There are definitely plenty of companion animals out there that need a good home. Shelters, sanctuaries, and rescue agencies are over flowing with animals that were surrendered for various reasons. This does not mean that the animal is a defect or a reject, what this means is that the person who had the animal in the first place was misinformed and/or unprepared for the responsibilities of caring for a companion animal.
Adding another life to your home changes your life, your home, and the companion animal’s life. Many times, people buy or get a companion animals from a breeder or pet store for their kid(s), which often results in being stressed out, unprepared, and trying to find another home for the companion animal. So, before you make that big decision, here are 10 questions you should ask yourself before adding a companion animal to your home.
1. WHY DO I WANT A COMPANION ANIMAL? (AKA Reasons NOT to get a companion animal)
- “For my kid(s)” – The reality is, YOU will be the one to raise the companion animal. No matter how “mature” you think your kid(s) are, children (and even most teens) are not ready to handle the responsibility of caring for another life. Are you ready to be the one to be the main caregiver of another life in your home? Also, animals are not gifts. They are living, sentient creatures with their own needs (which does not include being a lesson to someone).
- “To breed” – Every year, 9.6 million animals are killed in U.S. shelters. When someone breeds, they are taking away a home that a shelter animal could have had. It is common to see purebred dogs in a shelter, and these purebred dogs came from a breeder. It is also common to see “exotic” animals (reptiles, pot-belly pigs, etc.) in shelters because these animals were too much to handle. Another reason why breeding is a bad idea is that animals are not things. They are not reproducing machines that are here to make you money. Even if you just gave the puppies, kittens, or nestlings away, you are still re-enforcing the idea that an animal is just a thing. They bond and care for their young and the stress of consistently reproducing can wreck havoc on both mom and babies.
- “Because he/she was free” – In reality, a companion animal is never free. They come with the financial responsibility of health care, training, grooming, toys, bedding, and food.
- “Because he/she is SO CUTE!” – I know it’s hard to resist and adorable face, but cute also poops on your carpet, chews up your furniture, gets sick, makes a mess, and needs your time. It you want no-maintenance and cute, then get a plush animal.
- “Because I saw a _____ in a movie, on TV or in town and I think it’s cool” – See the above. Animals are living creatures that have their own needs, and as a guardian, you’re responsibility is to take care of that animal’s needs, not for that animals to take care of your needs. Again, animals are not things (and definitely not fads), they are living, sentient creatures that have their own needs and desires. In the case of exotic animals, you may be in for more than you bargained for. It is amazingly common for a new “it” pet to be over-bred, bought by the thousands and returned to shelters in huge numbers once people realize how much care they actually need.
- “For Protection” – Regardless of the breed, dogs are social animals. Using a dog for protection is unhealthy for a dog as they become socially isolated. This then becomes a breeding ground for a range for behavior problems (anxiety, aggressiveness, fear, etc.) that you may not have been expecting.
2. HOW MUCH DO I KNOW ABOUT THE NEEDS OF THE ANIMAL? Most dogs can live up to 12+ years while rats can live 2-3 years. Cats require more attention to diet than dogs do. When you add a new member to your home, you must accommodate to their needs, so it only makes sense to find out what those needs are. Are you considering a dog? Then what do you know about the different needs of the different breeds? Some dogs require more grooming, walking time, exercise, etc. How much do you know about the needs of a cat? Considering a bird, rat, or reptile? Then what kind of housing needs do they require? What special foods do they need and what kind of health care will they need? Once you’ve come to the conclusion that you want a companion animal for the right reasons, then do your research on the different types of companion animals out there and their needs.
3. AM I FINANCIALLY ABLE TO CARE FOR A COMPANION ANIMAL? Food, shelter, and health care are mandatory for every companion animal. Many people are unable to afford health care for themselves, let alone a companion animal. It is not uncommon to find animals in a shelter that were surrendered due to being unable to pay for a vet bill. Then there is the cost of food, shelter (bedding, crate, safety doors, etc) grooming (some breeds and species require special or frequent grooming), training, and toys. Look over your budget, factor in the needs, and ask yourself if you’re ready to invest the money needed to care for a new life? Also consider that if you rent, then you are also looking at a larger security deposit, pet rent, or higher rent.
