WHAT IS THE BEST PET FOR ME?
Many people start thinking of bringing a pet into a family when they buy their first home. Or maybe when they settle down with a partner. Or when they have kids and want the little ones to grow up with a pet. Sometimes even a separation or divorce will prompt a person to look for an animal to provide companionship. So, when do you know that bringing a pet into your family and home is the right decision?
Willing to keep a less than immaculate house?
I’m not saying that you have to settle for a dirty, disorganized home here, but you have to recognize that pets come with fur, and muddy paws, and sloppy eating and drinking. What may have been a pristine living room before pets, will show a little wear and tear around the edges, no matter how much you clean. If keeping your home spotless at all times is important to you, then you should plan on getting a small bird, guinea pig or rat, or a fish tank. All three of those options are fairly easy to keep clean, and won’t leave fur around the house. And, as far as a bird or a rodent, there are rescues out there that specialize in small animals. For the fish, you’ll have to purchase them.
Okay with cutting back on your social life?
This doesn’t mean you can never go out again, just that you will be less able to do things spontaneously. As a pet-free person, you can decide to travel at the last moment, or spend the night away from home. But, once you own a pet, you have to plan around them – kennels or dog/cat sitters for out of town trips; someone to feed and walk your pet if you’re not home.
While most pet expenses are relatively stable and regular, trips to the vet rarely are. Injuries, gastro-intestinal illness, accidents, and the normal infirmities of old-age can be immediate AND expensive. Plan on having at least one $1,000 plus vet trip every two years or so. (If it doesn’t happen – and it’s less likely when the animal is fairly young – you’ve got the money saved for when it does.) My two current dogs (both 12 years old) have had between them: a mastectomy; seizures; back injuries; a copperhead bite; and kidney issues – none of which were inexpensive to treat. And this doesn’t count regular dentals, vaccinations, heartworm preventative, and medications. Be sure you’re prepared, with sometimes no warning at all, to spend a considerable amount of money to take care of the health of your animals.
Above all things, when bringing a rescue animal into your home, you must have patience. Even a dog or cat who came into the shelter without trauma will still need an adjustment period in your home – sometimes as long as six months. Be sure you’re willing to allow them to take baby steps in order to settle in. For those cats and dogs who come with past histories of abuse or neglect, the transition will be even more difficult. But with love and time, almost any animal can become a loving household pet. They may still have their issues, but don’t we all?
Have kids under six?
If so, don’t ask to visit with a 10- or 15-pound dog. Most shelters and rescues will not adopt a dog that small to a home with small children. Here are the reasons:
- Small dogs are easily frightened and can react with a nip or bite when scared, and toddlers tend to move erratically, with sudden bursts of energy.
- Small dogs are more likely to get injured if play becomes too rough. And we all know that Mom can’t possibly be everywhere.
- A bad experience with a young child can turn a small dog into one who doesn’t like any children. This makes them less adoptable, even to families with older kids, and therefore, more likely to be euthanized.
Have kids who are older, and pretty calm?
Sounds like your family is a good match for any calm, kid-friendly dog or cat. Most shelters will require that every member of the household visit any animal they wish to adopt. Take the time to allow your kids to interact with the pet and listen to what they have to say. Everyone has to be happy with the choice. By saying this, I don’t mean the kids should decide, just that the decision should be made together.
Have a child who was frightened when you went to the shelter and didn’t want to interact at all?
Don’t force this. Bringing a cat or dog into your home when your child is scared is a very bad idea. It compromises the trust your child has in you to make the right decision for them, and it puts the animal in a dangerous situation. Fear can often turn into aggression on both sides – it is better to pass on having a pet than trying to change attitudes. Your child’s fear may disappear with time – if it does, you can revisit it then.
Have a horde of rambunctious kids who love nothing better than playing football or Frisbee outside?
Look for a larger, young dog. If you don’t find your kids high-energy a problem, then match them with a high-energy companion. Ask the shelter or rescue for an energetic dog who loves to play and run. A Pekingese is not a suitable companion for a family such as this one – but a Lab may certainly be.
If so, you may be looking forward to finding a furry friend to curl up and enjoy life with. Animals, like humans, vary in personality, needs, and energy levels. If you’re in great health, wonderful – any adult dog with the right attributes will suit you fine. If you’re a little less steady on your feet than you used to be, or arthritis is starting to make itself known, you’ll probably want a dog who is a little older or a cat. A small dog might be the answer – most don’t need a lot of exercise (all dogs need some). And many are perfectly happy to snooze on your lap while you read or watch TV. If you have a little extra in the bank to cover medical expenses, please consider adopting a senior dog or cat (over seven years old). Often these guys just want a loving hand and a place to lay their heads. You won’t have them as long, that’s true, but you will be giving a harder-to-adopt animal a comfortable retirement, just as you want for yourself.
Newly divorced or separated?
First, make sure that you won’t want to become more social afterwards. Some people are happy as homebodies, looking forward to being greeted by their pet when they get home; others find their new state an opportunity to get out and meet more people. If you’re the first kind – your options are limitless with both cats and dogs. But, if you find yourself wanting to get out and do things, you might want to consider a cat rather than a dog. Cats need attention, too, of course, but they’re pretty self-sufficient if you’re out dancing in the evenings, instead of home watching TV.
Moving is a big stressor, and you and your family need time to adjust before bringing a pet into the home. Wait four to six months, when routines have been established, and the area isn’t brand-new to you anymore. Then, start checking the available pets. If you’ve have just had a baby that’s another reason to wait. Get the whole family used to the change in status before bringing a pet into the picture.
Take your time?
Find just the right pet for you. There are usually several shelters within driving distance, and many rescues will adopt to you even if you live a good distance away. Since most do home visits, they’ll just find a volunteer closer to you to perform one. Listen to the staff when they suggest an animal, and, more particularly, when they steer you away from one. Shelter staff want to find the right home for the right pet – and will do their very best to steer you in the right direction.
Understand that adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment?
You KNOW that animals have feelings, if you’ve ever seen the look on the face of a dog or cat dropped off at a shelter by its owner. Don’t ever be the one to cause your pet to get that look of bewildered abandonment. Of course, we all know that life happens, but it should take a cataclysmic event to cause you to consider surrendering an animal. If this is a first pet and you’re uncertain, you can always ask the shelter if they have a foster-to-adopt program. This allows you to spend a week or two with the animal in your home before making the final decision. But, once you choose and sign the adoption papers, it needs to be for the lifetime of the pet. They may have been surrendered before, or picked up as a stray, or come from a horrible background. They need, just like we do, stability, a healthy home, and love. Doesn’t matter a bit if that’s ALL you have – know that is ENOUGH.
Photo of orange cat by Carrie Angel Photography