Petfinder’s founder’s pet-friendly New Year’s resolutions

I’m a little crazy (a tyrant?) about New Year’s resolutions. I always bite off more than I can chew and, because I’m a little compulsive, I end up chewing on my overly-tough resolution all year long. Much wiser people make manageable resolutions or cry uncle in mid-January, retooling as necessary.

01-betsy-banks-saul.jpgPetfinder itself may be a byproduct of this dogged (woof woof) obsession with resolution-setting and -keeping. It was in the spirit of the new year (1996) and making a difference that we decided the perfect website — channeling all the powerful features the web had to offer — would serve to help homeless pets.

As we enter our 16th year and somewhere around 20 million lives saved, my obsessive resolution-keeping has forever been reinforced.

My favorite personal resolution resulted in a permanent habit that has, more than any other, improved my quality of life. The idea came from Petfinder co-founder Jared Saul. We resolved that our dogs would get three good walks a day — even though we had a fenced yard — every single day of the year, regardless of the weather.

The benefits of walking at least three miles a day with your dog are obvious, but for me it has been the gratification of never, ever feeling guilty about them being bored or under-stimulated or under-exercised, which is something that really plagues me.

I also experienced the world, with all its seasonality, with my best
friends in a way I would have never done otherwise. I was the eccentric walking around the
neighborhood no matter the time of day or the weather — donning my
toasty (and puffy) Carhartt overalls when we lived in New Jersey or my
zesty chili-pepper “sunbrella” in Tucson. (By the way, in my version of
this resolution, other people walking my dogs counts.) Sixteen years
later, my dogs can still count on three walks a day, although Jake, the
fence climber, doesn’t always wait for us. And old Jim usually opts out
if the sky threatens rain.

After the jump: Betsy’s resolutions that didn’t work out so well.

My resolutions aren’t always successful. In fact, they they can be
disastrous. A few years ago, I resolved to call my parents every day. I
was motivated by a concern that my parents, who placed a high value on
independence with their adventurous and youthful approach to life, would
lull me into a false sense of security as they moved toward their 70s.
I should keep closer tabs on them for their own good — it will make
them feel more secure as they reach their golden years, I reasoned
(although I knew if I shared that with them, they would protest).
Several years later they told me that they assumed I was lonely when I
started calling all the time and they worried about me all year long. The best-laid plans …

In what may be a similarly fated resolution, this year I resolved, “I
will not argue for one year.” Anyone who knows me even a little agrees
that this is perhaps the most difficult resolution I could conceive of.
By my nature, I’m an impassioned debater — and I regularly find myself
in heated arguments about topics I could really care less about.

resolution was precipitated at the dog park when a tough little Shar Pei was bullying Jake, really scaring him. I offhandedly
remarked that I used to have a dog-park bully (Sophie). The Shar
Pei’s owner, shocked, said, “My dog isn’t a dog-park bully!” Then,
without even thinking, I looked the woman in the eye and said, “Yes
she is! She is the definition of bully.” The lady called her dogs and
sort of wandered away as I stood there in horror, realizing I’d ruined her
visit to the dog park (her dogs were still having a ball, but she
looked sad).

None of us wants to hear someone say mean things about our dogs. We love
them like they are our children. And for no good reason other than to
be right (and certainly no change in outcome), I, supporter of all
animal-lovers, had argued when she defended her pooch. Well, that was
that. My resolution was born.

Last week, while barreling up I-95 in our 33-foot Winnebago, with too
little sleep, having spent the last day of our vacation at the
Bluepearl emergency veterinary hospital in Tampa (Jim-dog suffering
from yet another bout of pneumonia) and the blues about the family
vacation being over, I got a peek into what was in store for me this

EVERYONE needed to be set straight that day and, at least in the moment,
not arguing felt crummy. But as I said, I’m a little compulsive about
these things, so I will plod on, wearing my (for now) strained smile and
saying, “I hear ya!” The idea is to lighten up. My fear is that I’ll
go postal in the process. I’m practicing my smile. And I’m not telling
my kids.

Reflecting on these resolutions makes me realize that there may be some
benefit to accompanying my grand internal resolutions (such as to be more
open, to laugh more, to not argue) with a more concrete one that
provides immediate positive feedback each time you honor it (like a dog
running figure-eights of joy when she sees you go for the leash). That
dog-walking resolution really stuck. It was a promise plus a gift, with
an ever-grateful recipient to spur my success.

So this year I’m adding a mid-January addendum to my New Year’s
resolution. I’m going to teach (naughty) Jake one new fun trick each
month. I need to temper my normal tendency for overachieving
resolution-making to take into account my poor timing and general lack
of discipline when training.

I think we’ll start with fetch in January,
then in February merge that into fetching a tissue when someone says
“Ahh-choo!” But there I go again with overreaching. I’ve never been able
to teach fetch (that and “quiet” have always eluded my canine
companions and me). Maybe we should start with “hug.” He sort
of does that naturally. I’m getting excited already, so I’m off to find Jake!
Note: If you want to add in a resolution for which you’ll get some
immediate reinforcement, consider one of the following:

  • I will train my dog to eagerly come to get her teeth brushed every day.
  • I will massage him for 10 minutes every day, including (with
    treats) touching those parts that will make him have a better veterinary
    visit (touching paws, brushing teeth, looking in ears, belly rubbing).
  • I will read out loud to my cat every night.
  • I will prepare her for disaster by making a disaster kit, updating
    her microchip registration
    , getting pet insurance, and training her to
    go into her travel crate on command.
  • We will go for a walk every morning.
  • We will go to a dog park once a week.
  • We will play games for 30 minutes each day (even for little pets such as birds and guinea pigs!).

I’d love to hear your ideas.

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More about New Year’s resolutions:

Here’s What You Said: Your pets’ New Year’s resolutions

12 resolutions to help homeless pets in 2012

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