Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 20, 2013

West Virginia's best friend

Mountain State ranks No. 5 in U.S. pet ownership survey

By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD —  A dog is man’s best friend and in West Virginia, the old cliché might hold more meaning than in other places across the U.S. In a new survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, West Virginia ranks fifth in the nation for dog ownership with 45.8 percent of households owning a dog.

Dr. Gary Brown at Animal Care Center in Princeton said he believes West Virginia is one of the top states because of the Mountain State’s past.

“I think it probably has to do with history. We have always grown up with dogs, especially for hunting, or purpose or working dogs,” he said.

He said it is possible early families in the area had small working farms with horses, mules, cattle and oxen. Dogs would have also been a part of the working family.

“That historic nature has been passed along,” Brown said.

Brown, who has been a veterinarian since 1984, said he has seen people change their preference in dog breeds and size. He isn’t sure what has caused the shift, but he said many owners, who once owned porch dogs or outside dogs, now have indoor pets.

The AVMA also included the habits of owners and veterinarian care. The survey states that 18.7 percent did not take their dog or dogs to a veterinarian in 2011. And 44.9 did not take their cat or cats. Many of those in the survey said the No. 1 reason they did not take their pet was because the animal was not sick or injured. However, the AVMA said regular check-ups are important and often overlooked, due to the economy and owner’s schedules.

Valerie Mould, of Princeton, takes her dog Curtis, a 3-year-old boxer, to the vet every three months.

“However, during the first year of our dog’s life, we took him about every month. He had numerous medical emergencies requiring several operations,” she said. “We believe it is extremely important to get regular check ups and vaccinations for our dog. We want to keep him healthy, active and happy.”

Now Mould, along with her husband Matthew, do not hesitate to take Curtis to the vet. They also purchased health insurance for their pet.

“Not many people consider the health insurance but after he had his first two operations we knew then it was well worth the expense,” she said. “Our insurance is through a company called VPI Pet Insurance. They have several different plans to choose from. Based on what kind of coverage you want, (ranging from only major medical surgeries and accidents to all basic check ups) you choose your plan. Each plan is a different price and you can pay monthly. When something happens and you take your pet to the vet, the vet fills out your claim form. You fax or mail it in and they reimburse you for the costs covered by your plan.”

Among dog owners, the AVMA reported only 5.6 percent of people in the U.S. have pet insurance.

Brown said it was very important for owners to bring their animals to the office once a year.

“Dogs age progressively faster than humans,” he said. “During healthy years, certain things can be found the owner doesn’t see. We see it because it has changed.”

Brown said dental health is a concern, as well as other issues.

“We are seeing a growing problem with heartworm and lyme disease that should be checked yearly,” he added.

Economy and time dictates many animal visits. However, one thing is clear in the survey; people love their pets.

Angela Griffith, of Speedway, said she views her animals as members of the family. She is not alone. In the nationwide survey, 66.7 people said their pet was a member of the family and 32.6 considered their dogs as companions. Only 1 percent believed their pet was simply property.

The AVMA survey also looked beyond the typical pet with information about birds, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, snakes and more. The number of specialty and exotic pets has dropped in 2011. For more information, including other facts and figures about pet ownership in the U.S., visit www. avma.org.