Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
Before I was a parent (of a human), I remember nodding in agreement when parents told stories about their children, saying, “Oh, totally, my dog does that too!” And after seeing the expressions on their faces, I’d qualify, “I know that having a child is different than having a dog. But, still, I get it.” But I see now that I didn’t exactly get it. Having a dog is a lot of work: Three walks a day, no matter the weather. They might wake you up early on the weekends to go to the park. You have to take them to the vet, and in some cases, the groomer. You need to feed them and be responsible for their general well-being. Training them is of paramount importance, in order to have a dog who doesn’t eat your furniture, pee on your floor and who generally fits into society.
I went to dog training school about ten years ago and worked as a private dog training instructor. Most of my job was training people to train their dogs (people are much harder to train than dogs). I used positive reinforcement methods whereby you reward behaviors that you want to see again. At the time, I thought that having these training skills would mean that, later in life, when I became a parent of a human child, I would already have all the necessary skills. How different could it be, training a person and training a dog? After all, I want my child to fit into society and refrain from eating my furniture or peeing on my floor.
Raising a human child, like training a dog, does require patience, love and consistency. And some form of positive reinforcement. But the main difference is that you have to explain more and teach them about feelings. I now find myself giving the dogs more explanation than they need. I’m glad I have the opportunity to be the mom of furry children, and of a bi-ped, too. They get to be “siblings” to each other, which helps my daughter build character and empathy. And I like to think that my practice as a dog trainer was a good foundation for parenting.
Here at the ASPCA, we believe that spay and neuter procedures should be a priority for pet parents. In honor of World Spay Day, which takes place every year on the last Tuesday of February, we’re taking a moment to focus on this important area of our work. And, while it may be a bit challenging to do so, it’s a good idea to introduce the concept of spay/neuter to your kids as they learn to become responsible animal caretakers.
Here are a few ideas from our Spay/Neuter Operations team for starting the conversation:
• Use a script. It can be hard to find the right words to discuss spay/neuter with young children. Try saying, “Spaying and neutering are surgeries (or operations) performed on dogs and cats so that they can’t make more puppies and kittens. This is really important because there are so many animals who live outdoors without homes and owners. There are also many more animals living in animal shelters who are waiting to find families to take them home. It is important to help reduce the amount of dogs and cats without homes in our neighborhoods because sometimes the animals outnumber the people who are able to care for them.”
• Keep it age-appropriate. Depending on your child’s age, you may or may not want to go into too much detail. If your kids are older, you could consider mentioning that during a spay/neuter surgery, the animal’s reproductive organs are removed so that they can’t mate and produce more puppies or kittens.
• Paint a picture. Either literally or figuratively, it helps to illustrate how quickly animal populations can expand without spay/neuter procedures. One way to do this is to explain that one pregnant cat can have up to six to eight kittens in her uterus (or belly) at one time. When those kittens reach puberty, they too can produce litters of kittens. What starts as one cat can exponentially lead to hundreds of cats and kittens out in the street or placed in the shelter looking for homes. Spaying and neutering our pets is essential to breaking this unfortunate cycle.
Does your pet support spay/neuter? Post a photo of yourself (or your pet!) on your social media networks with a sign that reads “I’m Into S&N” and use the hashtag #ImIntoSN. Then, sign our spay/neuter pledge and you could win an ASPCA prize pack.
Emily Schneider is a proud mom of two feisty Yorkies and a two-year-old in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter.
Brrrr: The temperature was in the single digits earlier this week! I don’t think I’m the only one who is tired of the frigid, cold weather. We’ve been hit by blizzards and freezing temperatures, and I struggle to keep my dogs outside long enough for them to use the bathroom—let alone keep my son preoccupied without having to turn on my automatic babysitter (i.e. the TV).
If you’re stuck indoors, baking is a great activity to do with your kids, and your pets can benefit as well!! I won’t pretend I’m a gourmet chef, but here is a simple recipe for homemade, cheesy dog biscuits:
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
1 cup quick oats
¼ cup margarine
1 cup boiling water
¾ cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons veggie stock
½ cup milk (dairy or soy)
¾ cup shredded Cheddar cheese (or other cheese)
1 egg, beaten
3 cups whole wheat flour
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix quick oats, margarine and boiling water in a large bowl. Let sit for a few minutes.
