Chaka died yesterday at the vet’s. She was 19 and had become stick thin in the final stages of renal failure. Since Monday she hadn’t eaten and her coat was flat and dull as an old fur in a junk shop. Colleen looked at her sitting in her open carrier and picked her up, ‘I’ll cuddle her through,’ she said.
Words matter. Those words mattered. If you can hope for anything at a time such as this it’s an indication of genuine tenderness and connection. Quietly, softly, Colleen took Chaka to the next room to insert a cannula before bringing her back for me to hold in those last moments while the drugs went in. Then quietly, softly, she left me alone with her for those outside-of-time minutes that hang between life and death while seeming to be neither and both. I left without paying; they trust you to do that later when you can speak again, handle the pragmatics again.
Chaka came home for the others to see. The more I understand about animals, the more important I think it is to let them make whatever sense they can of a loss. They all looked and sniffed then the older ones – a dog and two cats – moved on; they’d seen it before. The two kittens though, just one year old, kept on approaching, kept on sniffing and looking, kept on creeping towards her as though she were a strange and alarming thing they were trying to understand. Familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It’s their first death; they will have learned something, understood something, and although I can’t know what, I’m glad I gave them that chance.
Since the evolution of dogs from wolves tens of thousands of years ago, they have been selectively bred for various roles as guards, hunters, workers and companions. But dogs are not the only animal humans have domesticated, which suggests that although dogs get all the attention, there’s reason to argue other species could also deserve the title of “man’s best friend”.
Anthrozoology, the study of human-animal relationships, has established that dogs demonstrate complex communication with humans. Charles Darwin thought that dogs experienced love, but it was only in 2015 that Japanese scientists demonstrated what we all intuitively knew. Miho Nagasawa and colleagues sprayed the “love hormone” oxytocin up dogs’ noses, measured the loving gaze between dog and human, and then measured the oxytocin levels in the humans’ urine, finding them to be higher. Rest assured, dog owners, that science has verified your bond with your faithful hound.
Horses also show intentional communicative behaviour with humans, and another recent paper published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters from researchers at Queen Mary University of London has shown that goats also demonstrate an affinity with humans. The experiments tested goats’ intelligence and ability to communicate with humans. What the team found may come as no surprise to anyone who has worked with livestock: goats are highly intelligent, capable of complex communication with humans, and are able to form bonds with us – treating us as potential partners to help in problem-solving situations.
Our attitudes to animals tend to reflect the familiarity we have with them. Dogs score higher in perceived intelligence ratings than cows, for example, yet a study in the 1970s demonstrated that in a test cows could navigate a maze as well as dogs, and only slightly less well than children. The point was made that our perception of an animal’s ability is influenced by how we test them.
A pertinent example is the study by trailblazing tortoise Moses and his co-worker (owner) Dr Anna Wilkinson. Tortoises performed poorly in “intelligence” tests in the 1960s, but Wilkinson identified that tortoises do not perform well when cold. The pair subsequently demonstrated advanced inter-species communication in gaze-following tasks, as is documented as a marker of intelligence in primates and also was used as one of the goat intelligence tests. Perhaps tortoises could be man’s BFF – best friend forever. They do live for a long time.
We still don’t know the abilities of our potential friends in the animal kingdom beyond those few species we’ve domesticated. Over a hundred diverse species have been found to display intelligence and personalities, from the octopus to the rhinoceros (although a rhinoceros is not recommended as “man’s best friend” on health and safety grounds). Many creatures demonstrate amazing feats of intelligence and communication, if only we can develop the techniques to ask them.
Researchers from the University of Bristol believe keeping pets is a fundamental human trait, something we benefit from in return. Research compiled in The Dogs Trust’s Canine Charter for human health reveals the health benefits of pet ownership, including a survey of doctors which found that, if it were possible, an overwhelming number of GPs would prescribe a dog for many medical conditions. Florence Nightingale promoted the healing benefits of pets, and if I recall correctly used to carry an owl around in her pocket (how the owl felt about that is not recorded).
It is reassuring to know that goats are intelligent and can elicit help from humans when needed; to my husband’s shame that puts goats ahead of him on the evolutionary ladder as he is not prepared to ask for directions when lost. Will goats topple dogs for the position of man’s best friend? I think a rerun of my favourite experiment with goats would be the ultimate test: French researchers demonstrated that men out walking their dogs are more successful at getting women’s phone numbers than those without a dog present – a true best friend.
Sadly, anthrozoology is not a well-funded field of inquiry, and this and many other interesting questions posed by such research will likely go unanswered.
