly? — and what outdoor space is there.”
She continues: “Rather than seeing what you like at a park or down the street, go online and see what type of pet fits your lifestyle. Local rescue groups do fostering. Maybe take an animal in for a few weeks. Or, babysit a friend’s pet.”
And the benefits of having a pet?
“There are so many,” Sherman believes. “They bring so much joy. They help us live in the present moment. Just sitting with the pet, going for a walk, playing fetch, puts you in the moment. Having pets is also a great way for kids learn about responsibility.”
Sherman goes on to recommend that working with a trainer early in the pet’s life can help steer things in a positive direction. It’s worth noting: it’s never too late to bring in a trainer, especially if there is a behavioural issue.
“When we brought Augusta home,” she states, “I had a trainer come and observe her interaction with Jellybean, and give an opinion. Because — having a pet is one of the most rewarding things you can do. They are a part of our family.”
Love To The Rescue
Second Chance Animal Rescue Windsor-Essex (SCAR) is a non-profit organization established in June of 2015 to rescue and re-home dogs and cats of all ages and sizes.
According to the website: “Our ultimate focus is to help dogs and cats get off the streets and out of shelters . . . We ensure that all of our adoptable pets have necessary veterinarian care by some of the best local veterinary clinics.”
SCAR, as an organization, does not have a physical home. The animals it rescues live in the homes of volunteers until “forever homes” can be found.
At the present time, the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought about an unprecedented situation . . . “Because so many people are staying home,” says Danielle Reaume, Volunteer Coordinator of SCAR, “dogs and cats are in high demand.”
The reasons are not difficult to fathom.
“People want someone to hang out with,” she continues. “So, we’ve been asking people to be patient. All rescues are in the same boat — as they bring animals in, they’re being adopted out to waiting families.”
With a three year old Pug/Yorkie mix named Pixie at home, Reaume knows firsthand the benefits of living with a pet.
“Pixie was found wandering the streets in Texas when she was only three months old,” Reaume reveals. “She was barely weaned from her mom. Unfortunately, that is common.”
As for the benefits of having a pet, Reaume almost doesn’t know where to begin enumerating them: “You’re getting and giving love. You have instant companionship, constant companionship. Animals bring activity to your life. Dogs make you go for a walk. And cats — they’re always up to something. It’s rewarding to save a life.”
Bringing a pet into the home is not a decision one should just leap into on the spur of the moment.
Under COVID-19 restrictions and “stay at home” orders, having a pet can be a great relief from boredom and loneliness. It can be a much needed change in routine. That said, in fairness to the animal, people should consider their post COVID-19 lives.
“Will you still have room in your life for this animal after you go back to work, or otherwise return to ‘normal life’?” Reaume asks. “Today’s life is not tomorrow’s. People should try and think long-term, thinking ‘Is this the right animal for what my normal life would be?’”
Moreover, people interested in bringing a pet into their homes should consider an animal’s size and energy level.
“For instance, Pixie isn’t a hiking dog,” Reaume notes. “If I had a super active lifestyle, she couldn’t keep up.”
For people interested in bringing a pet into their home, Reaume suggests: “Go on the SCAR website: SCARescue.org and fill out an application. It’s in-depth. It asks many questions to help determine a person’s experience with animals and everyday home life. From there, the rescue can recommend an animal. They know their personalities.”
During the pandemic, animal rescues are considered an essential service, and have operated through all variations of lockdown.
“We’ve been engaging people online,” Reaume says, “helping them learn more about potential pets for their home. Once they go through our process, we set up a social distance meet-and-greet outside their home.”
Be The Difference In An Animal’s Life: Adopt
The Humane Society was founded nearly 100 years ago, in 1926 with a mandate to promote responsible pet ownership and compassion for all living things. It puts this into practice with its “Good Home Guarantee,” stated on their website: “The guarantee is our promise that we will find (every adoptable animal) a home, and that no adoptable pet will be put down. No animal is ever euthanized for space reasons, or because they have been here ‘too long’.”
Melanie Coulter, Executive Director of the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society, 1375 Provincial Road, has spent her life around animals.
“This is an interesting time for people who want to have pets,” Coulter says. “Demand is overwhelming. There are fewer pets coming into shelters and they are being adopted very quickly. I would ask people who are seeking a pet right now to please be patient.”
Coulter has three dogs and three cats of her own at home, and has good advice for families considering bringing their first pet into their home.
“There are no hard and fast rules,” she continues, “but, if I were to make a recommendation, birds and hamsters are not great first pets, particularly for children. Birds are not as cuddly or as easy to handle as kids would like, and hamsters can be nippy because they are nocturnal.”
