By now, the second week into January of the New Year, the holiday presents have already been exchanged or broken and New Year's resolutions already made and discarded.

To me, the resolutions are an annual ritual so that we can decide when to start our fitness program, lose weight, read more and watch less TV (oh sure) and look toward making various goals and plans (financial and otherwise) for 2005.

Supposedly, this is the time of year when we reflect on ourselves and what we can do to make ourselves better. A financial planner can certainly help lift the clouds that hover over us all but, let's try a different tact here. How about reconnecting with something called compassion? Hey, many people want to develop a better spiritual life as one of their resolutions. Okay then, look at the Bible, the Old Testament. Do you remember the two most powerful edicts handed down: Honor Thy Mother and Father, and Be Compassionate to Animals.

My family is one big animal lover in all shapes and forms. In fact, at my own universities, I've set up scholarship funds for those students who are interested in veterinary medicine or who wish to devote research time to animal health sciences. I don't know if you realize this but except for one specific animal, no other animal on the face of the earth kills just for the sake of killing. Humans certainly can't claim that honor.

So, I gave it some thought for the New Year's and here are my animal resolutions.

1)      Keep your cat inside. Millions of cats die annually simply because their owners allow them to roam. In fact, a recent survey by the Humane Society of the United States, shows that only 35 percent of the 66 million domesticated cats in this country live indoors full-time. Think of how much suffering could be alleviated if that number were reversed?

2)      Drive with wildlife in mind. More than a million animals die everyday on American roads. We know all about "progress" in eating acre upon acre of wildlife habitat but try and help stop road kill. Congressional leaders can mandate any road and highway built with federal funds to include safe passageways for wildlife.

3)      Say no to exotic animals as pets. They're not called wild animals for nothing. Contrary to belief, they don't really make good roommates. Keep in mind that when humans take wildlife as pets, the animals suffer because humans cannot meet their biological or psychological needs.

4)      Become politically active. We all know that to most people, animals can't speak for themselves. They may communicate with their owners but they can't go out and influence any legislator. We can...and more than you think.

5)      Volunteer. No one says that you have to spend time at the local shelter with shovel in hand, but you may have talents in fundraising or animal grooming. There's always a need for someone who can help in any way.

I realize this is not your usual financial services/planning column but animals play a vital part in our lives. One only has to witness the extraordinary seeing-eye dogs for the blind to understand the role they play or the many cuddly cats that wander around a shut-in's home to give comfort to a lonely person.

To me, it's part of a planning effort on another level. We go back to that word compassion which can take many forms, some of them intimate and others more indirect. The people at the Humane Society have a saying: "When dealing with the animal kingdom, compassion is often several steps removed from the actual creature to whom the emotion is directed, but its collective impact can be as life-renewing as the proverbial removal of the thorn from the lion's paw."

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