what makes a great pet? our connection to furry friends

Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Jan 24 2014

A client recently asked me, “What makes a great pet?” It caught me off-guard. Truth is, I’d never really given it much thought.

All pets are great, right? Some pets are truly incredible, amazing once-in-a-lifetime friends we’re lucky to share our lives with. Others, maybe not so much. Good – just not quite great. So what makes the difference? How could I answer that question?

When I finished seeing patients later that day, I decided to list the attributes of great pets I’ve known over the past 40-plus years. This list is incomplete, totally biased, and probably down-right wrong. But it’s my list, so here goes:

1) Looks and/or acts like me.

Ok, I know this sounds superficial and shallow, but I see it all the time in my clients and patients. People tend to pick pets that resemble them in some manner. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

Socialites clutch a Chihuahua or Maltese, the only two breeds that could keep up with the Kardashians.

Big dudes prize Bulldogs and active people like Labs.

Cats, in general, tolerate us humans as long as we serve them faithfully and don’t request much – well, anything from them.

Perhaps we seek out the best parts of ourselves in the pets we choose. Our pets definitely bring out the best parts in us. Either way, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it (as the proud owner of a hyperactive, hyper-vocal, whippet-thin beagle-Lab beach mutt).

2) Doesn’t mess in or mess up the house.

Despite the popularity of movies like Marley and Me, pets that destroy the home don’t tend to go down in the annals of greatness. Constantly chewing, making messes or damaging furniture earns most pets permanent residence in the doghouse.

I often hear clients complaining about their current companion as they fondly recall a previous pet that “trained themselves” or “never, ever behaved like this.” They share stories of how these great pets of the past were faultless. I’m guessing the passage of time has softened the harsher realities of puppyhood. I know today’s problem pet is tomorrow’s perfection.

The good news is we can effectively train our pets to share our lifestyles with just a little effort. Unless, of course, your pet is Marley.

3) Speaks to me.

At the risk of sounding New Age-y, I communicate with my pets. Really. Not in a “Dog Psychic” or “My Cat from Hell” television-shenanigans way, but in a quieter, more personal manner.

A look, wag, or head bump speak volumes to me.

My pets cheer me up when I’m down, inspire me when I need motivation, and celebrate my successes. Regardless of the economy, traffic or how grumpy I want to be, it’s nearly impossible to remain glum when I’m covered in dog kisses and my cats wind their way round my legs. They tell me to knock off the gloom and enjoy the moment at hand.

And, somehow, amazingly, it works. Every. Single. Time. I can’t explain it and I don’t know if I want to. I just know it is. And that’s what makes pets great.

So what makes a great pet to you? Do you talk with your pets? Do they talk back? I’d love to hear your thoughts about our fantastic four-legged friends in the comments.