‘Paws’itive Reinforcement

I love when people ask me how many kids I have. Eleven.  I have 11 kids. All but one just happen to have fur and feathers.  A horse, a dog, two cats, and six chickens.  While not exactly Noah’s ark, I’m getting there.  I consider them family (even the fluffy chickens) because they are such an important part of my life.  My entire day revolves around when to feed them, when to let them outside, when to ride the horse, when to gather the eggs, and when to take my rambunctious Labrador puppy on a walk to burn off some of that crazy puppy energy…

The domestication of animals perhaps started as a symbiotic relationship long ago.  Wolves moved into nearby campgrounds of hunter-gatherer communities to scavenge for bones and scraps thrown out by humans. In turn, humans began feeding the wolves as the wolves began providing protection and assisting in the capture of prey. I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine (literally). From there, the friendship grew. Similarly, cats were attracted to rodents thriving around human settlements.  They killed mice that carried disease and became an important part of humans’ lives.

The Health Sciences department at the University of California, Los Angeles, published a study in May of 1999 that said that people with AIDS who owned pets were less likely to suffer from depression.  Even with the increased risks associated with this immunocompromising disease, the positive outcomes provided by pets many times outweighed the risk.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

Additional medical research has linked positive physical and psychological research to owning a pet. The Center for Disease Control reports lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and an overall reduction in stress and anxiety among those who own pets.  Pets give us the opportunity to exercise, socialize, and to manage loneliness. Our pets never judge us and always provide unconditional love.  Reductions in cortisol, the stress hormone, which can negatively affect the immune system have been noted. On the other hand, increases of serotonin and dopamine are seen, promoting a calmer and more relaxed state. Newport academy has reported that people with furry friends have increased self-esteem, are less fearful, are more extroverted and generally more conscientious and less preoccupied. The CDC is currently studying the role of animal interactions in kids with autism and conditions like ADHD.  Service dogs are frequently trained to assist those with physical and emotional disabilities. 

With all the positives that pets provide us, we should be asking what we can do for them.  According to the Insurance Information Institute, approximately 67% of U.S. homes have pets. But sadly 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters each year according to the ASPCA.  Of those, 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. Approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized yearly. But that number is on the decline, largely in part to animal rescue efforts.

Enter Huntsville’s newest animal rescue: Furget Me Not Animal Rescue Inc. and its founder, director, and CEO, Michelle Underwood.  The organization came about as more and more unwanted, abandoned, and abused animals found their way into shelters through no fault of their own.  Michelle and her team at Furget Me Not are motivated by the animals that have had humans let them down. “Alabama does not have spay or neuter laws and too many people in Alabama don’t see the need to fix their animals, so, rescues have to become the voice for homeless animals.” 

Michelle says that the volunteers at Forget Me Not Animal Rescue have long histories with rescue and have collectively saved thousands of animals and will work diligently to save thousands more. “FMN volunteers strive to educate people on the reasons to adopt and not shop.  There are lots of great animals in the shelters.  Many area shelters are forced to euthanize if the shelter becomes overcrowded.  Furget Me Not work daily to see that this doesn’t happen.”

Michelle and her team have seen the absolute best and worst in people.   “We have seen horrific hoarding cases, animals abandoned in structures with no heat or food, and mom dogs left to have puppies in freezing temperatures.  Puppies and kittens are closed up in bags or boxes and thrown into trash bins, fields, or ditches. These animals are starving animals and sometimes have no hair because of mites or severe allergies.  Some animals come in with life threatening infections that cause them to have organs and limbs removed.  Dogs and cats are bred over and over again, never receiving medical care, baths, brushing, nail care, or even love.  We see so many animals that are terrified from abuse or having never been socialized.”

Michelle says that rescue is not without its rewards.  “The happy side of rescue is watching the volunteers that work tirelessly to save animals. One of the happiest moments in rescue is when a terrified dog or cat who bites out of fear lets you pet them.  It’s the best feeling to be the human they trust for the first time. It takes a great amount of patience and can take days, weeks, or sometimes months but it worth every minute to watch their transformation. It’s even better when they become part of a great family.”

Furget Me Not needs your help. Michelle says “We are a brand-new animal rescue and we need help getting the word out about us.  We are 100% volunteer based which means 100% of all donations go toward vet bills for the animals.  All the animals we pull are placed in foster homes so we have no overhead, no utilities, no salaries, etc., so people can feel better knowing every penny goes to save animals.  We are looking for people that would like to become donors or sponsors to support our cause. Without donations for vet bills, we can’t exist and help animals. FMN takes in seniors, injured, sick, and heartworm positive animals that require surgery in addition to healthy animals.  The adoption fees don’t cover the vet bills so we have to rely on donations.”  Furget Me Not also needs dog and cat fosters.  An animal can only be pulled from a shelter with a foster commitment.

Pets are our family.  Without them, hard days would be harder. Our pets provide companionship, friendship, and studies suggest the benefits of pet ownership have positive effects on health and wellness.  They bring joy and abundant love to our lives and we owe it to them to do more. Please visit Furget Me Not We at their website at www.fmnanimalrescue.org, like them on Facebook at Forget Me Not Animal Rescue Huntsville, and follow them on Instagram at fmnanimalrescue.

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