When I was a child growing up and attending elementary school in Iowa, I had a best friend named Shelly. In Junior High and High School my best friend was named JoAnn; in college, it was Cindy, and as a young woman, my roommate Lisa became like the sister I never had. All of these best friends had one thing in common: they accepted me for who I was – no judgments, no trying to change me, no ulterior motives. That’s rare these days in human beings. I remain good friends with each of these ladies yet today, and I am thankful for them.
In our pets, we find the above-noted traits and countless others: loyalty, affection, acceptance, friendship, love. And, companion animals waiting for a home and people of their own have best friends in the staff and volunteers at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Located in Kanab, Utah, Best Friends Animal Society and Sanctuary provides a home for dogs, cats, horses, rabbit, birds, pigs, goats, and numerous other species while those animals await permanent, loving homes.
Best Friends became best friends to animals affected by Hurricane Katrina, saving them and finding new homes for them. They were – and still are -- best friends to the dogs traumatized by the Michael Vick dog fighting ring – Best Friends gave them a new, better, loving life. Best Friends takes in feline leukemia cats, blind dogs, and swayback horses. They work with those who fear and distrust humans due to cruelty, neglect and/or abandonment. Best Friends staff and volunteers love, accept, work with, and help the animals many would ignore, devalue, and kill.
Best Friends Animal Society turns 30 years old this year. I was blessed to spend just a few short hours at the sanctuary for tours, and I came away inspired, awed, and with a new resolve to help however I can. The people, place, animals, and organizational mission is inspiring and awe-striking.
I’ve been blessed with several furry best friends: Sam, Ama, Sage, Cody, Mary, Murphy, Bailey – each an individual, just like each person is an individual. And yet, every day 9,000 individual lives are killed in shelters every day, not because they are ill but because we humans don’t value their lives. We give them up because we’re moving, having a baby, lack time (or so we say) or don’t spay/neuter them to prevent litters. In other words, because we don’t take responsibility for their care: those animals that depend on us just as a human baby/child does are viewed as disposable or an inconvenience, not as an individual life for which we are responsible. It’s time to wake up, people, and view all life as a gift from the Creator who made each person, each animal as an individual, and when He created, He called that creation “good.”
Be a Best Friend – be a responsible pet owner – and be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves … just like Best Friends Animal Society. Learn more about No More Homeless Pets and the Save Them All campaigns at www.bestfriends.org. Let’s be the caring, kind, compassionate, benevolent people we are created to be and value and cherish the individual lives the Creator made and blessed – after all, He called them, and us, all of His creation “good.”
September has arrived and with it come reminders of the change of seasons, from summer to autumn. Schools are back in session, the last holiday of the summer season has concluded, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas products are on full display at the stores. But, before all those other holidays is one less thought about or known: September is also a great time to celebrate dogs!
The last week September is considered National Dog Week, when dog owners and various organizations honor dogs. William Judy, who started Dog World Magazine in the 1920s, first set aside this special week as a way to celebrate those special creatures deemed “man’s best friend”.
The American Kennel Club (www.akw.org) honors both dogs and owners during Responsible Dog Ownership Days. Various AKC clubs host activities highlighting the joy (and responsibility) of owning a dog. This offers an excellent reminder to kids and to dog owners everywhere about the responsibility of having a dog. Join with others to be the catalyst of that reminder!
Dogs have served humankind for thousands of years, from protector to bearer of burdens. Native Americans, for example, used dogs to transport loads prior to the horse. Still today, dogs serve people in a variety of ways: herding and protecting flocks; finding fowl in the field; guiding the blind; assisting deaf and wheel-chair bound individuals; rescuing lost children; and bringing smiles to those in hospital beds. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways dogs help people:
Assistance dogs are specially trained to help people manage physical or emotional disabilities. Guide dogs assist the blind, deaf assistance dogs alert people to the telephone or doorbell, and assistance dogs help those in wheelchairs open refrigerators and building doors.
Search and rescue dogs look for the lost. From hikers and skiers to victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, these hero dogs put their health and life in the balance in the line of their duty.
Military and police dogs also put their lives on the line. From sniffing for drugs or bombs to patrol duties, these dogs serve our country in the United States and abroad.
Visiting hospitals and nursing homes, therapy dogs bring smiles to the faces of ill children and lonely senior citizens.
Read-to-the-dog programs are popular in many libraries across the country; these programs help children become better readers for they aren’t as nervous reading to dogs as they are reading with adults. The Butte Public Library, for example, has a program called Paws for Reading, at which time children interact with special visiting dogs.
Sporting dogs, including spaniels, retrievers and pointers, help bring home dinner in the form of ducks, pheasants, and partridge,
Herding dogs, like the Australian Shepherd and the Old English sheep dog, have the genetic instinct to drive and gather livestock. Historically, they have been used to assist shepherds and farmers; many of these dogs, such as the collie and the Canaan dog, have been used for centuries.
A variety of dogs are working breeds, including the Siberian husky and the Bernese mountain dog. Others, including German Shepherds, Akitas, and Doberman pinschers, help protect people and property.
Dogs help people in many ways, including the simple acts of helping us exercise, lowering our blood pressure, and getting us to laugh and smile more often. So, honor your special pooch this month with an extra ounce of kibble, a special hug, or a day outdoors in the field. And, remember those wonderful canines you don’t know, like those that search for lost hikers, those who dig skiers from avalanches, those which have given their lives sniffing for bombs, dogs that bring a smile to a grandfather’s face when visiting the nursing home, or the dogs visiting libraries who listen to children hesitantly read aloud… dogs in service to others for the sake of all.
If you live in or near Casper, Wyoming join me and my therapy dog Mary at the Natrona County Library on Sat., Sept. 27 at 2 pm. We will be joined by local educator and fellow dog-lover Christina Lenihan and her therapy dog Chewy and will be conducting a program called "Dogs with Jobs," highlighting the various roles dogs play in our society. Learn more at http://www.natronacountylibrary.org/events/cat_ids~6,7,11/.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.