Alright, let me preface this by saying that the concept of “animal ownership” in itself is a little bit weird. The idea of “owning” another living being brings up some comparisons that I don’t particularly like associating with the relationship that me and my partner have. But at the end of the day from a purely legal perspective, he’s my property, as well as my responsibility. And that kind of relationship gives a lot of power to me, and very little to him. While society does have some basic guard rails in place to try and limit outright cruelty, even still within the confines of the law things can get pretty bad in cases where there is an owner with a cruel heart.
Thankfully, just because the system is bad doesn’t mean that you have to be. Society may treat your partner as less worthwhile, but that’s why it’s all the more important that you treat them like a person. So let’s talk about a few ways that you can easily adapt to your own life to make sure that you’re being a good partner rather than a bad animal owner. Also, this one probably won’t even be that zooey, so feel free to share some of these tips with your more homosapien-attracted friends!
Anyway, let’s start with the biggest thing that a lot of this circles around: Autonomy.
Google defines autonomy as:
“Freedom from external control or influence; independence.”
This is something that the pets in our lives get very little of. What and when they eat, when and where they pee, where they’re allowed to go and who they’re allowed to talk to, all of these are decision that you make, and while they can try and provide input, at the end of the day what they want doesn’t really matter to most humans who they’re trying to catch the ear of. The biggest and easiest change you can make to improve your animal’s autonomy considerably is just to start giving them back any amount of control over their own lives. Now, obviously society isn’t in a place where you can offer then total autonomy, but the more that you look the more that you can give them chances.
For instance, a really simple first step for dog owners is letting your dog choose where they want to walk. Most people tend to have a route that they go when taking their dogs out to pee. But, this is one of their few chances to leave the house. It’s a glimpse at the world outside the front doors. While to you, taking them for a walk is probably a utilitarian action you take to avoid having to clean dog pee from your couch, to them it can be so much more. Giving them the ability to explore the world at their own pace, at least a little bit more anyway, gives them back a piece of their freedom.
More than just letting them choose the route, you can also give them the time and space to take the walk at their pace. Dogs experience the world in a totally different way than we do. What to you might look like any other sign on the side of the road may be a fascinating tapestry of smells to the dog you’re walking. If they’re fascinated by something, they’ll definitely appreciate the chance to take it all in. If you can enjoy staring at a weird box in your house for hours, they can enjoy that particular spot for an extra couple seconds. But also, not every walk needs to be slow, and different days might be different. Walking with a leash is all about communication, and trying to find a healthy compromise between what both of you want is going to be more satisfying for everyone.
Dogs aren’t the only animals that require a bit of thought when it comes to how to be a responsible owner. For those of you out there with horse pals, making sure that they can roam around as much as they want is an easy way for them to express some level of autonomy. Horses tend to like to wander, so try to let them as much as possible. And if you can, try to get them out of the farm every now and then too! There’s a whole world out there, and while it’s not quite as easy to just strap a leash on them and take them for a walk, they’ll appreciate being able to see outside the confines of the fence just as much! It doesn’t just make them happier, but also more relaxed!
You can do a lot more than just learn how to walk good though. Here’s another example that’s relevant to animals of all sizes. What do you like to eat? Do you like certain kinds of food? Are there things that you don’t want in your meals? Unfortunately, some of the smaller, less domesticated animals in your life probably aren’t able to communicate to you “I like this but not that” very well outside of just starving themselves in the hopes that you understand. But there are work arounds to this! One option you could try is to put out a few different bowls of food and see what they tend to go for. You probably don’t even need to buy three options, many pet stores will allow your partner to have a bit of a sample so you can try before you buy. And don’t forget to mix it up once in a while! You can redo this experiment every now and then to see if they’d like to try something new for a bit. And how about something a little bit more fun? Sure, from a pure practicality perspective it’s probably not reasonable to cook them a full course meal every day, but in the same way that you like to go out and treat yourself once in a while, make sure you treat them too! Remember that different animals experience food differently as well. Look up the kinds of foods that your animal enjoys most! I know my canine partner really loves it if the food that I cook smells as good as it looks, so I make sure to make it as aromatic as possible. Just also remember that different animals are going to have very different sensitivities to different foods, so do your research before trying to serve your horse any avacado toast!
And hey, do you work? Does your work take you out of the house? Have you ever thought about what your animals do while you’re away from home? Different animals enjoy doing different things, but chances are that a lot of the time they’re sitting around bored out of their minds. Just think about what you would do trapped at home by yourself for that long. I very much doubt your cat is enjoying Tears of the Kingdom as much as you are. One of the best things you can do for your pets is to make sure they have lots of options for while you’re not home. Make sure they have lots of toys that they can play with, and double check that they’re things they can enjoy by themselves. There are lots of reports that leaving the TV or a radio on also helps to give animals something to do while you’re not around. Sure it’s not necessarily speaking their language, but it’s something somewhat dynamic that can provide something to ponder while you’re out there doing boring human things. Maybe a cat or a dog would also like to have the blinds open to watch cars pass by, or even have the window left open a crack to get some smells in too, if the weather and the neighborhood permits it.
That said, the best and most fun thing to play with is you! …No, not in that way! Not for this article anyway! Games are always more fun to play together with friends, and to pets that you live with, you probably rank up their in their best friends just based off of proximity! It’s easy to get home and zone out on the couch, but your pets have been waiting for you to get back and are probably very excited to see you! Take the time to tug some rope, throw some ball, or flick around the cat flicky thing!
This is absolutely by no means an exhaustive list of the things you can do to enrich the lives of the pets you may have. Instead, the hope is that these examples get you thinking about what other things you can do to give your pets the best life possible. Being a responsible pet owner is about always thinking about what’s best for their lives, and putting aside some of your own personal convenience to make it happen.
Having animals is such a gift. Treasure it, treasure them.
Article written by Tarro (June 2023)
Find them at https://twitter.com/hereforthezoo
Questions, comments or concerns? Check out the discussion thread over on ZooCommunity, or join our Discord server!