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Published June 11, 2010, 12:00 AM

Does dog know I’ll return?

Dear Dr. Fox: I was wondering if you believe dogs have a sense of time. When we leave the house for 10 minutes, we get the same reaction as when we come home after leaving him at a kennel for three days. Also, I was told that every time we leave, the dog thinks that we will not return. Is this correct?

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I was wondering if you believe dogs have a sense of time. When we leave the house for 10 minutes, we get the same reaction as when we come home after leaving him at a kennel for three days.

Also, I was told that every time we leave, the dog thinks that we will not return. Is this correct? It would seem to me this would put much stress on the animal. – D.F., New York, N.Y.

Dear D.F.: Your two questions are challenging because the science of ethology, which entails observing an animal’s behavior until you can predict what he or she most likely will do next, has its limitations. Educated guesses in the interpretation of animal behavior are excusable and could lead to further noninvasive research observation and hypothesis testing to advance our understanding and appreciation of animals.

Separation (being apart from his pack, i.e., you and your family) is timeless. It is all or nothing, so he greets you with the same intensity regardless of how long you were gone. But that does not mean to say that the duration of separation doesn’t count. The longer duration is worse for some pining and anxious dogs who can even die if their condition is not recognized.

My wife Deanna and I had a beloved dog Tanza whom she rescued and brought home from Tanzania. Tanza would ignore us for a day or two (after a brief welcome) if we were away from home for any length of time.

I do not believe there is any evidence pro or con regarding whether dogs think we will not return once they have had a few experiences of being alone for a period of time. But some dogs may be more cognitively challenged than others.


Dear Dr. Fox: I have a question concerning therapy cats. My friend lives in a condo that does not allow animals. However, she babysat a cat for a woman who was going out of town. This cat belonged to her husband who was an invalid. It is a therapy cat, and the condo allowed them to have the feline in their apartment.

My friend would like to “qualify” to get a therapy cat. I assume one must get a note from an MD stating that this is necessary for a patient’s quality of health. How does one qualify to be eligible for a therapy cat? – C.C., Newport Beach, Fla.

Dear C.C.: Most people qualify because we all derive some health benefits from animal companionship, unless they are allergic to animals or are terrified of them! Any good primary-care physician worth his or her salt would write an official letter supporting a patient’s medical need for a companion animal and that it would be against the best interests of the patient to be denied the benefits of animal companionship, the therapeutic value of which is a medical fact.

People should not be separated from their beloved animals simply because it is a condo or assisted-living or retirement-home rule. Every effort should be made to keep the elderly and infirm/handicapped with their animal companions because, with rare exception, they provide therapeutic benefit (most often emotional) to their owner caregivers.

Feline nutrition

Moving to the next stage in its advocacy efforts, the Feline Nutrition Education Society now offers free membership. The Feline Nutrition website is changing the way people think about the term “cat food.” As a “big tent” organization, it includes all those who want to change how we feed our cats, with tolerance for all feeding methods and unity in our common purpose. Changing how people think about feline nutrition will only happen from the bottom up, with the help of members – people who have taken the time to learn the issues associated with sound feline nutrition. For more information, visit www.feline-nutrition.org.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. 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 www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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