DEAR DR. FOX: I have a rescued beagle with separation anxiety. He chewed my curtains, woodwork around the windows (Plexiglas solved that) and the sofa skirt. Each time I left for short periods, I petted him and said, "I'll be right back." Upon returning, I said, "Right back, right back." Although the words probably didn't mean anything, he'd hear them every time.
After three weeks, he was fine. I still say the words as a habit. He'd had a companion beagle, but that didn't calm him down. The routine I mentioned did. -- J.M., Fairfield, Connecticut
DEAR J.M.: Thanks for confirming how many dogs can overcome separation anxiety following your common sense -- and intuitive -- approach.
Far too many dogs and other animals are overmedicated for their separation anxiety; I appreciate the way your managed your dog's.
DEAR DR. FOX: A few weeks ago, I was very sick with food poisoning. At times I was moaning in pain, moving from place to place; my cat Cleo followed me everywhere, much like the stories you hear about pet cats in hospitals. My cat looked like she felt sympathy for me.
Is it just speculation or scientific that she can feel emotions for me? Am I being too anthropomorphic? I think she really felt for me. -- C.O.D., Alexandria, Virginia
DEAR C.O.D.: Many people have written to me expressing their surprise, appreciation and amazement that some cats seem to know when to become attentive and caring when their human companions are clearly suffering -- be it from abdominal pain, a broken leg or pure and simple grief or depression.
Many cats will lie right against a painful part of the person's body, and their purring may be both relaxing and healing. Just as with humans, some cats seem self-involved and lacking empathy, while others are highly empathetic, which can make them more vulnerable to others' emotional distress.
No, you are not "anthropomorphizing" so much as "zoo-morphizing." Cats and humans (like other animals) have similar brain centers and neuro-endocrine systems mediating emotional responses that enable us to understand each other at an intuitive level.
Such interspecies communication is limited for those who are instrumental rationalists and doubt even that animals share with us similar emotional states and, therefore, cognitive processing.
For more details on the topic of empathy, see my books "Cat Body, Cat Mind" and "Animals and Nature First."
FIREWORKS -- NO FUN FOR ANIMALS
Setting off loud fireworks is an unquestioned cultural tradition, but for animals' sakes, it is an abomination and should be strictly limited, if not prohibited. For several days before and after the July 4 Independence Day celebrations -- and New Year's Eve -- there are sporadic bursts in many neighborhoods, causing injury to unsupervised children and wildlife, especially roosting birds, who fly in the dark and injure or kill themselves. People with cats and dogs should not leave them unattended during the peak time. Draw the blinds and put them in a quiet room with the radio or TV on at high volume to act as a sound barrier. For dogs who are scared and may try to go through a window or screen door in terror, a tight T-shirt or ThunderShirt can have a calming effect, as can melatonin given 30 minutes before the expected explosions.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)