Category Archives: Human-Animal Bond

Because you love your pet, 10 easy Valentine’s Day gifts

Who’s your most reliable Valentine?

Right, it’s your pet. Fluffy never complains about your cold feed on long winter nights. Fido never picks the holiday of romance to announce he needs his space and wants to see other people.

You show your furry, scaly, feathered friends love every day, but for February 14, you may


want to do something extra. Something easy that won’t break the bank.

If someone in your life has a pet, make them part of the celebration too. Many of these ideas make practical gifts for friends and family. Even pets you don’t know, people you never met, could use your tender attention.

  1. Exercise your dog more. Research shows that walking is good for both of you. And bump it up a notch by walking on a balance board. To make those strolls even more effective, consider a canine fitness tracker like this fashionable bow tie from WonderWoof:
  2. Take your cats in for an annual checkup. Cats are very good at hiding illness and pain. It’s easier on them and cheaper for you to catch problems before they get out of hand. If you don’t have a regular vet, ask your cat-loving friends where they go. Some clinics are certified by the American Association of Feline Practitioners as Cat Friendly Practices. See if there’s one near you.
  3. Give a local rescue group your time, money, supplies, or expertise. Animal shelters always need help finding homes for the animals in their care. You can volunteer to socialize (cuddle) pets, update the donor list, or write marketing copy. Many private groups are run by hardworking people who pay for every bag of food out of their own pocket. Give them a hand. You can help animals on your own by making a shelter out of a plastic storage container for a feral cat. Here are some easy directions:



  1. Learn how to take great pet & wildlife photos. Whether you use your phone’s camera or a fancy DSLR, you can get photos that capture your pet’s personality. Get on their level, wait for the right moment, and turn off your flash. And you don’t have to be a professional to snap a pic of a gorgeous cardinal at your bird feeder or a bunny in the backyard. You might even use your new skills to take portraits of older shelter dogs to improve their chances of finding a new home. Here are some tips for getting the shot you want.
  2. Give your favorite animal lover a personalized gift using one of your photos or theirs. If your photo is sharp and clear, have it enlarged and frame it for their office or apartment. If it’s just a cute picture from your phone or one you downloaded from their social media page, have it put on a mug for their favorite hot beverage. Nothing shows more thoughtfulness than recognizing what other people value–Grandad’s furry hiking buddy or your neighbor’s budgie pal. Most big drug stores and print shops handle photo gifts. Here’s another site with ideas from puzzles to pillows.
  3. Help your cat make friends with people. Cats have not lived with humans as long as dogs have, so they are often less comfortable with people they don’t know. Because they are mostly indoor pets, cats have fewer chances to socialize.  Many kitties hide whenever guests appear, or worse, hiss when someone tries to make friends. You can fix this. Make encounters with new people a reason for your feline friend to celebrate. Cuddle your pets, give them treats when visitors stop by. Get your guests involved. Have them play with any kitty brave enough to come out. Fishing pole toys are perfect. Cats love to chase the streamer, which makes your friend feel special too.
  4. Make a DIY cat condo. The internet is full of pictures of cats coiled like a spring in some barely-big-enough box. Cats love snug spaces. You can whip one together out of old an upside down side table draped with fabric, or stacked cardboard boxes taped together. Here’s a design for a tent made of a worn tee shirt and a couple of coat hangers. Your cat will probably jump in as soon as he spots it, but if not, entice him with a catnip toy.


  1. Set up a fish tank in a local nursing home and volunteer to take care of it. Research has shown that older people eat more if there are animals around. Other studies show that contemplating a fish tank reduces anxiety. Check with your local senior residence and ask if they’d like to have a tank of colorful fish. This would make a perfect group project. Get your friends or your teen group to raise funds to buy the equipment and to care for the fish.
  2. Take your dog to visit petless neighbors who would love the contact but not the responsibility. Dogs are great icebreakers. They put people at ease, lower blood pressure, and give you something to talk about. Think about your family. Who doesn’t get enough friendly touch? Which of your neighbors reminisces about her childhood dog? Ask if next time you visit you can bring your well-behaved pooch. You might be surprised at what you learn about their current interests and past lives.
  3. Stimulate your pet’s mind and body. Enroll in an agility class with your dog. Take a clicker training class and teach your pet a behavior that will make them healthier, safer. Feed your cat from a puzzle bowl or hide their food around your apartment so they can hunt it. Get your parrot a safe toy or offer music that will inspire their big brains.

There you have it, 10 ways to show your love for pets and pet lovers. What’s your favorite way? Send us a picture of you doing something special for the pets in your life.


