Think Before you Adopt:
The Commitments (Yes, There Are More Than One):
The definition of pet keeping: A lifetime responsibility, a potentially expensive commitment, a potentially time-consuming prospect, all for the health and enrichment of human life.
Wow! Living with animals is pretty serious business. Viewed in this light, you can see why it's so important to think about it a bit before you succumb to the charms of a pair of big brown eyes and a cherubic expression that seem to beg, as only young animals can, "Take me home. Oh, please, take me home." Deciding on a whim that you simply must obey those pleading eyes really isn't taking into account all that will be entailed in that critter's care for the next 13 to 15 years.
That puppy or kitten may indeed be begging you to take it home, mustering all its wiles to elicit the famed "cute response" upon which so many baby animals have relied through the ages. But for the good of that little animal, we must first think through the responsibilities of pet ownership and make sure we are up to the task. So, before you take so fateful a step, it's wise to first take a deep breath and use your head instead of your heart to make your decision.
Open to Learn:
You can never know all there is to know about a particular animal and its unique view of the world. To assume that you've already learned all you can is a sad, potentially fatal, mistake. There are plenty of dog owners out there, for example, who are stuck in the negative, force-based training techniques that they observed back in the 1950s. Their unwillingness to learn negates the volumes and volumes of insight animal researchers have gleaned since that time. With no understanding of the contemporary focus on positive reinforcement and a dog's natural pack-driven desire to please, the dog's resulting confusion and the owner's resulting frustration (and, no doubt, sore muscles) strains the relationship unnecessarily.
Money, Money, Money:
For the most part, pet ownership is not an inexpensive proposition. There is a price tag on doing it the right way. When people complain about the high cost of well-bred, properly socialized ferrets or hedgehogs these days, or lament the adoption fee at an animal shelter for a cat, well, my friends, remember that this is only the beginning. The basics demand that you feed your pets a decent quality food, have adequate sleeping accommodations and toys for them to play with.
These costs do not even take into account the cost of veterinary care - and all pets, even small pets - deserve proper veterinary care. Grooming, too, whether done at home or by a professional, must be considered in your pet-keeping budget. And what about when you travel? Who will take care of your pet(s) then? Better add pet-sitters and boarding kennels to the spreadsheet. The moral of the story, then, is don't jump in without thinking the economic factors through completely. They do make a difference.
An Adult Responsibility:
"I promise I'll take care of him." How many children through the years have whined, pleaded, and cajoled, begging their parents for a puppy, a kitten, a hamster, or a snake? How may have made that same passionate promise that they and they alone solemnly swear to feed, water, walk, bathe, and brush the new pet every single day, day in, day out for as long as they both shall live? And how quickly is that promise forgotten when the new pet's luster fades?
It happens so often that this is what you must expect. Adults must accept, with or without the promise, that pet keeping is a job for an adult. Period. We cannot, in good conscience, delegate the care of a living, breathing creature to an eight-year-old child - even one who has made heartfelt promises. If your child promises to do the dishes, and then doesn't, you can let them pile up in the sink. But it's cruel to leave a pet without care and it is wise to decide right up front who's responsibility it will be. Be realistic and keep the pet's best interest in mind BEFORE you adopt. Pets who end up in shelters as soon as they are past their "cute" baby stage, are worse off because they are harder to adopt out and they may have picked up some bad habits if they were not properly cared for.
The Beautiful Bond Between Children and Pets:
So yes, the children should help out with the care of the family pet(s). Only this way will proper pet-care attitudes and practices be carried on into future generations. Pets are excellent teaching tools, instructing children in the fine and noble art of responsibility and compassion. In getting personally acquainted with animals (with supervision, of course), in learning that animals, too, can be hungry and sleepy and playful, children learn to respect life. They also gain their first sense of their own place in the broader scheme that is the animal kingdom.
Avoiding Pesky Pitfalls:
When you join the ranks of the illustrious pet-owner club, you truly enter a whole new world - and a rather emotional world, at that. The bond you share with your pet can pack quite a wallop, inspiring you to learn even more (a good thing) and to get even more deeply involved in the fabulous world of animals - another good thing. But you must keep your head about you. What follows are four traps that even loving, well-meaning pet owners can find themselves falling into.
