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Old 02-17-2016, 01:52 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Motivation and Pet Care

Okay, so I just read a pretty fantastic post on Tumblr. It applies well to all pets and to anyone who wants to keep any kind of animal in their house. I wanted to share it here as it's not something that has popped up frequently, but I have seen a couple posts about people struggling with hedgehog care due to mental and/or physical illness, or even just lack of motivation. I think it's not uncommon, particularly for animals that don't necessarily give a lot in return. I know hedgehog owners put a lot of stock in the little steps forward with trust, but the fact is, they're not cuddly animals. I think that can make it hard to consistently provide them with handling time for at least 30 minutes, night after night, especially with particularly grumpy or defensive hedgehogs. It's easy to get discouraged or let things slide, especially because it's natural to want to justify it.

I've been having major mental issues for over a month now. While I'm good about not letting the lack of motivation negatively impact the snake or hedgehog, I do have a tendency to let care slide with the hermit crabs. I acknowledge it, and I'm still working on ways to fix it and make sure they're getting the care they deserve. This post prompted me to go change their main food bowl, which hasn't been changed for 3-4 days. Not horrible, no (particularly because it's pretty common to leave it for two days since they'll frequently eat as much or more the second night, as scavengers), but also not ideal.

Anyway, here's where the original post is - http://dogsaremypatronus.com/post/13...isnt-about-you

Quote:
I often talk about ideal pet ownership. I talk about what we should strive for, what responsible pet ownership should look like, and things I believe are necessary for a stable relationship, from both a physiological and behavioral standpoint.

Now, a topic that sometimes comes up–and this is a conversation I had with a fellow student this morning, which inspired this post–is the immense feeling of guilt some people feel when they see where they should be, and recognize that that isn’t where they are.

And the body’s natural response to this sort of conflict is to do one of two things: either, become what you should be, or change your line of thinking to match your current situation. I see a lot of people feel so frustrated at not being where they think they should be, that rather than recognize that it’s sometimes a slow process, they instead come to the conclusion that where they are is just fine and everyone else is wrong and people should just accept that this is where the bar has been set.

To a degree, they’re right, but only to a degree. The bar will vary, depending on your animal. Every single animal you own comes with a set of standards that need to be met. A herding dog is going to need a different kind of care than a retriever. A poodle will need a different kind of grooming than a pit bull terrier. A European short hair cat will need minimal grooming compared to a Norwegian Forest cat.

So yes, it’s wrong to look at someone who has a border collie and posts about all the training and exercise that goes into their dog, and think that you should be doing the same with your greyhound. And no, you shouldn’t hold yourself to their standard.

But the standard of animal welfare doesn’t consist of rules like “walk your dog for x amount of hours every day”, or “clean the kitty litter x amount of times per day”, or “play with your rabbit x amount of times per week”.

The standard consists of rules like, “walk your dog as needed. Listen to their attempts at communication, and adjust your schedule accordingly” and, “make sure you keep rabbits in pairs; they cannot be kept alone.”

Even still, when putting the standards into perspective, people will still struggle with meeting those conditions, whether it’s because of mental illness, physical illness, or just inherent lack of motivation to do the right thing. They need constant back patting and confirmation that they are doing enough, that they are doing the right thing.

But, the thing is, you should not be looking at others for affirmation. You should know exactly how your pet’s species responds when they are happy and content; you should follow guidelines set by behavioral and physiological scientists and adjust your standards accordingly.

I realize that, again, I’m talking about what you should be doing. So let’s talk about where you currently are. Let’s talk about accepting your shortcomings and dealing with them. I want to start by saying that there is a huge difference between saying, “sometimes I fall short of the standard, and that’s okay, because I will continue to try to do better! This is a journey we are on and journeys are filled with bumps.” and saying, “I frequently neglect my animal’s needs because of x reason, and that’s okay. I am unable to deal with emotional consequences of failure so I will no longer consider it a failure. My pet is going to be just fine at this level.”

Do you see what I’m trying to say? There’s a big difference between accepting that failure happens and continuing to strive against it, and accepting that failure happens and just staying right there in your comfort zone and not attempting to do better. Your ability to provide proper care for your pet isn’t measured in your lack of failure, but in how you respond to your failure.

And it’s important to note that it is our failure, because we are the ones who have placed a different species into our homes, and we are the ones who are shaping and molding their behavior to better suit our own comfort. The number one most important thing you need to realize, is that whatever species of animal you have taken into your home, is not a human, and as such, can only ever do, by nature, what that species was meant to do. Through training and conditioning, we can mold them into something different, but we need to understand that everything they do for our sake, is for our sake, not their own.

And maybe saying it’s always our failure is wrong outside of a certain context, because some genetic traits simply cannot be molded otherwise. Some dogs will always chase chickens, some cats will never want to be cuddled, and that’s okay. It just means that their genetic code is stronger than your training abilities. But that shouldn’t affect your desire to provide proper care for them. See, the mark of true love and compassion for animals is marked by your ability to provide proper care, even when there is no visible reward.

For example, I don’t bond all that well with chickens. I’m sure some people feel about chickens the way I do about dogs, and I think they can be pretty to look at, but that’s it. I have zero emotional investment in the chickens my family owns. Does that mean I neglect their care? There’s nothing in it for me, so what’s the point? The point is that it’s not about me. It’s about the chickens. They are a living and breathing animal under my care, and they deserve proper husbandry.