5 things to do for your pet before you get sick

My friend Lucy just had a medical emergency that took her away from home and her beloved toy poodle, Chrissy, for six weeks. Another dog lover took Chrissy for a few days but couldn’t keep her. Was Chrissy going to be homeless? People have dumped pets in the street for less.
Clearly this kind of emergency is something all pet lovers need to plan for.

You can’t wait till disaster strikes to think about who will walk the dog and feed the cat if you are temporarily out of commission. Whether you have a boarding kennel lined up or need to phone a friend, you need to plan ahead.

Here’s what to do.

Make a list.                                                                                                                                                  DSC_0457 First, think about what you do daily and make a list. “Walk the dog at 7:30 am, 2:30 pm, and again at 9:00 pm; dry food in the morning, wet at night.” Take a few pictures so someone else knows, for example, which scoop you measure food with. If your daily routine involves medication, take lots of photos and mark any measuring devices, such as a syringe, with permanent marker to show exactly how much to use. Here’s the list Chrissy’s temporary caretaker made. You notice she adds the all-important information that Chrissy “will want to sleep with you.”

Gather supplies.DSC_0459
Next think about what supplies you need to do those things—bird seed, pee pee pads, cat carrier—and add that to your list. Don’t forget your pet’s favorite toy. Make sure you always have a few days’ worth of the essentials in the house at all times. Here’s what Chrissy came with– plus winter coats.

Decide who can handle different tasks.

After that, consider who could manage the different things your pet needs. The neighbor who loves cats may not be willing to give your diabetic kitty her insulin injections. Or walk your 50-pound dog. You may have to divide your pets and tasks to get it all done.

Once you have a list of prospective caregivers, talk to them and get their OK. Double check that their whole family is on board with having your 65-lb dog, who needs three walks a day, for a two-week sleepover. Give them a copy of your instructions and print a copy to hang on your refrigerator in case the first list gets lost.

Remove obstacles. 
The next step is to think about any obstacles that might get in the way. Will building management allow your volunteer caretaker to have a pet, even for a short time? Are your pet’s license and vaccines up to date in case he needs to go to a boarding facility? If your pet gets sick, which veterinarian should she go to, yours or your caregiver’s?

Make a long-term plan.
Finally, do some long-term planning. Do you have a Plan B in case your first-choice caregiver is out of town or out of patience? What’s to be done if your medical problem causes a long-term or permanent separation? Can you afford to give your friend some help with expenses in exchange for adopting your furry friend into a safe, loving home?

How it all turned out.                                                                                                                                In the end, Chrissy was not homeless. Lucy had discussed this kind of emergency with her regular pet sitter, who kept Chrissy till someone else could take over. The sitter wrote extensive notes, packed everything a little dog could need, and generously shared her expertise as a pet professional. Chrissy settled into a new family in a new neighborhood until her person was strong enough to come home.

In fact, knowing her dog was waiting inspired Lucy to work extra hard in physical therapy, so she could take Chrissy for her usual walks in the park.

We’d love to hear about your experience caring for a friend’s pet. What do you wish you’d known? What tips can you share with your fellow animal lovers?

21 ways pets help you beat the holiday blues

Holidays got you down?

Traditions can be a source of joy, but not for everyone all the time. It’s painful to feel sad when everyone else seems to be so happy. Maybe you lost a loved one or ended a relationship this year. Trimming the tree or lighting candles alone reminds you that life is forever changed.

Perhaps your family saves their nastiest barbs for what’s supposed to be a time of love and good will. Possibly Auld Lang Syne makes you tearful instead of giddy. You don’t have to be clinically depressed to feel out of step with the calendar’s forced cheer.

Whatever saps your spirit, pets can help. Here’s how:


  1. Get you to exercise.

Physical activity is a proven mood lifter. Walk the dogs or drag a cat toy around for her majesty. Walking dogs DSCN6249Taking care of yourself includes the body your feelings live in.

  1. Be your boon companion.

When your friends and family let you down, your four-legged family members keep you company without the drama. They’re happy to join your adventures or cuddle up while you watch trashy movies. If the house is too quiet, a chatty parrot or purring cat gives you someone to talk to. And you’ll get all the best lines.

3. Shift your focus to someone else.

Do fun, active things with your pets or for your neighbor’s pet. It will take your mind off your own problems, and move it to something with more potential.

  1. Offer you friendly physical contact.

People need hugs. Touch strengthens the immune system, and pets provide an opportunity to reap those benefits.  A caress, a nuzzle, and you’ll remember that someone loves you.

