The first ever Focus on Pets column appeared in the Payson Roundup on Nov. 5, 2002. Thus, this week's column marks four years of publication. Jerry Thebado was the editor then and a dog lover who was open to the idea of a pet column. Many wondered if I would be able to think of enough things to write about, week after week. That has not been a problem.
During these four years, I have never missed getting a column to the paper. That is a lot of columns. The photo of Higgins and I together accompanied my byline from the start. Black dogs are difficult to photograph and publisher Richard Haddad once suggested that I have my photo taken with a non-black dog. Naturally, I said, "Impossible."
Initially, the column did not include photos but soon, one seemed fitting. At the time, I had the old-fashioned 35 mm camera with film that needed to be developed. I would take the photos, drop the film off for one hour processing and then take the chosen photo to the newspaper office, which by then was often closed, so I would slip it under the door, or put it under the stack of Rim Reviews in the green box outside the door.
Life is much easier now. I take the photos with my wonderful digital camera and e-mail the photos to the paper along with the column. I have sent the column and photo using the phone line in the laundry room in the RV park in Corvallis, Ore., from the phone hook-up in the lobby of the fancy RV resort in Las Vegas and from many other parts of the country.
Autumn Phillips is now the editor and is most supportive of Focus on Pets.
I have a few passions which I try to promote as often as possible in my columns. First and foremost is the dream that every dog and cat be spayed or neutered. There are plenty of responsible breeders who are committed to improving the breeds they love. The irresponsible puppy mill folks and backyard breeders are creating all sorts of health and physical problems within breeds. Those who want a purebred dog should do their homework and find a responsible breeder. There are more than enough wonderful dogs in shelters to keep us all well supplied for a long time.
My other passion is encouraging everyone to make their dog part of the family. It is so pathetic to think of these dogs locked in the backyard with little or no people contact. Dogs are pack animals and need to be part of a pack, whether it is a people pack or a dog pack. Dogs want to be part of the family pack and as they spend time with the family and get a little direction, they find their place in that pack. Besides the need for a pack, dogs are happiest when they have work to do. The more they are challenged, the more eager they are to learn more.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, titled "What Your Pet is Thinking" looks at all sorts of newly emerging scientific evidence showing various thinking done by animals. Quoting from the article, "Ethnologists, the scientists who study animal behavior, have amassed thousands of studies showing that animals can count, understand cause and effect, form abstractions, solve problems, use tools and even deceive."
A child who grows up without mental stimulation still has the capacity to learn. Many extremely intelligent young people end up in jail because they were never encouraged to use their brains in positive directions and therefore, they turned their energies to destructive actions.
Dogs, particularly the high energy breeds such as border collies, can become extremely destructive if not provided an outlet. They need a job or they will find their own. The verdict is still out on just how intelligent and thinking our canine friends are, but each of us who lives with pets knows that they show emotions of happiness, guilt and anticipation. The more we teach them, the more they want to learn.
Through these columns, I have met a lot of terrific people and learned a lot about dogs. People often look at me, particularly if Higgins is with me, and then ask if I am the one who writes the pet column. It has been fun and interesting.
Hopefully I have encouraged at least one person to spay or neuter their pet, to check their health records and get that most valuable rabies shot. Maybe one person has begun taking their dog for a walk.
My most wonderful reward would be to have one person bring their dog in from the back yard and into the family.
My very first column began with Emerson's words, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." My own words followed, "Dogs give us so many chances, constantly forgiving and always eager to pursue the friendships they seek so dearly." If we give them the opportunity to be our friends, the rewards will forever amaze us.
Spend a little time with your dog. Teach him a trick. Take him for a walk. You will love it and so will he. In the meantime, thanks for being a loyal reader of Focus On Pets.
Christy Powers is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.