This piece has been hard to write. I’ve tried repeatedly to tone down my voice from sounding like a scolding mother, but I’m passionate about this topic. My past experience as a dog owner, and working for a rescue shelter adds to my fire. Finally, being that this is my blog, I am posting what I want anyway. If you distinctively dislike, I’d love to hear from you. If you enjoy it, I’d especially like to hear from you. Thank you.
The Cold Hard Truth about Pet Ownership
As Christmas draws near, a lot of people will be tempted to buy puppies and kittens for their children as gifts. Newspapers run articles over and over about the stupidity of this act, yet prospective owners either don’t read newspapers, or remain hell bent on buying a dog or needy feline. SPCAs used to close and not allow pet adoption during Christmastime because the process brings out parents making impulse gifts. I’m distressed to find that shelters, desperate to clear their crates of animals over the holidays, allows adoptions to continue 365 days a year. Anyone who has never owned a pet before should be vetted before adopting. Potential pet buyers, adopters or even fosters do not always understand how much care a pet needs, how much time and money it’ll cost to own a pet.
All my life, I’ve been part of a pack of dogs. First, I was a child whose parents owned Scottish terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, mutts, a Golden Retriever, Cairn, West Highland White Terriers, and more mutts. Single, unmarried, I rescued a dog from the SPCA. Married, I’ve owned a border collie mix that was tossed out of the back of a car, 1 rescued Walker Hound, and 6 English Springer Spaniels. All my dogs were adopted or bought as puppies, excluding the hound. Puppies are a lot of work, but I find it easier to mold the dog into an obedient pet, than adopt one a little older with bad habits. A puppy is such an endearing temptation, but if you buy one from a shop, and don’t discuss it with your spouse, or even figure out how to housebreak it in a condo three floors up, you’ve bought yourself a load of trouble. Which is one reason animal rescue shelters are over capacity. Dogs are discarded for the simplest of reasons – not allowed in apartments, or given to kids who lose interest in the trials of ownership.
In a perfect world, owners would try to find a responsible new owner on their own, but in reality owners drive their 6-month old Lab into the country and dump it there. In most cases, dogs who are raised inside, do not know how to survive the elements winter brings. Cats can improvise, but many are caught and abused, or become feral.
Puppies are harder to care for than newborns. For one, they can’t communicate as to when they need to go out, eat or drink. Babies learn words faster than animals, and their parents are more attentive. Which is why a lot of young married couples purchase puppies before taking the next step toward parenthood. Babies eat and sleep, eventually making it through the night without a whimper. Puppies eat 2-3 times a day and have to be let out to potty up to 8 times a day, depending on how long it takes them to comprehend key words like “out, tinkle, poo, do your business, or toilet.” You cannot diaper a dog and expect them to learn anything. Same with babies. You cannot expect them to be toilet trained before age 2, and doing so requires repetition and disposable underwear. Whether it’s a dog or child, parenting is a learning process. Some dog owners are very impatient and will crate their dog for up to 8 hours a day. This for a young dog is abusive behavior on the part of its owner. And yet, some parents of children have been caught locking their children in a closet for up to 7 days a week. This, too, is abusive and neither sets of parents should be allowed to have children, or pets.
With children comes medical insurance that pays for well baby visits, sick baby visits and inoculations. In some cases, pet insurance can be bought but does not apply if the dog has a pre-existing disease like epilepsy. Pet insurance is also costly, and though I once had a dog with cancer, I didn’t have insurance, never once thinking anything so awful could happen to my baby. His treatments lasted 6 months to the tune of $600+ and he died anyway. This is Another reason why dogs end up in shelters. Owners cannot afford to treat a sick canine, and their good intentions fall by the wayside.
Some breeds are prone to lymphoma – Golden Retrievers and Labradors. In a recent article in BarkPost, an online blog for pet owners, Golden Retrievers were voted most Popular dog to own. Affable, even tempered, and loving, Goldens are also stubborn. Both Goldens and Labradors, whether you own a black Lab, yellow Lab or Chesapeake Lab, all are susceptible to cancer. Some cats are prone to feline leukemia. And both dogs and cats can get diabetes, a tricky disease which requires a lot of hands on attention and injecting of insulin.
The neglect of spaying and neutering is the main reason animal shelters are full. Even though most cities offer free spaying and neutering clinics, there are far more impulsively purchased pets who never once grace the office of a vet. Not only does this neglect produce more unwanted animals through errant procreation, it also puts a tax on animal shelters. In Maryland alone, exists Baltimore City Animal Control, a high kill shelter, the SPCA, BARC, Baltimore County Animal Control, Defenders of Animal Rights, Harford County Animal Control, PAWS, Animal Rescue, Howard County Rescue, DELTA, Animal Advocacy, Pet Rescue of Maryland, as well as volunteers who go into shelters to foster full breeds – West Highland White Terriers, Irish Wolfhounds, Golden Retrievers, Goldendoodles, Spaniels of all types, and so on.
A bad economy brings an increase in abandonment of pets. There was a recession in the 90s when I worked for a no-kill agency. Every day we sent our rescue truck out to far reaching areas of Baltimore County and filled it with 10-15 abandoned former pets. I do not advocate no-kill shelters. If you visited one in the 90’s, you’d know why. They resembled puppy mills. Crates upon crates were stacked to the ceiling with dogs, that if never adopted, would spend the rest of their lives in that crate. Having had to euthanize 5 former pets myself, that type of mercy killing is a Godsend. I wish people suffering from incurable diseases had the same option. I believe it is much kinder to put down an unadoptable pet than have it languish in a no-kill shelter for 5 or more years. Nowadays, I’ve heard that rescue organizations sometimes trade animals among themselves so as to reach a wider net of possible adopters.
My sister rescues senior dogs. In the past five years she has reached out 6 times to adopt a dog between the ages of 8-13. One has to have strong armor to open one’s heart to a senior dog that might die in a year or so. She is an amazing earth angel to these creatures whose only fault is that they grew old.
I’ve often heard and spoken words myself that a rescued animal often carries a past of abuse or neglect, creating issues that will take extra work on the part of its new owner. This is true, and not true. There are no pets that don’t require extra work. Even fish in a bowl require fresh water. Of all the shelters mentioned above, none of them release dogs back into the market without first having it vet treated, spayed/neutered, microchipped, and then evaluated by a volunteer behavioral canine psychologist. Yes, some abused animals cannot be returned to homes. Case in point: of the pack of 50 Pit Bulls that Michael Vick trained to fight and kill for his dog fighting ring, only 3 were re-adopted. I took in a hound dog that also had been involved in a dog fighting ring, and she was the sweetest dog ever. Out of those 55 dogs, only 3 survived. But rescue organizations will not dare take a chance of litigation against them by adopting out a vicious animal. And while one of my rescues did not like men, he still obeyed my husband whom he recognized as the Alpha male in our family. So if you don’t have extra time to adopt a scarred animal, or you’re an impatient person, steer clear of rescue agencies. In fact, buy yourself a stuffed toy, and call it a day.