  1. Take a nap with you

Losing sleep can make you grumpy and feeds depression. Treating sleep problems so you get enough sleep will improve your state of mind. If you are one of those people who sleeps better with a warm body next to you, curl up with your pet.

  1. Spark your creative juices.

Making art, crafting, and writing satisfy your soul.  They help you feel productive instead of paralyzed.

Sketch the animals around you. Write your faraway mom a short note about how much your guinea pig loves his new toy. Bake dog treats. Crochet a cat toy. Create, and you’ll come out of the holidays with something to show for it.

  1. Get you to learn something.

It’s more fun to study something you love. Take a pet first aid course. Use your free time to prepare your dog for agility events. What you learn can keep your pet healthy and give you a new hobby, friends included.

  1. Inspire a visit to lonely animal lovers

Many people who love animals can’t have one of their own. Why not bring yours for a visit? Or invite them over to see your tropical fish? If your pet is sociable, consider training as an animal assisted therapy team.

  1. Invite you outdoors

The evidence is strong: Nature is good for us. Let your dog get you out of the house and into the great outdoors. Join a birdwatching group. Take a trail ride through the forest or down the beach. Research suggests that the more experiences you have, the happier you will be.

10. Provide an excuse to leave unpleasant events.

Trapped at a loud holiday party with people you hardly know? Family Feud starting at Uncle Harry’s annual get-together? Announce that your dog has to be walked every three hours and your cat gets cranky without her kibble. Excuse yourself and leave.

11. Lick your tears away

Going through a rough patch? Find that no one wants to hear how hard the holidays are for you? Your pet will not only listen but lick away your tears.

12. Get you into the here-and-now

When we are in the grip of sadness or fear, we grieve old injuries or worry about things that may never happen. Cats and dogs live right now. Like the best meditation teachers, pets remind us to stay in the present moment.

13.. Distract you.

Watching animals do their thing takes your mind off whatever ails you. In fact, animals make such good distractors, that people who hang out with pets after surgery need less pain medication. Let it work for you.

14.  Be your dance partner.

If your pet is willing to be picked up, put on your favorite music and waltz. Kitty not a fan of leaving the floor? Dance around your living room with moves inspired by different birds. Or if your dog loves to gambol, sign up for lessons in canine freestyle (dance steps with your dog!).  Blue ribbons and Internet fame, here you come.

15. Prompt you to try something new.

The old traditions may feel wrong this year. Make some new ones.  Pop Fido in the car and drive somewhere you’ve never been before.  Add your own additions to the potato latkes, cut your homemade dog treats with a candle-shaped cutter, and introduce your neighbors to Hanukkah. Head outside Rover and howl at the full moon.

16. Persuade you to talk to fellow pet lovers, even ones you don’t know.

Pets are great ice breakers. Animal lovers are friendly group, eager to talk about their furred, finned, or scaly family members. Say hi at the dog park. See if your pet supply store has special events. Start an animal-oriented book club.

17. Respond to a pet blog.

The web is full of sites, photos, and blogs about pets. Your fellow animal lovers are sharing hearts and experience for your enjoyment. They’d love to hear what you think. Take a moment to repin a photo or comment on an article. Like this one.

18.  Excite you to throw a pet-friendly party

How much fun would you have at a party where your pet was welcome? Right. Why not organize one yourself? Mulled cider and Scotty-shaped cookies. Or ice skating at the park. Your friends will thank you for it.

19. Inspire you to volunteer at shelter

You know how good you feel when you do something for someone else? Think how much your local animal rescue group could use an extra pair of hands. Or your fundraising efforts. Or your word smithing for their newsletter. Even a small act of kindness lifts your spirit and may help you live longer.

20. Excuse you from Facebook and other places where people seem happier than they really are.

Most people put the best version of themselves on display. For lots of reasons you don’t want the world to know you’ve been laid off or spent half your vacation in your room with traveler’s tummy. If seeing your friends’ happy updates makes you jealous or feel like a failure, pets are your way out. And truthfully, wouldn’t you rather make new memories with them than cozy up to a computer?

21. Make you laugh

Let’s face it. Animals are hilarious. They vault into the air for the ball you threw. They use the sounds you taught them to wolf whistle at the dog. They stalk across your floor to pounce on imaginary prey. They make you laugh. And laughter is the best antidote to holiday blues.

Tell us what you think of these tips. Which ones will you try? What’s your favorite way to beat the blues?

Susan P. Cohen, DSW