Nov. 25, 2003 -- Maybe it's their big eyes and cuddly fur coat. Maybe it's their eagerness to please or the desperation behind a voice you hear through telepathy as it begs, "Take me home."
Pets are popular gifts, especially around the holidays. But often, pet owners or gift buyers are unaware of the difficulties and intense commitment involved in raising new companions.
Experts say the following factors should be considered before you adopt or buy a dog or a cat for yourself or someone else. If not, the furry new member of the family on Christmas could wind up homeless by the following Thanksgiving.
Be prepared for a commitment that will last the animal's lifetime. Pets may live as long as 15 or 20 years and prospective pet owners should be prepared to provide food, shelter, health care and all the other essentials every day for the rest of the animal's life.
Can you afford to take care of a pet? Pet food is not cheap, and cats and dogs often can have unanticipated medical issues and high veterinarian bills. The American Pet Manufacturers Association estimates that dog owners spend more than $1,000 annually on pet care. "You cannot be on public assistance and own a pet," said Marge Stein, spokeswoman for North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y. "Honestly, if you're on a fixed income and you have to struggle to get by, to feed yourself, you should not have a pet. Food for pets can add up. You must be honest with thyself."
Do you have the time care for a pet? Cats and, to a greater extent, dogs need the time and attention to be house-trained properly and to be nurtured. People who have jobs that involve a great deal of travel for long periods of time or long hours where pets are left alone may want to think carefully about their pet choice. Many animals, especially puppies and kittens, do not adjust well to solitude. Dogs constantly left alone can develop severe behavioral problems.
Ask yourself why you want a pet. Bending to the demands of children who have been longing for a puppy or kitten is not good enough. Make sure the time and environment would be right for a new pet.
Make sure your apartment building allows pets. Some apartment building complexes allow pets while others prohibit them or have restrictions. Know your residence's guidelines before you get a pet.
Make sure you or no one else in your family or the prospective pet owner has allergies. If you are unsure whether you or your children are allergic to cats or dogs, spend time at the home of a friend with a pet.
Be prepared to provide references and past pet history. Places like the North Shore Animal League asks prospective "parents" for at least two references and proof of income, and they will research parental history with veterinarians if the prospective owners have previously owned pets. The Tigger Foundation, a New York animal rescue group, requests at least two references and asks prospective pet owners to designate a caretaker in case of an emergency.
Consider your previous pet history. Did you do a good job with your previous pet? Did you enjoy it? And are you prepared to make the same sacrifices again?
Be prepared to spay or neuter your animal. There is dog and cat overpopulation crisis that has left millions abandoned on the streets and being admitted into animal rescue shelters annually. Spaying or neutering your pet will help allow unwanted animals to find new homes.
Do research. Older pets are often easier to assimilate into a home because they are often already housebroken. Make sure your home is suitable to the pet you want. Be aware of what's considered normal cat and dog behavior, the reasons behind behavioral problems sometimes found in adopted companions and the options available to help you train your pet.
A Pet in Need
Thousands of pets are in need of good homes year-round, but particularly as the holiday season approaches. Just make sure you're the right owner. Two places that rescue and find homes for abandoned cats and dogs are the North Shore Animal League America and the Tigger Foundation. Here is how to contact both organizations:
North Shore Animal League America
25 Davis Ave. Port Washington, NY 11050 Phone: (516) 883-7575 Web site: http://www.nsalamerica.org
Tigger Foundation P.O. Box 172 Madison Square Station New York, NY 10159 Phone: (212) 712-8716 Web site: http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/tigger.html e-mail: email@example.com