I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Third Annual Purina Better With Pets Summit held in Brooklyn on November 3. This event is a gathering of esteemed pet professionals sharing ideas on how life is, truly, better with pets.
Arleigh Reynolds, veterinarian and Purina senior research nutritionist, delivered the welcoming remarks and the opening keynote speech.
The morning featured a series of panel discussions on topics including “Stress, Our Pets and Us,” “Raising Pets and Kids,” and “Are Millennials Changing Our Relationship with Cats?” These panels brought together some top thinkers on their given topics.
The panel on stress was especially interesting. The panelists discussed how to tell if a pet is stressed, what can cause stress and how stress isn’t always bad. However, constant stress is very unhealthy for pets.
“Things owners may not think about can stress cats, like a change in temperature or the owner’s perfume,” said Purina behaviorist Ragen McGowen.
The panel emphasized the importance of behavioral enrichment for helping pets cope with stress and for managing behavior problems.
“Owners want to create a Goldilocks environment for pets – not too barren and not too chaotic,” said Tony Buffington, veterinarian and expert on stress in cats.
One particular item the panelists favor for behavioral enrichment is puzzle feeders. Making a pet work for a food reward stimulates their mind and diverts their energy into a beneficial activity – and the pets seem to enjoy it.
“Cats and dogs will often pass by food in bowls to get food out of a puzzle toy,” said McGowen.
The afternoon events were quite different than those of the second Better With Pets Summit. This year, the afternoon focused on several interactive exhibits.
I appreciated the new afternoon session and thought it was an improvement to an already well-executed event. I’m hopeful that Purina offers something similar at next year’s summit.
Two of the interactive exhibits dealt exclusively with cats. As a proud cat owner, I really enjoyed these.
One detailed ways to make a house or apartment cat-safer and cat-friendlier. The exhibit had several tabletop touch screens and small figurines of cats in some typical household situations. Some examples included a cat nibbling a houseplant, a cat peeking out of a covered litter box and a cat swatting at window blinds. When the statues were placed on the screen, an infographic popped up explaining ways to make the scenario better for the cat. Moving the figures onto the screen was addictive and educational.
The other cat exhibit was a model cat adoption room set up to make the cats relaxed and comfortable – and therefore more adoptable. It featured tons of toys, scratchers, cat furniture, beds, hiding places and climbable wall-mounted shelves. There was also comfortable human furniture for visitors
The best part was all the cats. A dozen or so cats filled the room with feline energy and made it the popular spot with event attendees.
Other interesting exhibits included a demonstration of how service dogs can help people with disabilities live more independently, a table of various puzzle toys and other ways to provide enrichment to pets and a demonstration of the use of thermal imaging to detect stress and other issues in dogs. There was also a dog agility course featuring all types of dogs, from Chinese crested to pugs to golden retrievers, showing attendees that agility training isn’t just for the athletic dogs.
The day wrapped up with a short film about Dr. Reynolds and his work with the Frank Attla Youth Program and a closing keynote speech by author and reality television personality Carole Radziwill.
The film detailed the inspiring work of the Frank Attla Youth Program in creating a dogsled racing team for indigenous Alaskan youth. Dogsled racing was an important part of traditional indigenous culture and this program is helping the young people reclaim it.
Once again, I found this event to be invigorating and inspiring. I’m already looking forward to next year’s.