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Pet Ownership - Things You Should Know

Things you should know before adopting a furry friend!
The time to ask questions is before obtaining a pet .. not after Fifi or Tabby has taken up residence in your household.  Be prepared: Pet ownership is a lifetime commitment!!!

So many people are unaware of the enormous responsibilities associated with pet ownership.  Although they have good intentions, such people bring a pet into the household and then find that the care involved is just too overwhelming.  This can, and often does, lead to tragedy.

Many folks, grownups and children alike, want a pet because it's "cute."  They see movies, TV shows or commercials featuring adorable baby animals.  Or maybe a neighbor's pet has just given birth to a litter.  These people get their hearts set on a puppy (most often a specific breed puppy), or a kitten.  So, without giving any thought to what pet ownership entails, they bring a furry friend into the household.  Everyone oohs and aahs over the cute little thing.  Everybody wants to pick it up, cuddle it and play with it.

But in many instances--surprise!--nobody wants to take care of it.

Oh, sure, it looks easy to anyone who's never had a pet.  They think all you have to do is throw some food in front of it a couple times a day and that's it.  The rest of the time, it's there to be your playmate whenever you want.  How much trouble can such a cute little thing be?


Having a pet is like having a child.  A perpetual child, in fact, because the average fully grown dog has the mental capacity of the average 3-year-old human.  And you don't just feed and walk a dog and that's it.  There is a lot more involved, and a lot of caveats to be aware of before making a major decision like becoming a pet owner.

First of all, a pet is a living creature.  Obtaining one is not like buying a TV.  Don't go into it thinking that if it doesn't work out, if you're not happy with your choice, you'll just exchange it or get rid of it.  A pet owner becomes the animal's "parent" for life.  And the average canine life expectancy is 14 years.

If you adopted a child, you wouldn't return that child to the adoption agency because it failed to meet your preconceived expectations, would you?  I would certainly hope not!  Nor should you carry that kind of mentality with you when you're looking to adopt an animal.

A pet isn't a toy.  You don't just put the animal down somewhere when you're finished playing with it and expect it to just sit passively waiting for you to come back.  Very young animals are like very young children.  When they're not asleep, they're wide awake and looking for entertainment!  For a puppy who's begun teething, this may involve chewing your favorite shirt to bits.  It's at this point when many people lose their patience and cart the poor thing off to an animal shelter, when the poor puppy's only crime was being a puppy!  That is what young dogs do.  They're not being malicious, and they're not being destructive to spite you.  So if you're planning on adopting a puppy, you might want to rearrange your household first so the animal can't get hold of anything you don't want destroyed.  Stocking up on chew toys is a good idea too.

If you have your heart set on a certain breed, know the characteristics of that breed before committing yourself.  Don't just go by looks.  Is the breed smart, or isn't it known for its intelligence?  Will it be easy to train?  Will it be a couch potato or hyperactive?  Are there any inherent health problems you'll have to look out for?  Many large breeds have back or hip problems.  Some poodles develop eye problems later in life.  Make sure that if you go that route, you purchase your dog from a reliable breeder who will guarantee the health of the pet.

Just as with children, pets cost money to raise and maintain.  There will be pet food to buy, vet bills to pay when the animal needs vaccinations or medical attention, ongoing expenses like heartworm and flea control, and possibly grooming bills.  Not to mention the cost of boarding the animal if you go on vacation.  If you're not prepared to lay out bucks, forget having a pet.

Any pet not used for breeding by a professional should be neutered.  Many folks, especially men from what I've seen, recoil at the idea of "maiming" the animal or depriving it of a sex life.  But that's not the case at all!  Neutering isn't "maiming."  A pet who is allowed to mature without being neutered is in for a myriad of frustrations and, down the road, health problems.  Many unspayed female dogs develop cancer of the reproductive system in later life.  Male and female dogs who are not neutered but are also not allowed to mate can become short-tempered when they cannot do what nature is telling them they're supposed to be doing.

With this in mind, some folks "solve" the problem by allowing the dog to mate at least once.  In fact, there are many people who are of the mindset that a female dog needs to produce a litter before being spayed.  Now, I don't know where that rumor got started, but it's nothing more but an old wives tale and a dangerous one at that.  First of all, it is irresponsible to arbitrarily allow pets to reproduce.  Pet overpopulation is a SERIOUS problem. Every year, between 10-12 million pets are euthanized by shelters because there are simply no homes for them.  Why would any thinking person want to add to this number?  Secondly, dogs should be fixed before they mature sexually to avoid health troubles down the road.  If you don't believe what I'm saying here, ask any vet.

In short, if you're going to obtain a pet, be responsible and have it neutered.  Don't be swayed by the prospect of dollar signs if you get a purebred.  There's no guarantee you will sell all pups from the litter, and even if you do, for every puppy you sell, there's one sitting in a shelter somewhere who may die without being adopted.

The dog breeding business, like any other business, has its responsible players and its shady characters.  There are puppy mills in existence where the poor animals are forced to live in crowded and unsanitary conditions.  The dogs are mated without a thought as to their health.  Deafness in some Dalmatians was caused in no small part by inbreeding, mating males and females from the same litter.  This is how most health problems in purebreds came about.  Why not consider a hybrid instead?  Mixed breeds are just as cute and notoriously healthier and yet they're the ones being passed over!  Why not obtain a pet from the Humane Society or local SPCA?  Give them a try first even if you have your heart set on a specific breed.  There are lots of advantages to obtaining an adult dog from a shelter or from one of the many breed-specific rescue operations out there (see the next page for a couple of links).  You'd be doing such a good deed by adopting a pet in this way and, quite possibly, saving it from being destroyed.

Some more thoughts...
~Don't ever give a pet as a surprise gift to someone, especially not a child (unless that child is your own and you're prepared to be the pet's caregiver).  Whoever obtains a pet should do so voluntarily and willingly, after learning what is involved in raising that particular species.
~Don't give live chicks or bunnies to your kids as Easter gifts.  They are living, breathing creatures.  Cute little yellow chicks grow into chickens!  So unless you live on a farm, settle for the toy variety instead.
~Do know what pet ownership entails.  Have an idea of how much it will cost you in terms of time and money.  Also have a sense of how it will change your lifestyle.

It may sound as if I'm discouraging pet ownership.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  I LOVE animals!  And I'm in a position to speak of the responsibilities faced by pet owners because I'm one myself.  A pet is truly part of the family.  Having a pet is a joy, but it's also a lot of work.  Just be aware of all this before making your final decision.  Don't let your common sense melt along with your heart when you see cute baby animals.  Their innocent faces hide lots of surprises!

Resources for Pet Owners

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