Are you looking for better ways to show your love for your companion animals?

By Khrysta Imperial Rara

Our animals are very much a part of our lives, and for many people, they are family. But they are often at the losing end in the battle between work time and home time. During most days of the week, we are just too tired to bond and play with them. We may even try to make up for this by buying expensive toys and treats for them.

Let’s not forget that for most companion animals—whether dogs, cats, birds, or others—our presence close to them is what matters most. So here are 10 tips to help you make the most of 2016 with the animals you love and share your life with.

1. Set aside at least 30 minutes daily to bond with them. Walk your dog or allow your cat to chill out with you while you watch TV, read a book, or surf the net. Or play, play, and play—together! The benefits are enormous for you and your animals. You’re happy; they’re ecstatic. For you, blood pressure goes down, blood sugar levels drop, the mind relaxes, and the body unwinds. It’s one of the best ways to fight stress.

2. Involve them in family activities. Most dogs are very sociable creatures and enjoy getting attention from your friends and family. So why not let them be part of the gang at family picnics or birthday parties or even wedding celebrations? The Internet is rife with videos of dogs present at the weddings of their guardians.

Cats may watch the party from atop a secure perch or simply opt to stay undisturbed in a familiar room. For those that love to join the party, just make sure they won’t be eating or drinking what’s not good for them. Chocolate, for instance, causes poisoning in dogs and could be fatal.

You can also bring the entire family to a doggie event. There are several organized by animal welfare groups all throughout the year. The dogs will love making new friends and you, too, will surely have a blast! I brought my dogs to their first event two years ago and they are always so excited when we attend doggie gatherings.

3. Opt for a fun but healthy diet. Several veterinarians have shared with me the names of pet food brands that cause kidney problems among dogs and cats. Some brands contain more salt and preservatives than others and are deadly if fed to your furkids regularly over time. So ask around or better yet, research on the best dietary options for your animals.

Dogs get to socialize at a dog picnic in UP Diliman last October 2015.

A good friend in Australia feeds peeled apple slices to her dogs and they love it. Another friend gives raw carrot cubes as treats. Still another friend, who teaches at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, feeds only raw meat to her Japanese spitz Misao and swears that the spitz has a stronger immune system and hardly gets sick. She also has fresh breath, 90% less body odor, and no parasite infestation.

4. Treat them to a doggie massage or spa. Dog spas and dog massages are gaining popularity and our canine friends enjoy them. Cats enjoy a massage too…as long as you’re the one doing it to them! Or you can buy rubber massage brushes for grooming your animals. It’s an enjoyable experience and they will surely ask for more!

5. Explore natural remedies. Several vet clinics now offer alternative and natural medicines because clients ask for them and traditional Western medicine doesn’t always work. Many integrate the two treatments.

You can try out herbal remedies and aromatherapy. Flower essences are great for balancing emotions. I always keep a bottle of Bach Rescue Remedy for my animals. It soothes them during times of stress and illness. Acupuncture helps with pain management and arthritis. When my Persian cat Sam couldn’t walk and several vets couldn’t help him, six acupuncture sessions cured him. Reiki is a potent Japanese healing art that works on both physical and emotional conditions. My cats and dogs love it when I put my hands on them for a reiki healing. It’s a bonding moment for us and I, too, get relaxed, healed, and energized in the process!

6. Get to know their individual personalities. Know their natural behavior and their quirks. Once you do, you’ll know immediately if something is amiss. If your turtle is normally active and one day refuses to eat, recognizing the change in behavior could alert you to a possible illness and may save the animal’s life.

7. Talk to them. Then listen. True communication is a two-way process. Animal communication seminars are quite popular abroad and people who attend them attest to better relationships with their animals once they learn the technique. But if you can’t go to such a workshop, there are books you can learn from.

Animals usually pick up our thoughts faster than we can understand theirs. They are focused on us and have less distractions like work and difficult relationships. We must complete the process by stilling our mind and listening to the animals. They send us body signals, thoughts or feelings. When my first cat D’Artagnan kept on meowing at the side of my bed one night, I closed my eyes and silently asked him what he wanted. In my mind’s eye, I saw him sitting on the windowsill and looking at the street below. So I knew he was asking permission to jump on the bed in order to get to the window. When I opened my eyes, he promptly bounded toward the window.

I’ve also been training my dog Molly to stop jumping on me when I arrive home. When he does this, I close my eyes and picture him sitting still in front of me. He gets the message and after a few seconds, calms down and sits.

8. Figure out your animal’s purpose in your life. Our animals come into our lives for a reason. That’s why many people say their dog or their cat ‘chose’ them. I have friends who swear their dogs rescued them from depression.Do you know why your animal has entered your life? Your dog may be there to keep you company or help you heal, while your cat may be teaching you patience and compassion. Knowing your furry companion’s true purpose will help you understand and appreciate him more.

CARA volunteer Owen Santos has given her adopted pit bull Ruby a very important task – that of being an ambassador for her sweet but much maligned breed.

9. Reach out and rescue. It’s not easy to rescue an animal in a difficult situation. It could even be dangerous. So if you’re not up to it, don’t do it. But people who have rescued dogs, cats or even wildlife say it’s a life-changing experience. Weng Suzara, executive director of the Philippine Animal Rescue Team (PART), risked her life when she stopped her car and rescued a little black kitten in the middle of North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). But she would never have forgiven herself if she hadn’t done it. Although Whoopi lived only a few months due to an already existing illness, Weng made her feel safe and loved during her short life.

You can also rescue animals that are about to be euthanized in pounds or those homeless in the streets or abused by their humans. You’ll be saving a life and enriching yours!

10. Adopt. Don’t shop. Why buy animals when thousands are on death row in city pounds? These aspins were either surrendered, abandoned in the streets, or trapped by dog catchers. At the pound, they don’t have much food and no veterinary care. Aspins are just as loving and intelligent as the pure breeds. I’ve rescued and adopted three dogs bound for the pound and eventual death and they have given me so much in return!

11. Choose the best name for your furry friend. Giving a name with positive vibes to your dog or cat will endear him to others. Don’t call your animal Dolor which means pain, or other negative names like Trouble or Muerte (death). One woman named her dog Cancer because she (the woman) had cancer! It’s such a horrible thing to do to an animal!

12. Spay and neuter. Cats and dogs can get pregnant several times a year and you’ll end up with unwanted pups and kittens. This will take a toll on your finances and your patience. Do yourself and your animals a favor by having them neutered.

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s January 2016 issue.