Giving Back to Man’s Best Friend

Finalist: Amy McBirney

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The key to improving quality of life for our canine companions in the future is to educate owners about the essential physical and social needs of their cherished, loyal pets. For years, Man’s Best Friend has faithfully rescued, fought, waited, worked, played, and served, never asking anything in return. There is no question—these faithful friends deserve our utmost care and concern. Improving our canine’s quality of life is certainly repaid a thousand times over, as they indisputably improve the quality of our lives each and every day.


After many years in 4-H and FFA, I have seen the power in equipping individuals with the knowledge they need to properly care for their animals. My early years were spent learning proper care and handling techniques for a large number of animal species from many educated people who invested time sharing their expertise. I put this knowledge to practice by caring for my own animals at home. As I accumulated my own experiences, I was later able to share this knowledge with youth who had many questions regarding animal care. I found great satisfaction witnessing the newfound confidence instilled in these individuals that I had the opportunity to help. I enjoyed sharing my passion for animal care with others and soon realized they felt enthused and empowered by their newly acquired animal health knowledge. This serves as a prime illustration of the capability education has in changing the quality of life for our treasured four-legged partners both today and in the future.

Each dog has distinctive characteristics specific to its breed, age, physical capabilities, personality, and environment. Understanding the unique needs of our own dogs will facilitate our ability to provide for their social and physical requirements. In many cases, a dog’s quality of life is dependent upon how well suited he is to his family or home environment. For example, a high-energy Border Collie may not be well suited to a sedentary apartment lifestyle. Similarly, an English Bulldog may not adapt well to an active, fast-paced farm routine. Research on the owner’s part, regarding the ideal lifestyle and typical characteristics of each dog prior to committing to ownership is a wise decision that will prevent a compromise in quality of life for both owner and prospective pet. Another way to utilize personal education as a means of improving animal health and wellbeing is to take time to observe, analyze, and interact. Learning about one’s dog comes through personal interaction and there is no doubt that dogs are relational creatures hungering for human interaction and eager to communicate. Spending time with our canines will reveal a great deal about the wellbeing of our pets. These sensitive animals are often telling us precisely what they need, and it is our job to listen carefully and interpret appropriately. Such observations and deductions can subsequently be used to make beneficial lifestyle adjustments.

As an aspiring animal health professional, I believe that rather than merely providing care for my customers’ animals, it is equally as constructive for me to enable my customers to think logically about the health of their animals and become involved in making responsible decisions about the wellbeing of their pets. Knowledge truly is a powerful tool that can be used to improve the way veterinary medicine is practiced and the way dogs are cared for in the future. One primary method of implementing this philosophy is through recognition that we as humans have a great deal of innate knowledge about animal health and wellbeing through our personal experiences regarding our own health and wellbeing.

We, as owners, should always remember we share many things in common with our canine companions. In many ways, the quality of life we seek is similar to that from which our canine counterpart would benefit. What do I mean by this? Well, throughout my pre-veterinary studies, the key components of health and wellbeing have been well elucidated. Physical and social wellbeing, the two main components impacting quality of life, can be seen to interact with and affect one another. In my experiences observing the wide variation in canine companions that make their way through veterinary clinics, one common thread is evident: social and physical health complement and bolster one another. An animal that is physically sound is more capable of leading a stable social existence. It is interesting to notice that this is quite true of humans as well—as we tend to our physical needs, our degree of mental and social satisfaction is consequently enhanced. It would behoove us, as owners concerned about our animal’s health, to focus on adjusting our lifestyle to match the goals associated with our animal’s lifestyle. So what exactly does this look like when played out in our everyday lives? Maybe it is as simple as making a point of incorporating a few nutritionally dense ingredients to each evening meal for both you and your dog. Or perhaps a family might set a goal of spending each Saturday together & including their canine cohort in the fun—whether that be going to the park, taking a trip to the beach, or maybe just hanging around the house playing catch in the yard. Taking heed to nutrition and lifestyle patterns will set both owners and pets on the right track towards a better quality of life. We surely would all benefit from making it a priority to integrate our personal wellness goals with that of our faithful canine friend. Most importantly, we must always seek to further our knowledge about the intricate workings of our canine companion in order to better understand what his needs may be. Focusing on this goal will have the added benefit of empowering each one of us to help others in their pursuit of bettering the quality of life of the creature that has rightly earned his title as “Man’s Best Friend.”

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