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How to Create Your Own Monster -- are you Spoiling your Pet?

"You've created your own monster, you know", my mother said ominously. My Rex cat, Houdini, had just burrowed his way inside my sweater for the third time that morning, letting out a squeal of indignation when I tried to resist. Houdini has separation anxiety. But in his tiny little mind, separation means I've been out of his site for at least two minutes. Or I've closed the bathroom door and left him on the other side. Or he hasn't had his ears scratched or his belly rubbed in eons (about ten minutes.

) Houdini follows me everywhere, like the most faithful of hounds, and craves my undivided attention almost as much as his next meal. If all of this seems annoying, it's not nearly as bad as when the little fellow plunks himself down in front of me and literally tears chunks of his own hair out because I'm not paying attention to him. With Houdini, it's always been easier just to give in. My husband takes all of this in stride. My mother, who (fortunately for Houdini) only visits now and then, thinks it's the height of absurdity.

Growing up under Mom's roof, I learned that dogs and children should obey, and cats just mind their own business. I adopted my mother's dog training philosophies successfully. Cleo (a fine-looking mastiff and our now-famous website mascot), is a perfect lady. She's a wonderful dog with the gift of self composure and not one to question authority. Cleo would never stoop to the kind of antics that are Houdini's specialty. Besides, she's too big to crawl inside my sweater. So why does this particular pet behave like a spoiled child? Why do I give in to him? Is it because I forgot to have children? Mom swears that those little squealing sounds he makes don't come from a cat. "He's manipulating you", she tells me. "He's learned how to sound like a baby". Maybe I've got what I like to call "lap dog syndrome".

I'm referring how we treat smaller pets who are easily cuddled and coddled, are highly portable, and who look adorable wearing funny little outfits. Some might call it "empty nest syndrome". Consider my Grandmother Rosie and her Toy Poodle, Cocoa. Cocoa arrived long after Rosie's children had grown up and left home. Rosie knitted lots of little sweaters and hats for Cocoa to keep him warm and stylish. She kept a mixture of Coke Syrup and Pepto Bismol on hand to settle Cocoa's nervous stomach. And dog food could never pass his lips, so Grandma cooked fresh chicken for Cocoa every night before sitting down to her own dinner. We had to spell out "c-o-o-k-i-e" and "P-e-p-t-o B-i-s-m-o-l" around the dog so he wouldn't get over-excited. And Grandpa Henry was obsessed with keeping Cocoa clean. This was one poodle who never had tear stains under his eyes, and whose little "tushy" was spotless.

Bear in mind that we're talking about the late 60's, when treating pets like children wasn't really "mainstream". Today, it's commonplace. The pet industry is huge, and much of it caters to our desire to spoil our "children". So these days it's easier than ever to create your own monster. Besides bending to your dog's every whim, you can shower her with gourmet treats, dress her to the nines, and offer her a standard of living well above what many of the world's humans aspire to. Today, Grandma wouldn't have to knit any sweaters herself, and there would be plenty of remedies made expressly for Cocoa's nervous tummy. Grandma wouldn't board her baby when traveling. Instead, she'd hire a professional pet sitter, or take Cocoa with her to a pet friendly hotel. The hotel might even have a dog gift shop, with lots of squeaky toys and delicious "c-o-o-k-i-e-s". And Cocoa would go everywhere with Grandma in his own little dog-sized carrying case, probably made from fine imported leather or snakeskin.

I wonder how many owners of large breeds behave this way? Are there other syndromes out there, like "macho dog syndrome" (a guy thing, no doubt)? The truth is, all pets start out small and cuddly. No one is completely safe from creating their own monster, large or small. So thank goodness there are enough great resources available for anyone to become a virtual dog training expert. (Or cat, or parrot, or horse.) I've learned my lesson with Houdini: It's much easier to teach your pet the rules from the start. Puppy training is easier than dog training. And un-creating a monster is a heck of a lot tougher than creating one! But I'm weak. For now, it's easier just to give in. And besides, it time to rub Houdini's belly.


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