And that is the bottom line that everyone has to learn. It is not about you. It is about the animal under your care. You may be blessed with a wonderful connection with an animal, where you both click and are in sync and everything is amazing. They may literally save your life, and that is wonderful. But maybe that doesn’t happen. Maybe your pet is just an animal that keeps you company and occasionally nuzzles you, that you feel some kind of affection for but no real bond. That’s okay too. Not everyone is going to bond with their pet. You still have to provide adequate care, though. You still can’t neglect them. They still need trips to the vet, clean food and water bowls, grooming, stimulation, and exercise.

And yes, chronic illness may make that difficult. But it’s not about you, or your illness. It’s about the animal. And if your illness so severely impacts your ability and desire to care for your animal, then you need to find an adequate solution. Having an illness may involve lowering the bar to a certain degree, and no, your dog isn’t neglected because sometimes you have to skip the walk because of your pain flare ups, and your cat will be just fine if dinner is an hour late now and again. But if your pain gets to the point where the walks haven’t happened in weeks? If the depression gets to the point where the cat has missed multiple meals a week for months on end? When you’ve reached a point where the bar is just too low, then your animal is the one that suffers, and regardless of how you feel, the animal’s feelings are more important, because they are the ones who don’t have a choice in the matter.

You do have a choice, and you have to make a decision. You can ask for assistance. You can set an alarm to remind you to feed them. You can hire a walker. You can seek out alternative exercise options that don’t involve much physical exertion on your part. There are resources and options out there to help you get where you need to be. It’s okay that you aren’t where you need to be, but you cannot stop trying to get there.
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Old 02-18-2016, 11:41 AM   #2 (permalink)
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This is a fantastic post. I'm mentally ill (bipolar disorder and aspergers syndrome), and it affects all aspects of my life, but I've always made sure that my animals aren't affected by my illness or anything else that happens in my life. My animals are the #1 priority in my life -- everything else comes second. I see the online community making a lot of excuses for mentally ill people when it comes to animals, and I really don't think that's right. Adopting an animal is a promise and a privilege. If you can't care for an animal, you shouldn't get one. Period.
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Old 02-18-2016, 12:26 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I think part of the issue is it's difficult to recognize our shortcomings while we are doing it. That is basically admitting to ourselves that we may not be doing enough.
For me personally I've had to identify what the bare minimum of care is for just about everything. Then identify how many times in a time period you can do the minimum before there is an issue.
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Old 02-18-2016, 06:56 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Agreed, Katten. Your animals are lucky to have you!

And that's true, Two, but I think that's one of the things the post is saying - that we shouldn't let ourselves become complacent. Pet owners should always be keeping up-to-date on the latest care information, take new information into account, and look at our keeping methods with a critical eye. It's difficult to do sometimes, especially when we're falling short, but how we handle that is what determines whether we're a good pet owner or not. If we decide to protect our feelings & cover up our guilt by insisting that no, everything is fine, and those other people are wrong, we're not handling it correctly. It hurts, but we have to admit that we can be wrong or not the greatest owner, and adjust our methods as needed. It's not a bad thing - no one is the best owner ever, especially not all the time. We're always learning new things and trying to do the best for our animals.

And that's a good way to approach the issue! And it's also a good way to make yourself look at each pet independently to determine what they need. Bindi's food NEEDS to be changed daily. I don't have an option on that. The hermit crabs are fine if I change every two days or so, especially with the multiple bowls & options they have. The snake doesn't need to be fed on a strict schedule where she's going to starve if I forget to thaw her food a day, like I did yesterday. I'll feed her tonight & everything will be happy in her world! If I forgot to feed Bindi last night, well...I wouldn't have to deal with escaping maggots? But I'm sure I would've heard from her about it, and I would've felt MUCH guiltier.
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Old 02-18-2016, 07:35 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Also we should never forget the most important being to create these lists for, ourselves. Depending on what you may be dealing with will make a difference of what is on the "you list."
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Old 02-18-2016, 09:54 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Thank you for this. I struggle with bipolar as well, and while Reggie is generally always in good care (though sometimes I don't change his fleece as soon as I should), the husky I watch sometimes can be too much for me. I sometimes have to skip a day or two of walking him. He dawdles and gets into trouble a lot and it's too much to deal with some days. Thankfully my neighbour has a very large backyard so the husky still has somewhere to go, but I admit I feel very guilty at times for not being the best I could be.
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Old 02-18-2016, 10:40 PM   #7 (permalink)
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You are though! If it's too much to deal with sometimes, it is. That's the best YOU can do, and it's clearly not falling in to neglectful territory - like you said, he still has someplace to go where he can move around more freely, be outside, etc., and it's a day or two. If it were consistently not walking him every day you take care of him, then yeah, that might be an issue. We don't have to be the best ever, just to set our bar so that it challenges us a little, without potentially worsening whatever issues the human might have, while still providing the animal with what they need.

Also, there are things that can be done that aren't walking, that may be easier for you to do with him - training exercises, fetch, flirt pole, etc. Those kinds of things may be less demanding on you (though training could easily be frustrating, especially if you're already in a bad place), but still give him what he needs, like a walk.
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