Trending right now, #catsagainstbrexit. Yep, cats are ganging up against the people who want us to leave the EU and posting their concerns. One said he’s afraid to leave the house, never mind the EU; another is worried about being deported because ‘she looks a bit foreign’, and Otis has apparently written a song. Dogs are, sensibly, doing as they’re told especially if they live with cats.
“We are a small UK medical company specializing in pressure care, we recently launched a new industry changing, unique community pressure sore overlay which has not only been clinically proven by the NHS to help heal up to Stage 4 ulcers, it has also entered the veterinary field having successfully treated a stage 2 ulcer on the sternum of a three legged sheep called Eustace.
Our ground breaking technology allows animals suffering from painful pressure sores to be successfully treated using a simple pad laid in their bed. It has also been used in a coat for Eustace (please see photos). The reason for touching base with you is that we thought this news would be of interest to your members (?)
I have attached a photo of Eustace and have included his owner’s testimonial for you to read below. We think the Treat Eezi pad can be used in so many different ways with respect to animal welfare as both a preventative and a treatment tool, certainly in reducing abscesses.
Please feel free to come back to us if this is of interest.”
Here is the testimonial
My daughter went on a lambing placement, and arrived to be greeted by a dead ewe and lamb, but the other twin had survived.
During the following week multiple attempts were made to ‘mother up’ the lamb to various ewes, but with no success. He just couldn’t get the hang of suckling, although he would take a little from a bottle. Towards the end of the week he became lame. Even from this early age he was very engaging and active despite his very poor start.
He came home with us, at the farmer’s suggestion, because despite the farmer’s best efforts they just couldn’t get him to mother up and he simply wouldn’t have survived. He had been given the nickname ‘Useless’ because of his various difficulties, which I converted to ‘Eustace’ which I thought was much nicer!
I bottle fed him every 4 hours for weeks – it took him a long time to learn to suck properly even from a bottle. He continued to have much enthusiasm for life despite continued difficulties getting the hang of eating. His lameness got worse and we spent several weeks trying very hard in conjunction with the vets to get on top of the infection in his joint. He had also developed a respiratory condition but that got resolved.
We had his joint x-rayed which showed it was irreparably damaged and we assumed he would have to be put down. However one of the vets suggested amputation. To cut a long story short we went ahead with that option.
Sheep and anaesthetic don’t mix very well and I didn’t expect him to survive the procedure but he did, despite taking a very long time to come round. He coped incredibly well, the wound healed nicely and he became very adept on 3 legs.
He continued to find eating a challenge but eventually got the hang of it and by the end of the summer had been weaned onto grass!
We noticed that his front leg was growing curved due to the burden of all the weight through the one front limb. In attempt to provide him with support we tried various casts and even a custom built orthotic boot but unfortunately none of these worked and we are now in the position where his carpus (knee) is will no longer straighten. (this is what we need Noel Fitzpatrick to fix!) He is currently having a wheelchair type trolley being made for him as he is now too heavy for me to get him out to his field and back. He has retained his tremendous enthusiasm for life and shouts and shouts to go out in the morning (and shouts to come in at night as well!)
Alongside all of this, in December he got what I thought was a graze on his sternum. As you know this gradually turned into a decubitus ulcer and finally 5 months later, and thanks to the Treat Eezi pad which he started to wear in at the beginning of April, we have finally got on top of it. (most recent photo that I will send separately showing further dramatic improvement)
Nursing the wound involved multiple dressing changes each week, debridement, lavage and the very huge challenge of incorporating the pad into his jacket, which I have had to re adjust all over again now that he has been shorn.
I can honestly say he has been and remains the most challenging case I have ever had to nurse and care for, (and I have owned a good many animals over the years with various needs) but the easy bit has been that it is impossible not to want to help him because of his endless enthusiasm for life despite his various difficulties.
The challenges that remain are to completely heal and then manage his ulcer site so the ulcer does not return, and to hope that he will take to his trolley so that he can enjoy some periods of time out and about more easily than now. I also massage his legs and shoulders twice a day in the hope of improving whatever is going on in his front leg and joints.
If you and your child are taking care of a disabled pet, this might interest you:
“We are currently working on a 3rd series of a popular Children’s programme called ‘My Pet and Me’ which is shown on CBeebies. The programme focuses on how a child (aged 4-7 years) cares for and interacts with their pet and we are very interested in hearing from adults (Parents, Grandparents, Aunties & Uncles etc.) who along with a child and their pet, would like to get involved in the new series.
We were wondering if your organisation knew of any families in the UK who have disabled pets and would be interesting in applying? If so, please find a suitable flyer attached that will give them more information on the programme and all of the necessary information on how to apply.”