Becoming a Better Friend to Your Pet

Clip_352It wasn’t about kittens doing the darnedest things. Under the headline “What Your Cat Is Thinking,” it examined the new book “Cat Sense,” by a British biologist, John Bradshaw, who flags his seriousness of purpose with his subtitle, “How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet.” Bradshaw means to get into the cat brain.

He’s already plumbed its canine counterpart, in the 2011 book “Dog Sense,” which was also grounded in research, not sentiment, and in the idea that pets have inner lives more complicated than we imagine. “Dog Sense” was published just two years after the huge best seller “Inside of a Dog,” by the psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz, which pivoted on the same notion.

It was “Inside of a Dog” in particular that caught my friend Kerry Lauerman’s attention, cluing him in to a quickly shifting human perspective on animals.

“There’s this growing obsession with animal cognition,” he said. Referring specifically to pets, he added: “We don’t want animals just for comfort. We really want to know them.” He mentioned another widely emailed story in The Times, from October, by a neuroeconomics professor who was doing M.R.I. scans of dogs’ brains and finding suggestions of emotions like ours. Its telling headline: “Dogs Are People, Too.”

Lauerman wasn’t merely musing. He was explaining the rationale for a new website, The Dodo, that’s dedicated to animal news and features and made its debut this week. He’s its chief executive officer and editor in chief, and came to it from the influential online publication Salon, where he was the editor in chief from late 2010 to mid-2013.

One of The Dodo’s principal financial backers is Ken Lerer, the current chairman of BuzzFeed and one of the founders of the Huffington Post. His daughter, Izzie Lerer, created and developed the site with Lauerman. Additionally, she’s finishing up her doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University, where her research focuses on the evolving compact between people and animals.

The Dodo’s pedigree speaks to a broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase “animal welfare.” An era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us. You see signs everywhere.

A story in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported a sharp rise over the last few years in the fraction of American dog and cat owners with provisions in their wills for their pets. Nearly one in every 10 have made such arrangements.

One of the most fervently embraced documentaries of 2013 was “Blackfish,” shown over and over on CNN. It doesn’t just depict mistreatment of killer whales at SeaWorld; it makes the case that these glorious mammals have rich social and family connections and a profound capacity for grief.

There’s been extensive discussion lately of elephants’ emotional lives, and Hillary Clinton, with her famously active political antenna, recently found time to narrate a documentary, “White Gold,” about the bloody wages of the ivory trade, and to speak at its premiere.

People who go on lion hunts encounter stern public shaming. (The Dodo recounts a recent example.) Bill de Blasio has prioritized the retirement of Central Park’s carriage horses. Several prominent retailers, including Gap and H&M, stopped procuring angora last year after a widely shared video of the fur being yanked from rabbits’ bodies. The movement to accord chimpanzees and some other kinds of apes legal rights is accelerating, and greater scrutiny of food production has prompted keener disgust over the fate of many farm animals, along with state legislation to spare them florid suffering.

This is only going to build, because at the same time that scientific advances force us to gaze upon the animal kingdom with more respect, the proliferation of big and little cameras — of eyes everywhere — permits us to eavesdrop not just on animal play but also on animal persecution. It’s all documented, it all goes viral, and we can’t turn away, or claim ignorance, as easily as we once did.

“Those creatures big and small that have fed, frightened, entertained, comforted and awed us are no longer just them,” Lauerman writes in a letter to The Dodo’s readers. “Increasingly, they are us.”

!cid_575151101@18122007-0ED1Have you thought about getting another dog?

There are lots of reasons why it might be a good idea. Many pet owners feel guilty when they go to work, leaving their pups home all day. They wonder if having a companion may make the day less boring.

Other owners just really love having lots of pets and would like to add another to their home.

Responsible owners often ask me whether it’s a good idea to add another dog to the home. My answer is that it depends on the personalities of the dogs you already have. For some dogs, bringing a new addition into the household makes total sense. They love the canine companionship and have a great time. Other dogs don’t do as well, experiencing problems with dominance and behavior as a result.

Before you rush out to a shelter or breeder, the first question you should ask is whether another dog is a good idea.

If you decide that yes, you should get another dog, the next step is helping the new and current dogs get to know each other. There are some things you should do and some you shouldn’t when introducing a new dog in to your home.

And because your dog is new, you don’t know each other well yet and you may not know how likely he or she is to get into trouble. Even adult dogs can make mischief sometimes! I think it’s a good idea to “puppy-proof your home when any new dog comes, even if they’re an adult.

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