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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Pets"
Volume 4 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Our Perception of Pets
by Jean Hofve, DVM

Just last week, I returned from a month-long sojourn to India. Standing out among the many striking differences between India and America (or between any third-world and first-world country) is the very different way animals are perceived and treated.

In the month I traveled in India, I saw only 3 "pet" dogs and 1 "pet" cat. However, especially in the cities, there are stray dogs to be seen everywhere during the day; the numerous cats, of course, come out at night. There are also many free-roaming cows, goats, and monkeys, as well as the occasional pig or chicken.

For the most part, animals are ignored, just part of the environment. They wander wherever they want. In some ways, it seems like a pretty good life - they're free to do whatever they want.

However, there is a price to pay for that freedom: most animals have no one to care for them. They must survive as scavengers, eating whatever they find in the streets or along the waterfront. Virtually all the dogs are underweight and covered with bald patches and scabs from scratching at parasites - they are infested with mange, fleas, and other parasites, and they are filthy from living in the streets. The cats are thin and dirty; the males are scarred from fights. None are neutered, so they reproduce freely. Most are unsocialized, and generally ignore humans.

The notion of "pets" is just not a part of Indian culture; at least not among the poor and working classes I encountered. In most countries, dogs and cats were first kept as "pets" by monks and other clerics, nobles, and royalty. Today dogs and cats are regarded as pets mostly in highly developed countries. When a country is well off, so are its pets. But many things in India seem to be little changed for the past few hundreds or thousands of years, and economic well-being has yet to reach the vast majority of India's population.

For many of us in the West, pets have taken on an added dimension: spirituality. Animal communicators tell us dogs, cats, and horses have "volunteered" to serve as guides, teachers, and healers to humans. Authors like Susan Chernak McElroy, Carol Gurney, Kate Solisti, and Penelope Smith are top sellers on Amazon.com. Certainly, most of us have been on the receiving end of the ministrations of pets, and have many stories to tell. Our pets are companions and friends - equal partners in the journey of life.

In India it seems, despite a deep spiritual heritage, and aside from a few popular deities like elephant-headed Ganesh and monkey warrior Hanuman, animals have been left out of the spiritual equation. Are animals in India simply not part of the pact these species have made to help mankind? Or are they doing their teaching in ways Westerners like me don't understand?

Clearly, animals' karmic paths are very diverse in different parts of the world. But clearly, humans are extremely privileged to be worthy of animals' affection and attention, wherever it is bestowed. Those of us who recognize the spiritual partnership we have with animals need to always remember to honour and respect this precious bond. We have a unique opportunity: let's stay willing to learn and to follow where the animals lead.

Dr. Jean Hofve has been a holistic veterinarian for more than 12 years. She founded SpiritEssence in 1995, which remains the only line of essence formulas for animals created by a veterinarian. Dr. Hofve does health, nutrition, and behavior consultations through www.littlebigcat.com.

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