4. WHAT IS MY LIFESTYLE? In other words “Do I have the time to care for an animal?” Do you travel a lot? If so who will care for your companion animals while you are away? Do you work long hours? Then maybe a fish is a better match for you instead of a Dog. Dogs especially require lots of social time and if left alone (even with another dog) will result in behavior problems that can get out of hand. Do I already have a lot of family responsibility (kids, spouse)? Then it may not be the right time to add another life to your home. Another thing to ask yourself is; “Am I able/willing to put in the time & money for training?” Dogs especially require training. Potty training and behavior training will reduce the stress in the home as well as for you and the dog. Every dog (and companion animal for that matter) has their own personality and needs, so you may have to take into consideration extensive training. Most important, are you ready to be consistent with the training. Training is more than just going to a class or hiring a trainer, you are the main component and you must follow through with the training as well if you want healthy results.
5. DO I MOVE A LOT? Are you a college student, move from rental to rental, or re-locate for work? Then consider the fact that finding housing that accepts pets is difficult. There are pet restrictions on breeds and/or size, safety deposits that are double or triple the regular deposit amount, pet rent, or higher rent rates. Dorms typically do not accept pets (not even fish or rodents), and relocating can be difficult for some animals to adjust to which can result in behavior problems that will require more training or health care. Carefully consider your lifestyle before deciding to add a new member to your home.
6. WHAT ARE THE LIFE EVENTS THAT I CAN FORESEE IN MY FUTURE? Are you going to college soon? Moving? Having a baby? Needing to care for an elderly family member? Are you (or your partner/spouse) at risk of loosing your job? These types of situations can make it really difficult to maintain the proper care for a companion animal.
7. IS MY (AND/OR OTHER FAMILY MEMBERS) PERSONALITY CONDUCIVE TO HAVING A COMPANION ANIMAL? Do you get impatient easily? Do you like a clean orderly home? Do you like spontaneity or predictability? Are you active or a homebody? These are crucial questions to ask yourself in finding a compatible companion animal. If you like to keep a clean home, then a bird may not be the right match for you. If you like a clean home and really feel you are able to care for a dog, then what kind of dog? One that sheds a lot? Are you ready to put in the time and money for house/potty training? If you are a homebody is adding a large breed dog that needs a lot of exercise a good match?
8. AM I PHYSICALLY ABLE TO CARE FOR A COMPANION ANIMAL? Dogs of any size need to be walked – the amount varies. What a Great Dane needs is not the same what a Chihuahua needs. Can you bend over to pick up a rabbit, or guinea pig? Is lifting that fish tank for cleaning possible? Consider the cleaning needs of the bedding/housing and the grooming, poop patrol of your companion animal. Are you physically able to do this or can you accommodate this?
9. IS MY ENVIRONMENT COMPANION ANIMAL FRIENDLY, AND IF NOT, AM I WILLING/ABLE TO MAKE IT SO? Do you have a yard, patio, fence, pet door, or are their areas of the home that are “off-limits”? Ask yourself, what kind of companion animal is conducive to your home?
10. AM I WILLING TO SPAY/NEUTER MY COMPANION ANIMAL? When a female dog is in heat, all the male dogs in the neighborhood know it. An un-neutered male dog will break down a fence if he knows a female dog in heat is on the other side. Mice breed like crazy, and rabbits don’t have that reputation for nothing, so even if you don’t intend on your companion animal having babies, it can still happen. Not to mention, you will be saving lives when you spay and neuter a companion animal. Less dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. means less of them in shelters, and less of them being killed.
I’M READY TO BE A GUARDIAN, NOW WHAT???
- Research the needs and care of the type of animal you are considering.
- If you are certain you want to add to your home permanently, then adopt. There are purebreds and mixed-breeds just aching to find a forever home. If you visit http://www.petfinder.com you will find a database of different types of animals and various breeds that need a home. The added benefit is that (in most cases) you get more information on the temperament of each animal. Not all dogs, cats or rabbits do well with children or other animals, so it’s good to have this information up front.
- Consider being a foster guardian. Shelters and rescue agencies are overcrowded and are in need of people to help foster. You just may be the perfect transitional home for a senior dog or special needs dog (who are generally hard to place).
- Don’t buy or get from a breeder. Remember, every year 9.6 million animals are killed in U.S. shelters. It makes no sense to get a companion animal from a breeder (no matter how reputable they are or close you are to them) when thousands of shelter animals need a home. When you buy or get from a breeder, you perpetuate and contribute to the killing of shelter animals. If you are looking for a specific breed, please visit http://www.petfinder.com
The bottom line is that when you are considering adding a companion animal to your life, it is their needs you must consider first.