Getting a new pet is exciting and family members may feel eager to get started with all the fun they have imagined having with their new addition. That is certainly how I felt about every new animal which I took into my care over the years.
Even though the new pet may well be in a better place than previously, this is a significant change for animals and people alike. Planning ahead can help avoid pitfalls.
Considering the needs of the specific species is a good first step, and the principles of Brambell’s Five Freedoms is a sound foundation to build upon.
1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
4. Freedom to express normal behavior
5. Freedom from fear and distress
Many years ago my wife and I dreamed of getting a horse. Being city folk we did not know anything about horses so we volunteered at an equine therapy program and I spent 10 years working with about 12-15 horses. I learned from the horse savvy riding instructors and volunteers and also learned how to ride.
That encouraged us to wait until we had property in the countryside and could prepare the future home of our horse with a barn and paddocks. We knew horses require company so we chose to get a few lambs and spent one year learning about daily farm chores before getting a horse.
I knew even less about sheep than I knew about horses.
We visited a nearby farm on lambing day and picked out three youngsters which we named Pearl, Shirley and Bluebell. The farmer delivered them to our new barn and the first lesson I learned about lambs is that they are very skittish with strangers.
I read about keeping sheep and provided food and shelter, but I also provided their privacy and space requirements. I ignored them for about two weeks and let them adjust to their new surroundings until they felt comfortable.
My gentle Labrador, Charlie, and I hung out in the barnyard and let the lambs decide when they felt safe enough to approach. When they did so I offered cracked corn and apples, and when they chose to move away from me I respected that. They quickly learned to seek my attention and loved getting back rubs and gentle facial massages.
One of my favorite memories is sitting beneath a lean-to during a spring shower, with Charlie on my right and the lambs on my left. Today the sheep run to me whenever I appear and soak up their back rubs while licking their lips in delight. Our trusting relationship enables them to undergo annual shearing and veterinary care with relative ease in my presence.
Feeling prepared for horse ownership we picked Fancy from a ranch where she lived with 100 horses and a bunch of Labradors who ran freely about the place. Fancy has a gentle nature and was already used to dogs, and she has been happy to share space with our sheep.
We allowed her a couple of weeks to adjust, putting no pressure on her. Applying respondent conditioning I always carried peppermints, carrots or apples when I went to the barnyard. Fancy soon associated me with the treats and began nickering with joy each time she saw me.
She enjoyed daily grooming and walks on our trails with a halter and a lead rope, accompanied by our dogs. I slowly worked up to riding Fancy and we enjoyed 10 years on our trails until arthritis bothered her knee, at which time I stopped riding.
The care and welfare of our pets has always been the most important thing and our kind and benevolent treatment has been repaid by every pet we have cared for.
A few years passed and we adopted more dogs, Gandhi being the most recent. He was found as a stray several winters ago, starving so badly his ribs were showing and with intestinal worms. It was a bitterly cold winter and had he not been found it would likely have been his last.
He went into a dog shelter and was quickly transferred to The Labrador Connection, living with the same foster family from whom we adopted Buddha. We knew nothing about Gandhi except that he was about two years of age and that he had suffered prolonged trauma. His actual name was unknown to us.
We adopted our new dog on Christmas Day, gave him his new name, and his new home.
By that point I had become a dog trainer and had a solid plan to help Gandhi adjust. We worked through his (temporary) resource guarding and resolved his separation anxiety. Gandhi is extremely social and thrived in the dog daycare where I worked, taking Buddha and Gandhi with me three days a week.
My wife and I never put undue pressure on our pets, ensuring they enjoyed safety and daily enrichment, good nutrition and veterinary care.
For families who bring a new dog into their home I recommend “Love Has No Age Limit” by ethologists Patricia B. McConnell and Karen B. London. The book was written to help families bring an adopted dog into their home and while it is an easy read, it is comprehensive and very helpful.
When we consider the needs of animals in our care they may live out their lives as joyfully as possible, giving us the best of times with them in the bargain.