Welcoming a new pet into the family is a process that extends past Christmas break - are you up for that?
flickr photo by 23am
Typically there’s a lot of preparation that goes into making sure the pet has a chance to get acclimated into his new life. I know that most of you have been through the experience of welcoming any four-legged friend, so surely you can relate to how much a challenge the process is.
It’s not a process that really has a timeline.
That’s why I’m so puzzled when someone tells me that they are going to get a dog over their Christmas or winter break because that’s when they have the time to deal with a new animal in the house.
Is a 10-day period really enough time for a dog to become adjusted to his surroundings and his new people before an everyday schedule returns everyone in the household to everyday reality?
No. And anyone who says that’s true is off his or her rocker.
It’s a lot to expect of a dog of any age to go from a breeder or a shelter to his new home and settle in — and when it’s expected on “fast food” schedule, as I call it, it’s a recipe for disaster; ultimately, the pet is the one who pays.
A pet requires a lot of consideration on a daily basis — regardless of what is going on in life or how the humans are feeling.
But, sadly, the following scenario occurs all too often: a person decides to get a dog and picks up a leash, a bed, a few treats, a couple of cute bowls and a bag of food.
With that preparation and the idea that Christmas break will be a great time to do it, they come home (or worse yet, surprise their kids with a puppy) and everything is great — for a little while. Said dog owner wants to go away for the day but realizes that the pet's needs aren't line with that sort of thing. In other cases, Mom and Dad are fed up with the kids' natural tendency to not pitch in, the accidents, the chewing, etc.
Oh, the frustration!
On top of this, after the newness has worn off, and everyone goes back to their lives with work, school, dance class twice a week and sports practice three times a week — while puppy has to sit home alone. No one realized how much time and care a puppy needs to become a well-adjusted member of the household. Nor does anyone have the time or patience to carry out the consistent job of age-appropriate training and housebreaking. (Let's not forget how challenging it is for a pet to make the shift from your being home most of the time for two weeks to your regular schedule.)
Puppy then grows into an unmanageable adolescent dog that isn’t so cute anymore. Or, a re-homed adult dog becomes too much to handle.
I am contacted by several people every year and asked if I can recommend a dog trainer or a puppy class because they are in this very situation. (It’s usually in February, mind you, the time of year when shelters nationwide are flooded with relinquished pets.) I do have real professionals I am comfortable recommending, but sadly, in many cases, people do not want to spend the money to pay a reputable professional, let alone invest the time and effort that these trainers recommend is needed to work with the dog.
"What about this book by a famous trainer with his or her own television show?" (No.)
So, then the pooch is given away to someone else because the family just can't manage the responsibility anymore. Hopefully the new family will have the ability to give the proper amount of time and attention the dog needs. Hopefully. Can you imagine how confusing and sad it is for that dog to be shifted from one home to another like that?
Having a companion animal is an extraordinary experience. However, there are no pets that are "low maintenance" — period.
Welcoming any new pet into your family takes a lot of consideration, research and preperation, regardless of the animal's age, species or breed. Here are some issues to consider:
All breeds of cats and dogs are different, from their dietary needs and behavioral attributes to health issues. Did you know that some breeds of cat actually like to play fetch like dogs do? Some pets are more prone to cardiac issues, liver dysfunction or disorders that require maintenance medication.
Is everyone in the house 'on board' with the decision?
It is a considerable financial obligation, too, over the life of the animal. Do you have the financial means to pay for the food? You need to get your pets spayed or neutered, and that costs money too. What about vet visits every six to 12 months for vaccines, check-ups, medicine what about more serious medical issues? (We've personal experience in the area of serious medical problems that required surgery.)
The life expectancy of a pet is important to consider as well. Depending on the breed, dogs can live anywhere from 7 to more than 16 years. Ditto for cats, but their life expectancy can be upwards of 20 years. (Yes, really.) Ditto for exotic birds, but it’s more like 30 to 70 (or more) years.
What is your lifestyle like? What is your life going to look like in seven or eight years?
Your living situation: What is it like now? Do you own, rent — will that change?
What is your schedule like? How many hours do you work? Do you have a solid support system set in place as a backup to provide care, like a reliable relative, friend or a pet sitter?
Are you one who has a tendency to have a more laid back, sedentary lifestyle? Are you a runner? Somewhere in between? Some breeds of dog absolutely require a good vigorous run outside everyday to keep their behavior in check. They need lots of playtime. Yes, true playaholics!
Exotic pets have special needs. Environment requirements, specialized food/feeding schedules, enrichment toys/time, not to mention a veterinarian who deals with exotics or pocket pets — and not all do!
Do you like to travel? Can you take a pet with you to the places that you typically like to go? Who will care for your pets when you go away for any length of time?
Are you married, single do you have kids — have you had kids yet? What will life be like once kids go off to college? The people in your life (or who will be in your life) should be huge deciding factor with regard to your consideration of a pet.
Pets aren't accessories: They're living, breathing beings who require serious consideration at all stages of their life. They count on you to provide not only for their basic needs to survive, but also for companionship, enrichment and fun to keep them whole.
So, after all of that — do you still think that the idea of bringing a pet home as a holiday gift is a swell idea?