Responsibility key to developing that remarkable animal-human relationship

Reaping rewards of pet ownership

Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2001

The Anderson household is beginning to settle down, finally.

Tucker, the puppy, is 5 months old now and past the teething stage -- technically. That means he's lost all his puppy teeth; it doesn't mean he's not trying to put everything he can in his mouth and test its taste, texture and chewability.

The job my husband, Mark, and I have is to seek out the perfect toy for this destructive phase.

The toy search for Chester, another of our three dogs, is wonderfully simple: Go to sporting goods area, buy racquetballs. All the talk I've ever heard of how clean a dog's mouth is seems to fade for me when Chester grabs this ball.

Have you ever smelled a racquetball fresh out of the can? It's not near as bad as the distinct odor of fish, but it's definitely not a bouquet of roses by any means. Still, one bounce of the lively sphere gets the old arthritic boy moving.

Bailey also is easy to buy for: If it squeaks, she wants it. It doesn't matter if it's round, square, rectangular, plastic, wood or fuzzy, she's just gotta have the object in her mouth so she can walk around squeaking it for hours on end to annoy us.

Tucker, on the other hand, has been a problem. He's way more motivated by food than toys. Our goal is to change that.

Stuffed animals definitely are out, especially since the day I walked in on him and freaked out thinking he was foaming at the mouth. Gee, what a relief to know it was just the entire filling of an expensive stuffed animal.

Buying these stuffed toys for Bailey can be risky, too. I got her one last week, but while I wasn't hovering over her to protect the fluffy critter, Tucker snatched it from her gentle jaws and shredded it in seconds.

Rawhides offer no help, since he eats them like candy.

Then the other day I stumbled on to the perfect toy: A nearly indestructible plastic dumbbell that makes a laughing-type noise, especially when Tucker throws it down the stairs.

It's almost become an obsession to find the right toy, but all I have to do is put one in front of him and watch his rear end wiggle from side to side to know I have made him happy -- regardless of whether the toy lasts. My efforts please him, which pleases me.

The point -- and I do have one -- is that there are certain responsibilities we have as pet owners.

Our responsibility to Chester, Bailey, Tucker and Lucy -- the cat I never write about -- is to make sure they have food, water, shelter, health care and lots of cool toys that Mark and I can step on in the middle of the night when we let Tucker out after he wakes us up by standing next to the closet, enthusiastically beating his happy tail.

OK, the toys are optional.

The food, water, shelter and health care are not.

When you make the decision to bring a pet into your home and make it part of your family, you're saying you're ready for the responsibility that comes with it. You're saying you are ready to commit to this animal for the long haul -- from puppy breath to "accidents" to teething to shredded shoes to happy tails to holes in the Sheetrock and the yard to cute tricks to slobber to cuddling.

All of this results in never-ending, unconditional love and an incredible, unbreakable bond between a human and animal.

February is Responsible Pet Owners Month. What a great reason to celebrate our pets and our relationships with them.

The members of the Peninsula Dog Obedience Group saw this as an opportunity to promote fun and positive activities to do with dogs. On Saturday, the group will hold an open house. But it's not just any open house.

PenDOG has invited the Kenai Kennel Club, Kenai and Soldotna animal shelters, Peninsula Retrievers Association, 4-H Guide Dog Program, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management and skijoring enthusiasts to take part in the event.

There will be demonstrations ranging from obedience to agility to fun tricks by the family dog.

There also will be information about spaying and neutering, pet health and safety. It will be a one-stop information center for dog lovers.

What a great idea.

Owning a pet can be a handful at times, but the rewards far outweigh the hindrances. Owning a pet should not be a burden, it should be a joy.

I'm proud to say I'm a responsible pet owner.

And that's exactly what I intend to keep saying to myself as I'm picking up the pieces of Tucker's new toy.

The PenDOG open house will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mile 1 of the Kenai Spur Highway, the Richards Veterinary Clinic building. For more information, call 262-6846.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the features editor for the Clarion.

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