LEWIS CENTER, OHIO -- The concept is positively brilliant, integrating an urban definition of animals -- living with pets, sharing our beds with them -- with the very different rural reality of animals living on the farm. The non-profit Animals For LIFE Foundation was founded in 2009 in Ohio to marry the urban world and the farm world.
Since its inception, the organization has launched public education initiatives supporting relationships with animals and funded groups involved in various types of programs, including animal assisted therapy and therapeutic equine programs (hippotherapy).
The backdrop on stage at the first Animals for LIFE Summit March 20 at North Pointe Conference Center in Lewis Center (near Columbus), OH said in big, bold letters: "Life is Better with Animals in the Picture." Cheering that concept was featured speaker Dr. Temple Grandin, the famously autistic animal behaviorist who was the subject of an award-winning HBO movie starring Claire Danes. The title of her speech (and one of her books) was, "Animals Make Us Human."
"There's science to show this," said Grandin. "Animals have the same emotions we do. So, if you destroy where fear resides in the brain, the amygdala, rats will walk right up to cats; their fear goes away."
Of course, eliminating fear is a good thing, from teaching cats to go inside a carrier (rather than forcing them inside) for a veterinary visit to teaching an antelope to voluntarily stand still for a medical blood draw in a zoo. "The secret is offering the option and then allowing the animal to make a choice without force," Grandin added.
In answer to the query, "Do animals make us human?" Grandin answered in affirmative. "I think it's very sad that growing up today, about 25 percent of people have no pets. We have to expose kids positively to animals. That's a lot better than other stuff, like video games," she said.
Grandin also appeared on a panel with Dr. Jeanette O'Quin, public health and clinical veterinarian at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University. In a question-and-answer session, they were asked about the "no kill" movement -- the idea that selected shelters never euthanize.
O'Quin, co-author of the "Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters," commented: "We've improved so much, though we have a long ways to go. In 1970, about 20 million animals were euthanized in shelters, today that's about three million. Some tend to want to suggest that the issue of pet-overpopulation is simple, when it's really quite complex. Our ultimate goal should be to keep pets out of shelters in the first place."
Grandin added, "It may be called ‘no kill,’ but to have an animal in a shelter for years, how much quality of life is there? We have to be careful, and we should consider (the pets') welfare."
Welfare was also a topic discussed by local veterinarian Dr. Tod Beckett. He asked, "How is it in the pets' best interest to never see a veterinarian? "Twenty-three percent of household spent zero dollars on their pets (in 2011)." He noted that people think they know when their pet is sick, but that's not always true, especially with cats. For example, Beckett said about half of all cats are diagnosed in the beginning stages of kidney disease without their owners noticing, and about 10 percent of cats over 10 years old are hyperthyroid without their owners ever knowing.
Beckett offered a simple solution: "See your veterinarian regularly for preventive pet health care."
Sparky Weilnau, president of the Animals for LIFE (ALF) Foundation, explained that while he grew up on a farm, he now has a very close relationship with his pets. "My wife and I have a 14-year-old dog and 16-year-old cat. With our child grown and gone, these pets have become companions, our dear friends, our family. I can imagine my stories about my relationships with animals are similar to many of yours, and the bond we have with animals is a necessary part of life for many of us. That explains why I'm involved with AFL Foundation. I believe the strong bond between animals and humans gives our lives more meaning, more depth, more pleasure. I also believe that can be true for the animals, too."
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services
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Tags: Animals for LIFE Foundation, Animals Make us Human, Dr. Jeanette O'Quin, Dr. Tod Beckett, hippotherapy, human animal bond, human animal interactions, service dogs, Sparky Weilnau, Steve Dale, Steve Dale archives, Temple Grandin, therapeutic riding