A good first pet, however, would be a pair of guinea pigs. They are less nippy than hamsters and, according to Coulter, cuddlier than rabbits.
“Guinea pigs are not nocturnal and very interactive,” she says. “They are good with handling, especially if you give them lots of handling. They also live longer than hamsters, and are less long-term work than a dog or cat.”
Advice from experts is — do your research before you bring a pet into your home.
“If a family is seeking a dog, for instance, look into the breeder,” Coulter says. “What are the conditions where they raise the dogs? The breeder should be willing — even offer — to show you the parents of the dog you might adopt. Be careful, though.”
Not all breeders are created equal. Red flags that may indicate a less-than-ethical breeder is someone who has multiple breeds of animals. Or, if the breeder is unwilling or unable to show the parents of the dog you’re looking to adopt, or the conditions in which it lives. Holding a puppy up to a webcam during a Zoom call is not enough.
“A good breeder should have no problem showing you the conditions the animal is living in,” Coulter says.
When people adopt from the Humane Society, they receive the animal’s history, know that the animal has undergone a vet check, has been de-wormed, and received all age-appropriate vaccinations.
In Coulter’s opinion, there are numerous advantages to having a pet.
“You can talk to them,” Coulter says. “They’re there for you, not judging you. They’re great company, especially for people who live alone. The purring of cats has been shown to reduce stress levels.”
For more information about the Humane Society such as how to adopt a pet, refer to: WindsorHumane.org.
Furry Friends Teach Children To Be Responsible
For Your Fur Kids is a pet health food store that opened in January 2008. As history would show, 2008 was one of the more challenging years to start a business, what with the financial crisis that came to be known as the Great Recession.
About the experience, Owner/Operator Kathy Pundzius states: “Thanks to our very loyal customers and the community’s desire for healthy alternatives for their fur kids, we quickly grew, even through the financial crash, and now have two locations: 9889 Tecumseh Road in the Gladeview Plaza and 650 Division Road in the Union Square Plaza.”
For Your Fur Kids is the place to get healthy pet food brands, such as Fromm Family Foods, Farmina N&D, Zignature, among others.
“We are the premier health food store for dogs and cats,” Pundzius claims. “We carry many kinds of treats, such as healthy biscuits, natural chews, and gourmet barkery cookies.”
Supplements are also available, which can be very important for pets.
“We carry a full line of supplements for all types of ailments or just to maintain good health,” Pundzius points out. “We have all the necessities, such as grooming supplies, collars and leashes, and of course a wide selection of toys.”
As an essential service, For Your Fur Kids remains open if COVID-19 restrictions are in place, but serves its customers via curbside pickup only.
“We have a web store and are looking to start delivery very soon,” Pundzius says. “Customers can place orders online or by phone.”
Along with her husband, Victor, the couple have had many pets over the years. Currently, they share their home with two Smooth Fox Terriers: Gemma, age eight, and Jaxon, age six.
“And we just got a Bouvier puppy from local breeder Quiche Kennels,” Pundzius states. “His name is Thor and he is 14 weeks old.”
She adds: “We feel pets can teach kids responsibility, but ultimately it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that whatever type of pet they choose is cared for properly.”
Although she is a dog owner, herself, Pundzius believes cats are a good choice for younger children, because cats can disentangle themselves if the child plays too rough.
“By the time kids are aged nine or 10,” she explains, “they are more likely ready to take care of a dog. The breed and size of a dog should be researched extensively to make sure it is the right fit for your family.”
It might appear to be a simple matter, but it bears stating: An active family would probably do well with a more energetic breed, such as a Border Collie or Fox Terrier. These are breeds that require much stimulation, and are not particularly suited to households that do not possess the time to exercise them.
“Victor and I think it is very important to get your dog or cat from a reputable breeder or rescue,” Pundzius indicates. “A reputable breeder will be your mentor and friend for the life of the pet. They do health testing and breed for health and temperament.”
To learn more about how For Your Fur Kids can benefit the health of your pet, and for grooming spa and dog wash services, see: ForYourFurKids.com.
Faithful Companions Throughout History
No one knows, exactly, how long human beings have enjoyed the company of animals as pets, but estimates range from approximately 13,000 to 30,000 years ago.
According to an article on MSNBC, dog bones discovered in Belgium in 2008 are 31,700 years old. Those were pre-electric, pre-Internet, pre-COVID-19 days. A time before countries even had names.
That ancient knowledge is still with us, and pets continue to enrich our lives just as they did in the ways that cave drawings depicted.