He’s got my back

  • Opinion
  • Thursday, 03 Apr 2008

A pet that is a helper and protector, but most of all, a friend.

I WAS invited to a government meeting last week, which I thought was not only important but particularly significant, as well, to the work that I do.

It was an official planning meeting that was held in Putrajaya. The invitation came from the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS).

In August, Malaysians from all walks of life will be treated to a very special exhibition. It is the Malaysian Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism Show. Also known as Maha 2008, the huge outdoor event to be held in Serdang, Selangor, is expected to showcase the latest technologies and innovations in the respected industries.

It is said to be the biggest event of its kind in South-East Asia. Among other things, visitors to the exhibit will get the rare chance to be exposed to all kinds of animals and pets. The organisers hope that such an experience, above all, will prove to be highly educational for everyone – especially on how animals contribute positively to human beings.

My purpose at the meeting as president of the Malaysian Animal-Assisted Therapy for the Disabled and the Elderly Association or Petpositive was primarily for two reasons. The first was to give helpful tips and advice to the planners on how to make the occasion accessible for disabled Malaysians and elderly people with special needs.

Some of the challenges before the Maha organising team in this area would be to carefully look into providing special parking spots close to all the action. This is so that the disabled can comfortably place their vehicles or be dropped off.

There is also a need for suitable wheelchair-friendly restrooms, as well as extra assistance for handicapped visitors who require them.

Of course, the chief reason for my participation in the ongoing meetings is to give my input on how pets can – and frequently do – play a positive role in the lives of the people with disabilities and the elderly. Not only am I ecstatic about the fact that this appears to be the first time that Maha is working hard to consciously include the needs of the disabled at one of its events, but also that the benefits of animal-assisted therapy are something it (the DVS in particular) is keen to promote to the public.

I guess when it comes to talking about how pets can empower the disabled, no one knows more about it than me probably. Regular readers of this column know who the real heroes in my life are – my three dogs who share my room and my life.

Monday happened to be the birthday of my youngest service dog, Biman III, who turned four.

The Alsatian or German Shepherd Dog (GSD) was the “anointed” replacement for another amazing GSD named Biman II. I lost him to cancer five years ago.

Even in the seven-year-old canine’s death, he taught me that life was always worth living – no matter what the circumstances around us might be.

Although Biman III, which I got as a seven-week-old pup six months after Biman II died, did not follow exactly in his predecessor’s paw prints, he nonetheless has become extraordinary in scores of other ways.

He’s the reason I wake up in the mornings when society falsely tells us that wheelchairs are a death sentence in life. For Biman III, what I choose to use as my mobility aid is no excuse to lie in bed all day, worrying about my condition.

Wheelchairs are not an acceptable reason for refusing to groom him daily or to give him his occasional bath – ideal chores, in fact, that keep me constantly motivated about my own need to take care of my body and health. The wonderful canine insists that I, rather than anyone else, feed him his daily meals. Society often says the opposite: handicapped people are totally useless. In Biman’s non-judgmental eyes, it is people in wheelchairs who are fully normal human beings! So if you intend to be pally with my GSD, it is always best to bring your own wheelchair to make an impression on the handsome boy.

Often it is because of him that I ever get to go out of my room at all – especially when it is “walk time” or when it is the perfect evening to go for a drive around the city.

When you think about it, venturing out alone in a wheelchair can be quite a daunting prospect.

Not at all, however, if there is a very trusty and watchful Shepherd looking out for you from the back seat of your car.

For more information about Petpositive, call 012-220 3146, e-mail petpositive@yahoo.com or go to www.petpositive.blogspot.com.

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