By Katherine Saenger
With all the press about animals crowding our local shelters and foster homes, it is tempting to run out and adopt one of these cuties. And, if you are ready to expand your family, then I encourage you to do so. But, at the same time, I want you to think about your circumstances and what you can really take on as a responsible pet owner. Here are some important things to think about before you adopt.
Choosing a pet should not be done on impulse. Carefully think about the right pet for you. Do you need the flexibility of packing everyone, including the pets, into the car for a long weekend? Do you need a pet to accompany you on long runs? Is there someone who can care for your pet when you cannot?
Pet ownership requires money. To properly care a pet you need to budget for food, housing supplies, veterinary care and flea and heartworm prevention. Petfinders has a wonderful page on their web site to help you estimate these costs at www.petfinder.com/after-pet-adoption/estimated-yearly-costs-pet.html, but a quick estimate in my head comes quickly to $400/year for a small pet and up to $1,000 per year for a large dog. Flea and heartworm preventives are expensive, but save you money in the long run by preventing even more expensive- to- treat diseases. Even pocket pets like Guinea Pigs can be relatively expensive to keep as they require special bedding and imaginative housing to keep them active and happy.
All pets require an investment of time. Everyone knows about walking a dog, but some require more exercise than others. Cats require lots of cuddle and play time. Guinea pigs and rabbits are very social and require play time with humans twice a day.
You’ll need to make sure new pets are properly identified with tags and microchips. Most of our municipalities do not require pet registration but a few, including Sullivan’s Island, do. Microchips connect your pet to a data base that must be kept up to date. If you change homes or phone numbers, you must be sure to update this information in the online data base for the rest of your pet’s life!
It is your responsibility to keep your pet on your property. You need to think about how you plan to do this. Leashes, fences, keeping cats strictly indoors, training are all viable options, but you need to plan ahead. Keeping pets tied to a line or chain in your yard is seriously frowned upon and is illegal in some municipalities.
The privilege of having a pet also comes with a lifelong commitment. Students, remember that you may be moving a lot in the next few years. Many housing units do not accept pets. Can you commit to finding a pet-friendly living space with every move? Can your parents help you out if you do end up in a situation where pets are not allowed for a semester? A year?
Pets sometimes do damage to your property and always add to cleaning obligations. The best behaved, non-shedding pet will still require you to vacuum more and most pets will require much more than that. Puppies chew, and they can chew on everything from your favorite shoes to your kitchen cabinets. Are you in a position to replace these things if necessary? Cats have claws and jump to high places. Are you able to protect your good furniture or replace damaged carpets? Renters, your landlord won’t appreciate scratched hardwood floors from dog’s long toenails. Young pets should be taught to tolerate toenail trimming at a very young age to minimize damage to your property and to yourself.
Preventing unwanted pregnancies is a paramount responsibility. This is the only way to prevent a crisis like our community faces today. Shelter pets will come to you already spayed or neutered, but if you adopt from anyone else, it will be your responsibility to have your pet spayed or neutered.
Responsible pet owners consider and deal with all of the above as well as establish a good relationship with a veterinarian. It is this veterinarian-client-patient relationship that will help you make hard decisions for your pet as you and your pet go from the excitement of puppyhood/kittenhood to mid-life crises and end-of-life care. Having pets is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do for yourself and for your family. But, that reward only comes to those who make decisions responsibly and with love. If you feel that love, make the above plans and make room in your house for one more deserving pet.
Katherine Saenger co-founded Bees Ferry Veterinary Hospital in 1993. Dr. Saenger started a vet spay-neuter clinic while living in Mbabne, Swaziland and has also lived in Cairo, Egypt and Maribor, Slovenia. As a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, she strives to keep Bees Ferry on the cutting edge of veterinary medicine and is one of the ultrasonographers at Bees Ferry. For more information, visit www.beesferry.com or call 769-6784.