Friday, May 28, 2010

Should you give advice to pet owners?

I adopted a Shetland pony this week. Although I’ve owned horses for 20 years, I’ve discovered that ponies are a horse of a different color. They have fragile digestive systems compared to a full size horse, and can easily colic or founder if overfed or fed food that is too rich, too sugary, too high in protein, or any one of dozen different “too muches…”

Everyone that walked in my door offered an opinion. The first one was “Don’t feed alfalfa,” which is what these ponies have been fed all their lives. The next was “no grain,” then “no molasses,” “no beet pulp,” “only one carrot per day,” and the list goes on. I was doing everything wrong.

After sorting through the advice and reading a lot of scary articles on the Internet, I called my vet and we worked out a feeding and health care plan for the next few weeks. Shetlands don’t appear to be as fragile as miniature horses, but they are still delicate. And who has ever seen a thin pony? They’re all fat little bowling balls.

Except for the two at my house. They need some careful TLC. My friend Mary Ann adopted one of these ponies too, and they are both here until they are gelded (Yes, they are stallions). They came from a situation of severe neglect. Here is their story:

I adopted Rod Stewart who is now named Sherlock, and Mary Ann adopted Ziggy Marley, who shall remain Ziggy.

Make your own decisions
When your clients ask you for advice, they trust you to give them accurate information, not just a biased opinion. I realize that all my well-meaning friends and advisors all have the ponies’ best interests at heart.  

After being on the receiving end of so much advice, I understand the information overload that owners face when making decisions about their pets’ care. As pet sitters and dog daycare operators, owners assume we are animal experts, and they expect us to know what we are talking about.

So here’s what I want to recommend to pet owners:

Research: Read books and look up the issue on the Internet. But don’t believe everything you read or everything you hear. Just because someone posts a fancy web page doesn’t mean they have any credentials on the subject. Check into the background of the writer.

Ask questions: Your friends and family are often good sources of information, but it will be based on their particular experiences; valuable, but not necessarily applicable to your situation.

Talk to the expert: when in doubt, ask your veterinarian, a certified behaviorist, or a trainer whom you respect. This was my final step in the great pony-feeding dilemma. I asked my trusted veterinarian, and will be following his advice.

Advice which, by the way, was exactly what some of my friends told me to do. It was nice to validate their input, and I hope our ponies quickly recover from the horrible conditions they lived in.

It made me stop and think about the advice I offer to my clients. Opinions are not facts, and it is important to know the difference. There’s nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” A closed mouth gathers no feet. 

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© 2010 Terry Albert. All Rights Reserved.

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