Just Say No to Breeding:
"We're breeding Bambi because we want the kids to experience the miracle of life." Oh, if only they would retire that tired old clichι once and for all! You may be further motivated because friends are always commenting on Bambi's friendly disposition or lovely white coat. But given the health and vitality of the pet industry these days, and the may breeders, responsible and otherwise, who are producing more than enough animals of all kinds to supply the demand, we are not today suffering some drastic shortage of pets. Quite the opposite, actually. You do not need to jump on this bandwagon to duplicate your sweet pet and offer the kids a biology lesson at the same time.
There are plenty of pets out there from which to choose, and there are plenty of excellent books and films these days that will teach kids about life and birth - without creating a passel of creatures that may never find loving, permanent homes. That old miracle-of-life lesson becomes a nightmare for the entire family. Instead, why not direct your energies toward teaching the kids about the importance of spaying and neutering - one of the greatest gifts you can give your pet. In accepting the role of responsible pet owner, you'll wind up with a healthier pet, a better-adjusted pet, and perhaps a longer-lived pet. And what an excellent example to set for your children!
Just Say No to Collecting:
It starts innocently enough. You take in one pet and oh, how wonderful it is to have that critter in the house. Gosh, you declare, if one is good, two must be better. And yes, it is. Then it's, well, why not three? Four? Five? Twelve? You can never have enough pets, can you? Yes, you can.
People who live with more pets than they can properly house, care for, and in most cases, afford, are known as collectors. For most, it's a case of simply being addicted to the company of animals, coupled with a desire to provide a home for every animal in need. That is a noble goal, but an impossible dream. The result is house full of animals, all of whom end up suffering the effects of limited resources and attention.
Just how many is too many pets? Well, that depends, not only on the size of your home and bank account, but also on the number of hours in a day. Even if you have enough money and property, no one has unlimited time. And as you have seen, pets place great demands on your time. So evaluate your situation honestly and make honest choices, no matter how desperately you wish to save them all. We all do. In the meantime, harden your heart, be practical, and keep only the number of pets that will fit reasonably in your home, that you can care for properly, and that you can afford.
Just Say No to Abandonment:
One of the ugliest phrases in the pet world is, "We had to get rid of him." Yet it is also one of the most used. Granted, sometimes, even with careful forethought and love, the pet-owner relationship just doesn't work out. It would be unfair and deceitful to suggest otherwise. But far too many people are willing to throw in the towel prematurely. Were they to look into the situation a bit more carefully, perhaps they would find out that the cat's sudden failure to use the litter box is the result of a medical condition or the arrival of a new baby into the home. Or, perhaps the unbearable stench of the ferret's enclosure can be remedied by having the animal neutered and cleaning his home weekly rather than monthly. Perhaps signing up for some classes can help your dog to be better behaved. Sometimes just a minimal adjustment, and a little creativity, is all we and our pets need.
Timing Is Everything:
Think long and seriously about just when you will bring your new pet home, too. As a rule of thumb, try to wait until the beginning of a weekend or a vacation. That way, you can get your pet installed into its new abode, and you won't have to run out again right away to go to work or school or any of your other weekday commitments. You can use those first few day to get acquainted and to begin to convince your new pet that you are a person to be trusted.
Secrets from the Pet Files:
Most so-called canine behavior problems are simply natural canine behaviors that are not being properly directed. For instance, dogs need to chew. Offer them an ample and varied supply of chew toys and they won't chew on your things. Digging, too, can be a doggie's delight, so designate an area of the yard where the pup is welcome to indulge. Incessant barking is often a symptom of loneliness or boredom. A little more daily attention and exercise could remedy the situation handsomely. Just think like a dog, and you can figure out the problems together.
The Network for Animals would like to thank the following organizations for their help:
Shaughnessy Veterinary Hospital
Newton Animal Hospital
Port Coquitlam Animal Hospital
Eagle Ridge Animal Hospital
Bradner Veterinary Clinic
Dog-gone Grooming Salon
Western Dog Grooming School
Bosleys - Eagle Ridge, North Road
Pitt Meadows Animal Clinic
T.D. Bank - Lougheed Branch, Prairie Branch
Chilliwack Veterinary Clinic
Langley Animal Clinic
Tri City Animal Hospital
Please spay and neuter your pets!