If you had to reduce me to a laundry list of personality traits, “good with animals” would be up somewhere near the top of that list. I love animals. I am one of those people that say that they like animals better than people. While I currently work as a private dog groomer, I have had experience with a wide range of domestic and exotic animals. Most people consider the ease with which I work with a wide range of animals a gift. Although I have been constantly surrounded by pets and wild animals since my childhood, I have only been bitten twice, of which I was only responsible for one bite. The reason why I’m good with animals isn’t because of some inborn gift, but because of two rules that I have, that apply to every single animal.
- The animal isn’t going to always perceive the world in the same way that I do.
- The animal isn’t going to always react to things in the same way that I would, even if we both have very similar perceptions.
This is something that pet owners don’t often consider. It’s true whether you’re dealing with wild animals (I would say that these rules are even more true for wild or exotic animals, who haven’t been domesticated in the same way dogs and cat have and therefore are less likely to react to our behavior in predictable ways, at least by human standards.) Ditching anthropomorphization (the practice of ascribing human traits to animals) helped me work with animals in better, safer ways.
For example, I groomed a very large dog recently. The dog has broken a femur when they was young in an accident and as a result had a series of pins in their hind leg. The dog was around eight years old, and had been groomed regularly, so they were familiar with being groomed. The staff knew that lifting the hind leg caused them pain, and always adjusted their technique accordingly. It is currently the rainy season in Florida, which means massive amounts of uncomfortable humidity coupled with sudden storms and blistering heat in between. As a result, many people take their dogs into grooming and get very close haircuts, and this dog was no exception.
This dog was not happy. They pulled and strained the entire time. A normally calm, collected dog, behaving like an absolute brat, and everyone was unsure why. At least, to an outside observer, the dog would be behaving like a brat. They were aggressive and had a short fuse, snapping at everyone. When their parents showed up, I was exhausted. My coworker told one of them that we couldn’t do a nail trim, because they were so uncomfortable. The owners seemed disappointed, but understanding, and the husband went to go pay, leaving me with the wife. We started chatting, and she told me the whole backstory of the dog. I pointed out that (while I was not a vet, and certainly not able to give her medical advice) there was a good chance considering the weather and resulting humidity that the dog might be acting up out of pain, and that might be something she would want to talk to her vet about. She seemed genuinely surprised, and told me she never thought of that, despite having the dog for years since the accident. She told me that she had a broken bone herself and it would act up during the weather, but she never considered the dog would be in pain, because they never showed “obvious” signs of being in pain. She seemed a lot more understanding about having the rebook for a nail appointment after that – after all, if her dog was potentially in pain, why would she subject it to even more stress?
I would never say that she is a bad owner for not thinking of it, and nobody else should. People expect their pets to behave a certain way and when they behave outside of those expectations they have a hard time understanding why. This is the reason why many otherwise lovely dogs and cats end up in shelters and the basis for many entertaining television shows (Jackson Galaxy is my favorite, mostly because cat behavior is so foreign to most pet owners). Good owners do their research, and consider multiple possibilities before blaming an animal for how they act.
In addition to working as a groomer, I also run a support blog for LGBT+ individuals. I’m fairly well known in my community, and my friends come from all walks of life. It took me years before I could figure out a way to interact with everyone (including people who obviously disagreed with me, and who I was as a person). I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. But, as a result, I came up with a modified set of rules that work just as well on people.
- Not everyone is going to perceive the world in the same way as I do.
- Not everyone is going to react to things in the same way as I would, even if we are feeling the same feeling and perceiving the same things.
These two rules have saved me so much stress and heartbreak. Yes, there’s a much higher chance that me and a fellow human being are going to share the same thoughts or feelings about a situation. But human beings are all about nuance in the same way most animals aren’t, and the tiniest bit of difference can cause a massive conflict. By ditching the same set of assumptions people use for anthropomorphization, I became a better human. I became much more relaxed, forgiving, and kind. I got along better with those who were different from me.
I feel as if more of us starting living by those rules – that we cannot understand how some other person or some other creature else feels, but that we can try – that will make the world a little nicer of a place to live in. Not just for our pets and the wildlife around us, but for the people in our lives, as well.