Purina® is Committed to Improving the Lives of Pets & People
As a former New Yorker, I jump at any opportunity to head back to the city that, for me, embodies dreams. Mine, and those of millions of others.
Recently, I was invited to attend the Purina Better With Pets Summit in New York City, where it was the dreams of animal lovers and pet parents that took center stage at the Brooklyn Expo Center. With hopes of a kinder world for animals and ourselves, each person I met had a story, one that began with a special dog, or perhaps an unexpected kitten, that awakened something deep inside and forever changed the course of his or her life.
Animal people are funny that way. Our pets are bigger than that word; pets. They are our friends, our family, the best end to a bad day and totems to a better world.
This year’s annual gathering of pet bloggers and social media influencers included several featured speakers, each an expert in their field, three panel discussions and an experiential zone, with the entire day designed to be an exploration of the relationship between people and their pets and how this dynamic is key to emotional wellness, both theirs and ours.
The three days I spent with old and new friends were humbling. Having pre-Summit drinks and taking selfies with pet bloggers I adore, listening to the sage words of experts such as Dr. Arleigh Reynolds and Dr. Marty Becker, learning how sled dogs define both the history and the modern rebirth of the indigenous people of Huslia, Alaska are just a few of the highlights that stay with me.
The heartwarming, heartbreaking, loving and inspiring story
of Huslia, Alaska is right here.
During my trip, with the theme of the summit- Emotional Wellness- at the forefront of my mind, I felt an even deeper connection to dogs generally, but most especially to my own boys. Yes, I’m a dog person and everything that that means. Yet, despite this particularly deep connection, I slept fitfully without the physical warmth of my own boys lying next to me. Believe it or not, there is comfort and energizing sleep to be found in a pack of dingoes taking over your bed, banishing you to some tundric corner with half a pillow to call your own.
Being separated from my boys is stressful, which settled in my body as pangs of tension. I missed them, viscerally.
You see, I work from home and it is rare that more than an hour goes by without one of my boys popping in to say hi. It is rarer still that I spend an entire night away, let alone three. My husband is the road warrior, I am the stay-at-home dad, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
During downtime those three days, I roamed the streets without my boys, my heart jumping every time I saw a dog approaching, my stomach knotting as he walked away. Come Tuesday night, I couldn’t take it any longer. I needed a fix, so I followed a stranger with a young Labradoodle for a block and a half before I summoned the courage to ask if I could say hi.
As I plopped down on a sidewalk of New York, I felt relaxation for the first time in days, as a young pup of nine or ten months jumped and wagged and wiggled in my lap. Each of us- the young dog without a name, the kind man watching his dog unable to contain her excitement, and me, the dog stalker- were filled with love as time stood still and the world around us faded. Walking away into the night, my eyes turned towards my hotel, I realized that my emotional and physiological response to that dog had just proven Purina’s point: that life is better with pets, for both us and them.
Reflecting on my experiences at the 2015 Better With Pets summit, many moments stand out.
That young black pup who made me cry, a blogger friend who reconnected and rekindled a relationship with her estranged sister, something unlikely if it weren’t for this summit celebrating pets, an emotionally charged speech by Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, a panel discussion high-fiving the relationship between Millennials and cats, an exploration into the healing power of pets for kids in need, and a bottomless cup of freshly made-to-order coffee from the Nespresso® bar; it was a busy day curated to inspire people to think about their relationship with their pets and to create a space where pet bloggers could meet and connect with their tribe, returning home inspired and ready to spread the word.
I learned about the impact of stress on our pets during the panel discussion, “Stress, Our Pets, and Us”. I remember the goosebumps on my arm as Dr. Tony Buffington suggested that, although we can’t eliminate stress from our pet’s lives, we can work to make sure that their “perception of control is greater than their perception of threat”.
The same panelists’ discussion about contra-freeloading was exciting. This is the scientific theory that animals prefer working for their food, which led to a deeper discussion of the importance of puzzle-feeding for pets. Puzzle-feeding simultaneously stimulates an animal’s mind and body, and is a great way to both reduce stress and enrich your pet’s life. As a former shelter worker, this advice resonated with me and I wish every pet parent and every animal shelter employee and volunteer could hear those words and take them to heart.
You might think a Gen X Dog Person like me would sit politely through a panel discussion titled, “Millennials and Cats”, feigning interest and nodding thoughtfully on cue, but you would be wrong. Though I’m a dog person and dog blogger, I actually have more cats than dogs. It’s seven vs. four here at Deaf Dog Central and, I promise you, it’s the cats that run this joint!
During the discussion, panelist Mykel Maria Delgado raised an important point that echoes still. In her home, cats compete with iPads and other electronic devices for human attention and interaction. So much so, that these devices have been dubbed “plastic cats” in her home. That off-handed joke was a lightbulb moment for me, reminding me to to set down my phone or laptop and make time for my dogs (and cats), and to live in the moment a little more often. Emails and Instagram shares are fleeting; it is the quilt of small, quiet moments with our pets that create meaning in our lives and the lives of our four-legged friends.
The last panel of the day was focused on children and pets. My life is such that no one in my social circle has children, nor are they likely to anytime soon. Children aren’t on my radar, except when they are, which ironically, is a lot of the time.
You see, my personal childhood experiences and the road I’ve traveled since piqued my curiosity and made me sit up tall, absorbing every word.
There were moments as the speakers shared incredible stories about a dog and a boy that my eyes welled up, releasing fears, undamming an emotional flood of both pain and inspiration as my life and my truth were revealed back to me through the prism of others. Knowing that I am not alone in the experience of being healed by a dog was affirming and inspiring.
Animals help children connect with themselves and the world around them in so many ways. Whether it is reading programs where dogs and cats help children gain confidence and find their voice, emotional support dogs for children caught up in court cases, and animals that help victims blossom into survivors; these stories exemplify the power of dogs and cats and bellow what I wish everyone knew: that life IS better with pets.
My time in New York, both at the Summit as well as before and after, was inspiring. Sensory memories still abound. I may be back home, sitting on the couch under a pile of dogs, unable to reach my coffee because I’m unwilling to move and disturb their dog dreams, but those three days are still impacting me. I’m making some changes in my life in hopes of improving my entire family’s life- my husband’s, my dogs’, my cats’ and mine- and I’ll be sharing those changes with you soon. I will be a better pet parent than I am today and that is because of the Purina #BetterWithPets summit.
How do you handle your dog’s stress? Do you incorporate food puzzles into your dog’s life? Leave your thoughts below!
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