Stir in cornmeal, sugar, veggie stock, milk, cheese and egg. Mix in flour, one cup at a time, until the mixture forms dough.
Roll dough flat to a thickness similar to a notepad.
Use cookie cutter to cut out fun shapes and place cookies one inch apart on non-stick foil pan.
Bake 30-40 minutes in the oven until the cookies are golden brown.
Voila! That wasn’t too hard, was it? I recommend whipping up a few human cookies as well so both your two and four-legged kids are happy on a snow day.
And remember, if your pet has any dietary restrictions, always check with your veterinarian before you bake homemade treats. Enjoy!
This winter has been brutally cold in many parts of the country, and there seems to be no end in sight! Whether your family loves to play in the snow or prefers to stay inside by the fireplace, we can’t always avoid braving the elements with our pets in tow.
Check out our cold weather infographic for tips to keep your pets safe and warm this winter:
James Mikel Wilson resides in Houston, Texas with his wife, Kathy. His son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live in Manhattan, for whom his book, “Paw Tracks Here and Abroad,” was written. Jim's wisdom and insights were gained over the 65 years during which he owned six dogs. He wrote “Paw Tracks” about his family’s many adventures with their dog, Snickers. His family’s dogs and the many others he knew through his friends enabled him to write this story with sensitivity, humor, and appreciation for the unique role canine companions play in the lives of humans. We spoke to Jim about “Paw Tracks” and his love for animals.
Why did you decide to write Paw Tracks?
My career necessitated many family moves. When Snickers, the heroine of the story, reached twenty years old, the thought occurred that I could write a diary about our joint adventures.
I hoped that the diary might serve two purposes—to provide a family memory book of raising our son in a variety of geographic locations and to give our grandchildren a window into the past to know and see their father and grandparents differently.
Family and friends convinced me to transform the diary into a book. That shift of focus created an opportunity to address the joys of adopting pets, moving with them, wondering at their adaptability, and creating a teaching moment on living with geriatric animals.
What do you hope parents and children learn from Snickers’ story?
I hope the book facilitates discussions about the joys of adopting a pet, the responsibilities of caring for a pet, the many ways in which we learn from animals, and how these relationships touch our human experiences and emotions. I wanted to convey these topics in a manner that pet lovers of any age could relate to and enjoy.
My editor Meghan challenged me to find Snickers’ point of view. What did Snickers want us to know, and what was she thinking and feeling? And, Tod, my illustrator, captured her big heart and equally big personality through his wonderful drawings.
What do you believe made Snickers so special?
First, her age! She lived to be almost 22. She took advantage of her time to the fullest. There are many sides to Snickers’ personality that endeared her to us: survivor, comedian, clown, watchdog, show dog, tramp, explorer, diplomat, cuddler, friend, eager pupil and teacher.
In your book, Snickers has quite the adventure. Please tell us a little about life and travels with your family and Snickers.
Snickers did not like to be contained. After leaving a past life of abuse, she had temporary diversions including escaping a travel crate in JFK Airport, digging out from her kennel in Switzerland to join the St. Bernard in an adjacent pen, and wandering briefly into the lives of an Irish couple while we were on home leave. But, she never really intended to leave—only to seek new adventures.
This story offers considerations for families traveling or moving with pets. I wanted readers to hear through Snickers’ voice that, yes, we leave things near and dear to us behind when we move, but the opportunities open new doors to rewarding and, sometimes, life-changing events of which we had never dreamed.
Why did you approach the ASPCA to help share Snickers’ story?
My wife and I both felt that the underlying themes in Paw Tracks—promoting adoption, preventing animal cruelty, and offering a variety of educational materials on pet selection and care—paralleled the ASPCA’s mission. We have always been aware of the outstanding work the ASPCA has done for so long. We were, and are, right on the same wavelength!