In spite of all the articles and advice from animal shelters saying that pets as gifts are not always a good idea, some of you plan to have a new pet (dog or cat) in the house after Christmas. That means it’s time to talk about what happens when the newness and fun wears off. This isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s simply a reality check.
You have thought about that right? Whoever got the dog or cat checked with you first–right? What’s to think about? Let’s run through the top seven items on my checklist. This list applies more to dogs than cats, since dogs are usually a bit more demanding.
- The kids go back to school and start whining about having to take Fido for a walk or pick up the yard or scoop kitty litter when they want to go play. Are you ready to teach them the necessary lessons in responsibility and commitment? Kids may not do it happily for very long, and it is the parent’s responsibility if the children can’t or won’t carry through. This isn’t something you can let go. A life is at stake. It’s not in the category of a dirty bedroom.
- You must return to work and have to figure out how to manage doggy or kitty care during the work week. Have you found a petsitter to stop by or a doggy day care? Fido absolutely can’t be left in a crate for 10-12 hours a day (8 hours at work, plus travel and perhaps stopping at daycare or the grocery). Kitty cannot be left in a bathroom alone day after day. It’s not safe or healthy. Some very small to medium dogs can be trained to use a doggy litter pan. Strange as it sounds, this is actually a good idea. The dog isn’t outside unsupervised when you aren’t home, and he/she isn’t locked up without potty breaks for long hours.
- Your busy evenings just got busier. In addition to helping with homework, you’ll be spending quality time every night with the dog or cat too–right? Your new dog/cat needs play time, bonding time, and training every day.
- Parents and kids (Yes, it is necessary for the entire family to be involved in the training.) will have to give up some time and money for doggy obedience training classes. This was a family decision with everyone on board for the long haul–uh, wasn’t it?
- Vacations, and even a full day away from home, will cost extra money to pay for a hotel that takes pets, a boarding facility, or a petsitter. That applies to dogs or cats. Are you ready to get organized and look for boarding or a petsitter six months in advance, when you want to take a holiday trip?
- You are prepared to accommodate a pet if you have to relocate or move in the future right? This is a lifetime commitment that can run 10-20 years. You can’t sell your child when you have to move, and you shouldn’t view that as an option when you adopt a pet. It’s a living, feeling animal, not a sofa, and let’s face it, many of our decisions are a matter of priority and convenience. A pet should not be on the list of disposable items when life changes. Are you willing to make the necessary accommodations?
- Your new family member needs regular checkups at the veterinarian, and there will be emergencies–just like with the children. Are you ready to drop in and visit a couple of clinics and talk to the vets? There are wonderful, caring facilities, and there are dumps where your pet may get substandard care. Take tours and meet the vets before making a decision. Never leave an animal any place without touring it and making at least two drop-in visits. If drop-ins aren’t allowed, don’t even think about leaving your pet there.
When you think about it, it’s not really a very long list for a commitment to a living creature and a relationship that may last up to twenty years.
Animal shelter workers often talk about “forever homes”. That’s the goal for every animal that is adopted from a breeder or a shelter. Forever means forever, even when Fido of Fluffy breaks a leg, gets old and arthritic, needs help up and down the steps, has occasional accidents in the house, or needs thyroid medicine twice a day. These are a few of the reasons for the home visits and adoption applications that many shelters and animal rescue groups require, along with a fee for the adoption.
If you can’t afford the fee, you can’t afford to own a pet. Sorry, it’s true. Many places also ask for financial information, which some people don’t understand. The reasons is because pets cost money every day just like children, not just when it’s convenient. Even if the shelter doesn’t charge a fee, that doesn’t mean the animal is free. They get need good quality food every day. They get sick, need vaccinations, get old, and have accidents, just like kids. If you weren’t prepared for these things, I sincerely hope you can adjust and make the necessary commitment to your new family member. If you can’t do these things, please don’t get an animal.
Most reputable places have a policy of taking pets back without question for at least a short period of time. Some breeders take their animals back at any time for life. It’s not kind or beneficial to you or the pet to let them bond to you and then dump them six months from now. Many animals lose their lives because the family takes them to a shelter instead of paying for boarding when it’s time for the next vacation. It’s not true that “he’ll find a home.” Many of them don’t. You know in your heart whether you can commit the time and the money. Be honest with yourself and do what’s best for the animal.
Just having a place to live and being abandoned to the backyard is not a life for a dog. They are a pack animal, and your family is their pack. Imagine how you’d feel living like a hermit for 10-20 years or being locked in a bathroom five days a week for years to keep the couch from being scratched. If you can’t devote the time, you’ll create an adult animal with behavioral problems that may cause you to give them up down the road.
Unfortunately, shelters often get pets given as gifts after a problem develops, because people meant well, but didn’t realize what their pets need to give them a good foundation for the years to come. Ask the right questions now, make the commitment with foresight and planning, and you’ll share many happy years.