Face it. If the world were filled with responsible pet owners, there wouldn’t be so many cats and dogs that end up at animal shelters. Not every animal shelter has a no-kill policy, so if a pet is not adopted within a specified period of time, or if a pet isn’t deemed to be affectionate and sociable or it exhibits some behavior or medical problem, then it is likely that pet was not rescued at all, but sentenced to an early unnatural death.
If you are thinking of getting a pet, or your child is pestering you for a little furry or feathered playmate, then don’t do anything until you thoroughly contemplate the emotional, time, financial and ethical responsibilities involved with such a long term commitment. If after weighing all the pros and cons and you decide you are ready to take on the responsibility of adding a new family member, then you will be that much more prepared, and you will provide an animal the love and nurturing it deserves.
Here is a checklist of considerations you need to evaluate before leaping into any pet ownership decision.
1. If you have a certain breed pet in mind, research all you can about any common health problems, needs, life expectancy and physical size and space needed to keep your pet comfortable and happy. Some people spend more time researching a digital camera purchase or deciding what color to paint their house than they do on the educational process of acquiring a new animal.
2. What is your work schedule like and how often do you travel? Dogs need to be regularly walked, not only for exercise but for taking care of their business. If you can’t be available for them and can’t afford to hire a regular walker, then a cat needs less attention and can use their kitty litter without your supervision. If you live in a major city, a bird or cat may be better suited to your lifestyle than a dog.
3. Before choosing your pet, be open to visiting your local animal shelter. You can also call local veterinarians who often know of new kittens or puppies that are in need of a loving home. Instead of thinking you must have a Persian cat or a white girl kitten or a short-haired red dachshund with papers, or an African Grey parrot, or a miniature black poodle, be open to loving and finding your friend in the shape and color and breed you didn’t stereotype based on some preconceived notion. Your pet is your animal soulmate and just like falling in love, you never know who that person is going to look like or what their personality will be – – you just know it when it happens.
4. What are you going to be doing 10 or 20 years from now? Well, whatever it is, picture your new pet being part of that future. You are taking on the responsibility of their lifetime. That means you need to calculate the cost of food and routine veterinary visits and vaccinations , the potential for ongoing prescribed medications, the possible purchase of pet health insurance, pet related supplies and toys, and pet sitting or boarding of animals, and the list goes on.
5. If you want to see all the things that may be involved to purchase for a pet, take a look at a major pet department store in person and online and you will be overwhelmed at all the various products that are used for the various stages or ailments a pet may encounter.
6. Visit some online forums and message boards and talk to other pet owners and ask them about both their joys and tribulations of pet ownership and what unexpected surprises came along with the responsibility. You should regard having a pet as not much different than having a child in terms of giving attention and play time and ensuring its well being.
7. If you are still unsure about the commitment of adding a new member to your family, volunteer to pet sit for a friend or coworker, or become a temporary foster parent for a pet up for adoption, so you can at least experience some of the pets needs and the bonds of communication that can be made.
8. Do you have children or plan on having children in the future? Does anyone in your household have allergies? Too many people get a pet only to discover they need to get rid of it because they have a baby, or they don’t like that the pet suddenly has special needs, or they find it is just too much work. It is heartbreaking and unfair to a pet to have established an emotional bond and trust with its owner, only to be sent off in the world to someplace it may not be wanted. Would you put your child up for adoption because they were diagnosed with asthma or diabetes or had a bed wetting problem? Of course not. That would be ridiculous and unthinkable. So why do so many people see it as no big deal to get rid of a pet just because a new challenge had to be faced? If you can’t regard your pet’s life and well being as important as any other family member, then you probably should not take on the responsibility of pet ownership.
9. Have your pet spayed or neutered if it isn’t already. Studies show that neutering a cat or dog lessens the temptation to roam, fight and bite. If you get a cat, and you have their front claws removed to avoid scratching furniture or people, never let that cat outside because it is not equipped to defend itself in the great outdoors. Many cat owners who have indoor cats declaw only the front claws because the back claws are often needed for landing and balancing and gripping when jumping. It is better to declaw at a younger age than an older age, because it is far less painful, and creates far less bleeding during surgery. If you get a bird, don’t just feed it seeds, many birds require a diet supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. Also clean their cage daily to prevent the potential spread of disease from droppings.
Yes, there is a whole lot of responsibility and expense involved with caring for another living creature. But for pet owners suited for the job, there are numerous, unspeakable rewards. Imagine a companion you can tell all your problems to without judgment. Imagine a friend who senses when your sick and will just snuggle up next to you until you get better. It’s nice to read a book and be in the same room with someone you love and loves you back. Studies also show how important the companionship of a pet is to the elderly who live alone. The mere act of petting one’s cat or dog has been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Children can also learn responsibility and feel important when they are caring for a fish or turtle or bird. Pets teach us compassion, unconditional love, respect, and the importance of friendship. They also teach us about aging and loss. Just like humans can teach and train animals, our animals can show and teach us how their nature is not much different than the desires and needs of people. Pets are often the reflection of their owners both in temperament and personality. A patient low key person is likely to have a calm pet. A high stress person is likely to have an agitated pet.
For every moment you spend caring for an animal, you have spent quality time and it is meaningful and has made a difference. So, if after spending a lot of time talking to other pet owners and being with animals you are certain you are ready for both the responsibility and facing future unknown challenges with a new animal, then go ahead and make your move. Those who are destined to care for a pet, can’t even imagine their life without one.