By William Kearns
Owning a pet can enrich your life in many positive ways. There are countless studies showing pets can reduce your stress levels and even lower your blood pressure. If you have kids, they help them learn responsibility in addition to providing a loving companion. Pets love unconditionally and only judge us based on how we treat them. But before you run out and buy or preferably adopt a puppy or kitten for the family, you need to make sure you and your family are ready for the lifelong commitment taking on an animal requires. It is not just about puppy breath and warm kitten snuggles. It can be taxing on your time, finances and emotions. The one thing everyone should want to avoid is making a hurried conclusion that can end badly or even deadly in some cases.
I have been in pet rescue for years and to be honest, nothing surprises me in regards to the reasons people give for the surrendering pets at our local shelter. Every dog and cat at the shelter is there because a human has let them down somewhere along the way. There are some basic steps we can all follow to ensure pet ownership is equally as positive for you as it is for the pets.
Before you commit:
Are you ready for a commitment? Some dogs and cats can live as long as 15-20 years (or more). You are taking on the responsibility of this animal’s whole life, do not take this lightly.
Can you afford to care for this pet? This includes food, toys, blankets, boarding when you travel and the veterinarian care over the development of the pet’s whole life, not just the initial costs of vaccinations and surgery. Vet bills have skyrocketed the last 20 years and as the price of prescriptions for humans go up, so do our pets.
Choose your pet wisely- Too many people pick a pet based on how aesthetically pleasing they may be. Instead, pick a pet that will fit your lifestyle and living circumstances. Use the tools readily available on the internet to do some research ahead of choosing a forever friend. Look into the temperament, size, possible behavioral issues etc.
Consider how you will contain the pet- Make sure you have a yard with a secure fence if you plan on letting your pet spend time outside. Lock your gates! A two dollar lock can save your pets life, kids or even the wind may open unlocked gates. Will you keep them in a crate during the day? If so, can you be there to let them out at least every four hours? Many people do not consider this and it causes failure with house training. You have to be able to keep a consistent schedule every day.
How many pets do you currently own? You need to make sure you’re not taking on more than you can handle. The city limit is 4 pets, keep this in mind and never take on more than you can handle logistically or financially.
Once you commit to adding a new family member:
Spay/Neuter- This is not only because of our overpopulation issues, but your pet will be healthier and happier. It also reduces the chances of them trying to escape.
Make sure your pet can be identified should they escape or stray. ID tags are important and microchips are fairly cheap (10-15 dollars at the shelter) they can be life savers as long as you keep your information up to date.
Obey the leash laws! – Many people do not realize the city leash laws also include cats, but all owned animals must be contained in the city limits. The safest place for cats is in your home. Dogs must always be on leash when outside your home. Too often we see people let their dogs run free and unless you’re at the dog park this is a big negative. Your dog may be the best behaved pet in the world, but you never know about the other pets they may encounter outside the home. Do your part and keep your pet under your constant control.
Keep your pets up to date on vaccinations- We live in a time when vaccinations are sometimes scrutinized, but when you see adult dogs suffering from parvovirus, distemper and other preventable ailments; you realize the importance of vaccinations. Get with your vet for an honest discussion on this issue.
Basic training- It will benefit you and your pets to learn basic commands and hand gestures. Sit, stay, leave it, take it etc. It really takes patience but positive reinforcement is the key to success.
Exercise their minds and bodies- Playtime is very important. It is a basic instinct for pets to play, simulating hunting or chasing. Find toys that your pets enjoy, make sure they are safe and always supervise them when they have toys. Walk your dogs and provide fun toys for cats.
Do not allow your pets to simply become lawn ornaments. They are part of your pack, keep them involved in your life.
Plan for the end- Most vets will say when the quality of life becomes poor; it may be time to help our pets cross the bridge. This is an extremely personal decision. The hardest part about owning a pet is the good-bye.