A city like Buenos Aires, with its traffic-clogged streets and packed sidewalks, may not seem the best place for pets.
But here dogs and cats rule.
So it comes as no surprise that when the beloved furry of the house seems to be a bit out of sorts – moody, angry or just acting funny and not quite itself – pet owners have plenty of therapists to visit to attempt an emotional rescue.
The main problem in urban life is that sometimes there is a lack of affection. Animals have to carry this heavy weight on their backs... And dogs and cats have serious anxiety problems that don’t get addressed.
- Veterinarian Ricardo Bruno
Ricardo Bruno, a 53-year-old veterinarian based in Buenos Aires, the Argentinean capital, is one of the country's pioneers in a practice known as ethology, a growing field that differs from veterinary medicine in that it explores animal behavior rather than clinical issues.
Bruno, a self-proclaimed “old socialist” and a soccer fan, says that when he started his practice, it literally didn’t exist in Latin America.
“That was the 80s. Only in Germany and in the United States could you find this type of science taking shape,” he says.
The turning point for pet therapy came in the 1990s, when major TV networks like Discovery Channel, Nat Geo and others came out with shows, like Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer, that revealed a new way to care for animals – a more tender way.
Animals, ethology enthusiasts believe, a lot of times need more than medicine to make them better. Sometimes they just need some love.
“The main problem in urban life is that sometimes there is a lack of affection,” Bruno says. “Animals have to carry this heavy weight on their backs... And dogs and cats have serious anxiety problems that don’t get addressed.”
According to recent studies, 78 percent of Argentines have pets. More than half are dogs (63 percent) and 26 percent have cats. And Bruno says behavioral problems in pets have spiked 60 percent in the last decade. There are several reasons for this:
- People who live alone transfer their emotional problems to pets.
- People who decide not to have kids put their maternal/paternal instinct on pets.
- There are more lonely people.
- Pets are trained to protect their owners and become overly aggressive.
“Most of the people who hire me are from the middle or upper class,” he says. “In poor areas, there are some mistreatment problems but those pets don’t tend to get treatment.”
Dr. Silvia Vai, also an ethologist, disagrees.
“Rich people, poor people, young, old, homosexual, heterosexual, everyone comes,” she says. “When I started practicing ethology 10 years ago, this branch of science didn’t exist officially. I became interested because I had a cat that seemed crazy, until I saw that the way we treated her could be affecting her behavior.”
Bruno says that in the last few years, he’s found more and more pets suffering from anxiety, phobias and even obsessive-compulsive disorders.
“Veterinarians should work more on educating people who have pets and focus on prevention, rather than healing when it’s too late,” he said. “People usually call me when it’s too late.”
Teresa Sofía Buscaglia is a freelance writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.