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Monday, November 17, 2008

Why Do You Have A Pet (a.k.a. Pet Peeve #4)?

This is perhaps a subset of Pet Peeve #1 (go back and find it at the very beginning of my blog). I talk to people who have a pet and sometimes hear "it's only a (dog/cat/hamster/parakeet/etc.)." I have clients who put their dog or cat outside, and pretty much let it fend for itself. Sure, they provide food for it, and maybe get vaccines done, and if I'm very lucky they will make sure it's on heartworm and flea preventions. But they don't spend time with it, don't train it, don't interact with it, and don't really make it a part of their family. The pet just kind of exists as something they have.

We have come a long way in Western Civilization in our attitudes towards pets. One hundred years ago they were largely there to help around the farm, kill mice, and protect us. However, there have always been dogs and cats raised purely for companionship. Look at the history of some of the breeds, and look at pictures of royalty. There were often ornamental dogs, bred to be small and exotic-looking, and bred to have behaviors that make them good companions with no ability to hunt or otherwise provide a useful skill. In the last century, we have progressed to where the "working" dogs are the big minority, and most people have them as family pets. It's also gotten to the point that we now have monogrammed dog beds, sweaters, Halloween costumes, and other things that make them into little people. The bond between pets and people has grown closer, until now they sleep in our beds and we treat them as our children. And I am of the opinion that this is a good thing.

Having a pet is a big responsibility. You are their sole provider, and it's your duty to provide them with good shelter, adequate medical care, proper nutrition, and see to their well-being. But many people forget about their mental well-being, and this is just as important. These are not wild animals, and have been specifically bred for millenia to be close companions to us. Do you keep your dog outside in a pen or on a leash and only see it when you dump some food in its bowl? Do you cringe when the dog tries to play with you or jump on you out of love and seeking attention? Does your dog have some behavioral issues because it's been left by itself and you never really gave it proper training and socialization? Is your pet becoming an inconvenience and a frustration because caring for it hampers your lifestyle? If you answered yes, then I have to be blunt....why do you have a pet at all?

Many people get dogs and cats (and other pets) because they think it will be fun, and don't really think about the responsibility. When the pet turns out to need care and attention, it bothers the people. Basically abandoning that pet and ignoring it is actually potentially cruel. And it really frustrates people who strongly care for pets and have close bonds with their own. Those readers who are in the pet care or veterinary fields know exactly the people I'm talking about.

If you're one of the people these people that I'm talking about, please stop, look outside, and look at your pet. Is what you're doing really fair to them? Do they have a good life? Is ignoring them really being a responsibile pet owner? Starting today, make a promise to me and yourself that you will embrace that pet, give them the care and training they need, and make them a member of your family. If that dog or cat is really an inconvenience to you, then please consider giving it to someone who really wants to care for it properly, and will give it a better home...because I promise you that if you see it as an inconvenience and are mostly ignoring it, then you are not the right person to be caring for it. And if you end up giving this pet up, please, please, PLEASE think long and hard before getting another pet, and make sure you're fully 100% ready for what it takes.