TIME was, we were comfortable being racist when it came to dogs, cats and birds.
We could be cavalier about the predilections and peccadilloes of each breed in a species. We agreed that budgies could be taught to speak, while canaries were hopeless bores but expert as alarm bells in coal mines. Tabbies were accomplished at purring, Siamese at whining. Rhodesian Ridgebacks were your go-to dog if you had to track a lion, while Jack Russells filled the bill whenever you smelled a rat.
No more. Just as it’s no longer okay to ascribe particular characteristics to people because of their racial backgrounds, society has resolved that our beloved pets shouldn’t be limited by their traditional roles or natural inclinations. Hence, swimming lessons for dogs.
A Lower Mainland woman now charges $40 for half an hour to teach your pug (or whatever) to do the breaststroke. Or maybe it’s the butterfly. No matter the swimming style, apparently your stubby lapdog is missing out if it cannot enjoy an athletic plunge whenever it gets a yen.
I heard about this on the CBC, so it must be true. Just as any one of us (whether we’re shaped like a bowling ball or a frankfurter) is entitled to enroll in Aquacize, basset hounds and Great Danes alike ought to take to the water like Jake Gyllenhaal did to Reese Witherspoon.
The CBC radio feature on this topic mentioned a raucous birthday pool party for 14. Some might suggest that the guests’ wild enthusiasm for water sports was linked to them being Labradors. Myself, I don’t want to sound prejudiced, biased, or anything else, or jump to any conclusions about what Labradors may or may not like, or may or may not be good at.
We don’t believe in things like natural proclivities in this day and age. Everybody can do everything if they just put their minds to it, even if their mind happens to be the size of a French lentil. If Oprah can figure out how to haul her bulk along a zip-track, we reason, a finch can certainly learn to play canasta.
We also feel it’s wrong to differentiate between people and animals. We humans understand that life is nasty, brutish and short; dogs don’t. Still, we insist on celebrating their birthdays. No longer is a scrambled egg and an extra belly scratch sufficient largesse for Fifi on her big day. She must have friends over to the pool.
Such indulgence is easy to understand. According to the CBC, a dog can get depressed — who knows why, but I suspect it has something to do with the imminence of bikini season. The best therapy around, then, is mastering a new exercise; this should prep paunchy Pierre the poodle for donning Speedo briefs, and inspire Natalie, the not-so-svelte Newfoundland, to order a one-piece from Lands End with a bit of a skirt to hide her hairy thighs.
Stay tuned for the swimming classes for cats.
Cats, as we all know, are precious angels, no matter how evil their temperaments, clawing techniques, or urine-related hobbies. Still, the fact that they’re nocturnal and their owners aren’t gets in the way of non-stop delight, am I right?
Perhaps you cat-owners occasionally tire of little puss batting your privates between her paws all night, or using your dreaming head as a kind of hemorrhoidal cushion. “Rather than punish your cat for following her natural activity schedule, train her to shift her active phase to earlier in the evening or later in the morning,” suggests a website called perfectpaws.com. “You might find it easier to provide kitty with quieter nighttime activities that are less intrusive on your sleep; and don’t let kitty use your bed and bedroom as the playing field.”
Based on my observations of cat owners’ common sense approach to their animal companions, I have a few suggestions for nighttime activities for “kitty.” First, reserve it the biggest room in your house. You don’t want your little sweetie to be cramped in any way. Then, design that room around peaceful play, much as you would a library for preschoolers. Before you retire each night, turn on a DVD of tropical fish swimming around aimlessly.
At that point, set “kitty” up for low-key good times. Knitting is a quiet hobby that cats can enjoy. (A word to the wise: balls of yarn will have to be replaced with surprising frequency, and I wouldn’t expect matching pairs of mittens.) A lot of insomniacs enjoy crossword puzzles, and if you manage to find one featuring mice, birds or sluggish-looking dogs on it, that should provide “kitty” with countless hours of fun-filled noggin-scratching.
Perhaps yours is an outdoorsy feline, although that’s increasingly unusual in these days of ravenous coyotes — not to suggest that coyotes would ever be up to no good. If wee hour roaming is an interest, why not equip “kitty” with a headlamp and have it play neighbourhood night-watchman? (Hint: Try spaying or neutering it first.)
There are all kinds of frustrated pets in our midst, and clearly we don’t want them to go back to their wild old habits, things like stalking and killing prey, or mating with whoever strikes their fancy. So we simply have to find ways to amuse them. This isn’t especially new. The Daily Telegraph recently noted that ancient Egypt’s Cleopatra deemed worms sacred and assigned a group of priests to their wellbeing.
As Cleopatra would, I worry constantly about the boredom of iguanas. Chameleons, too, seem terribly under-stimulated. And I think we can all agree that the sloth at the Vancouver Aquarium looks like he needs something to do. Tap-dancing lessons for these gentle creatures are the obvious solution. Imagine how they’ll grin at their recitals.
Meanwhile, guinea pigs are clever little things who are fast on their feet. Why not get them interested in Chinese cuisine? I don’t mean starring in the stir-fries themselves, heaven forbid, but taking charge of the chopping functions. It’ll make a change from the treadmill, and cooking certainly worked wonders for that mopey rodent in Ratatouille.
Really, once you start thinking about it, the possibilities are endless. Everybody needs a challenge. If elephants can paint, why can’t snails be roofers? Why shouldn’t a tarantula operate a crane?
As an open-minded individual, I’m keen to encourage our animal friends. I figure a Chihuahua who swims a 10-minute mile is just the tip of the iceberg.