May is National Pet Month, which means several things. The primary goals of National Pet Month are to promote the benefits of pet ownership and to support pet adoption. Other, no less important, aims of this month are to make people aware of the mutual benefits of owning a pet, to help others understand the role of service animals, and to enlighten the general public to all of the available services professionally available in regard to pets (including pet sitters!).
As one of those pet sitters, I am lucky enough to see happy animals with owners who love them. While I take it for granted that people love and care for their animals, it occurred to me that while these owners already know how to find a good match for their home, there are those who may not know what that looks like. National Pet Month seemed like a perfect opportunity to highlight some of the factors that make a good relationship between a new pet and you.
A universal element that needs to be present when you’re considering what type of pet or whether or not to get a pet is time. Your pet is a commitment, and unless you’re really lucky, your new puppy/kitten/other small fuzzy is not going to be perfectly trained when it arrives at your house. You’re going to need to spend lots of time with it. This doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to quit your job to take care of it – I work 40 hours a week and yet still have time to pet-sit – but it does mean that when you bring a new pet into your home, it’s a good idea to make sure you can spend extra time with it the first month, preferably two, especially if it’s a new dog or puppy.
The cuteness factor is also something to take into consideration. If you’re getting a Brittany puppy because they’re adorable, but you work 60 hours a week, that’s probably not the dog for you. Similarly, if you’re getting a kitten because it’s cute, keep in mind that when you’re not there, it will get bored. As contrary as this may sound, if you’re getting one kitten, you might want to consider getting two. They can keep each other company when you’re not around. This could, of course, lead to twice as much trouble that they can get into, but it is more likely that your new kitten may develop some bad habits on its own that it might not do if it’s got a buddy to keep it company.
As is true of any breed, time and cuteness are only two of the factors to consider. If you have small children, a large dog may bowl over the little ones in its exuberance to make friends. Conversely, a tiny dog may become injured if the little ones are too rough when playing with it. There are also cat breeds that may or may not be a suitable fit for you and your family. If you’re looking for a cat that is going to sit quietly and not follow you around, you may not want to get a Siamese.
Shelter animals come with their own rewards (and challenges!). Although you’re saving an animal from a fate that was surely not in its best interest, you most likely have no idea what the history of said animal was. The staff members at shelters take the time to see how the animal will interact with different variables: cats and dogs, small children versus older children, men and women. If the shelter staff says the animal should be an only pet or that it doesn’t react well to small children, they’re probably right. Forcing an animal into a situation where they’re uncomfortable makes for a stressful home for everyone, not just the pet, and will most likely lead to a return of the pet to the shelter, which benefits no one.
Although it’s not a popular topic to discuss, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention finances. Pets, just like humans, require proper medical care. No matter how well-meaning you are regarding your desire to love your pet, it will require that you spend money on it. There is no such thing as a “free kitten.” That animal will need to be vaccinated against a wide range of diseases, even if it’s an indoor-only cat. All cats and dogs are legally required have an up-to-date rabies vaccine, which means they’re going to need an exam from a licensed veterinarian. Spaying and neutering your new pet will not only cut down on the already too-large population of unwanted animals, it will also curb behaviors that you might otherwise find objectionable: spraying in the house, wandering off in search of a mate, fighting.
Owning a pet is a rewarding experience and can be a lot of fun, but it does come with responsibilities. If you are serious about making a lifelong commitment to another living being, it should not be a spur-of-the-moment decision. National Pet Month may only be for one month, but properly caring for animals is a year-round job.
“Animals are sentient, intelligent, perceptive, funny, and entertaining. We owe them a duty of care as we do to children.” — Michael Morpurgo
(Sarah Caton owns All Paws Pet Sitting, which serves all of Lincoln County.)