By TERRY McCONN of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Most people spend much of their lives searching for something.
They think it’s money, a better job, more status. But likely it’s to find contentment and emotional security.
And for many, that need is increasingly filled by animals.
“People are looking for a relationship,” said Rebecca Oertel of the Blue Mountain Humane Society Shelter. “That type of companionship you get from an animal.”
Oertel, who is director of volunteer services and humane education, added that the love received from a pet is unconditional. And animals can exhibit true empathy. They’re sensitive to our moods.
“They seem to comprehend our emotional state,” Oertel said. Dogs cuddle with us when we’re sad or reflect our excitement when we’re elated, she explained. While cats tend to disappear when their owners are upset, they can be very affectionate when called upon to lend a helping paw in other circumstances.
The shelter’s executive director, Sara Archer, agrees that animals live in the moment, aren’t moody and don’t hold a grudge. “They’re always happy to see you when you come through the door,” she said.
The rise in pet popularity largely can be explained by examining challenges faced by society, Oertel believes.
“With the increasing divorce rate and violence, animals provide a stabilizing force and companionship a human can’t necessarily provide,” she said.
But people must realize when they bring a pet home they are adding another member to the family and should prepare as such.
“Planning for a pet is like you plan a child, your future or a job,” Oertel said.
Pets need basic care and preventive health care — such as vaccines to ward off invasive, fatal diseases, and attention to teeth disorders. Also, there may be plants in your yard or chemicals in your garage that could harm them.
Dogs and cats need to be protected from fleas and ticks, and undergo basic grooming of their coats and nails.
If you’re in the market, should you adopt a dog or take home a cat from the shelter? “It depends on the level of interaction you want to commit to the animal,” Oertel said.
Cat people usually have busier schedules, according to Oertel. Cats may sleep 80 percent of the day and don’t often need someone around. Dogs, on the other hand, take a lot of time and can command much attention. But they’re perfect companions for walkers or runners.
“Some people love both (cats or dogs). Most are inherently attracted to one or the other and there’s no rhyme or reason,” Oertel said. “When they’re picking, it comes down to the lifestyle.”
The same can be said of choosing a particular breed of dog.
Small breeds — such as Yorkies, schnauzers and pugs — are particularly sought-after. But they all have different temperaments and needs that aren’t necessarily compatible with everyone’s lifestyle and household habits.
The Humane Society has started a “Meet Your Match” program introduced by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Every dog that’s at least 6 months old and each cat at least 9 months of age is assessed to determine personality traits, stamina, playfulness and how cuddly it is. Then employees use results of a questionnaire that a potential adopter fills out to help the person find a suitable pet.
“It’s supposed to match you up better and give you a better chance to find (an animal) that meets your lifestyle,” said Cathy Barnett, customer service manager.
Oertel added the “Meet Your Match” program doesn’t preclude someone from adopting a pet with less-than-ideal personal characteristics. “But you know about it beforehand” and such knowledge increases the likelihood of a successful adoption.
Archer said some people choose to own exotic pets, such as snakes, iguanas, lizards, spiders, rats, mice and fish. She also expects more ferrets in the area because local stores sell them.
But the Humane Society is set up to care only for dogs and cats, Archer emphasized. For example, if an abandoned ferret were to show up, it probably would die.
One of the shelter’s goals is humane education, a topic that is getting more national attention through media outlets such as the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. Oertel believes people who abuse pets lack empathy for life.
“An animal has emotions,” she said. “They do feel pain and suffering. Most of the time, abuse is about power, control and anger.”
Oertel added that most people these days understand that dogs are companions. But some still view cats as “disposable” property.
Also, in some areas of the country, animals are becoming victims of the economic meltdown. In the face of property foreclosures, negligent residents are abandoning their pets as they leave their homes.
“We need to encourage responsible pet ownership and educate people about the issues,” Oertel said.