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Pet Care

February 14, 2011

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Becoming a Pet Owner

By Dean Vickers, Director of Animal Welfare Studies and Education at Radio Systems Corporation

Selecting the right pet is just as important as selecting the right mate, or at least it should be. One commercial boldly states that 1 in 5 relationships begin with an online dating service. Although I cannot verify that statistic, I will also not challenge the validity it. We are in a constant state of motion, cell phones surgically attached to our ears, and our fingers wear the battle scars from texting wars.

So the statement that ‘1 in 5’ relationships begin with an online dating service seems feasible. It only stands to reason that the medium we are so familiar with in our professional lives, readily adapts to our personal lives and the use of social media outlets is a real time saver. We can all relate to bad dates and set ups. I can’t tell you the number of stories I have heard from friends concerning their respective ‘date from hell.’ Admit it, we have all had that experience; followed by the retelling and embellishing of the details to the amusement, and chagrin, of our friends.

Each rendition becomes more outlandish until the date itself is little more than a footnote to the overall saga. Amusing for sure, but the reality is that most people you meet have good qualities and more often than not, it was nothing more than bad timing or odd connection. Whatever the reason, it just didn’t ‘click.’ The same holds true when it comes to pets. Some fit nicely into our lives and become a trusted companion, others do not. 

Just as we turn to the internet to research for a date, it is also important to do research before adding a pet into your life. Dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, birds and even fish require lots of time, money and commitment. Pet ownership is rewarding on so many levels, but you need to think it through before you adopt a companion for life. There are some excellent websites that help you pick the right pet. As a general rule, consider your time restrictions, financial capabilities, allergies, energy levels and the like and see what fits you best. 

If you are looking for a specific breed of dog, look at a breed specific rescue group or a breeder you trust. They will be able to give you some background information on the characteristics of that breed. If you are considering a mixed breed dog, look at the combined breeds and make an educated guess from there. The same holds true for cats. Are you looking for a Persian, or is the everyday domestic short hair more to your liking. Every animal is unique and has his own personality.

how much time to care for petsThings to Consider: Do you have time to care for a pet?

This is a major consideration. Many of us work long hours or travel for our jobs. Dogs, cats and other companion animals require food, water, exercise, training, care and companionship. These needs are there and can not be ignored regardless of what kind of day you had. Behavior issues are one of the main reasons animals are dropped off at shelters.

These issues could have been addressed if you had allotted the time to train or hired a trainer to assist you. Additionally, if you travel for work or vacation, who will care for your pets? I have a great group of friends who help me when I travel. Otherwise, I would research boarding kennels or in-home pet sitting services.

Are you financially able to afford a pet?

Depending on the pet, the costs of being a pet owner can be high. The basics include: licenses, veterinary care, grooming, toys, good quality food, treats, litter, training classes and unexpected costs that may arise. I did not include the cost of spay or neuter because if you adopt from a shelter or rescue, this is typically included in the adoption fee. If not, I strongly urge you to do so. Thousands of unwanted animals are euthanized everyday, this could change with responsible pet ownership, which included spay or neuter. There are also yearly vaccinations and check-ups with your veterinarian and also consider the costs of caring for an aging pet as well as possible unexpected surgeries. My dog J’Maul had a cancerous tumor removed a few years ago, he has made a full recovery. Although worth every cent, my bank account is still hemorrhaging.

Is the potential pet appropriate for your living space?

This is not just about the size or your potential new pet, many smaller breed dogs, such as terriers and herding breeds, are extremely active and require a great deal of exercise to expend that energy. Some bigger dogs are very content to lie around all day, sleep on the sofa and go for a leisurely walk when you get home. It is very important to do research on the type of animal you are considering adopting. If you are looking at a purebred, what are the characteristics of the specific breed? If you are looking at a mixed breed dog, look at the breeds that make up the dog. This will give you an indicator of the temperament.

Why do you want a pet?

growing old with petsThis may be the most important question for you to consider. Did you or your kids just watch 101 Dalmatians, Must Love Dogs, or Cats and suddenly realize that you needed a pet? Is your favorite celebrity seen with a new pet and you have to have the same? Getting a pet shouldn’t be done on a whim. This living, feeling companion will be a part of your family for years or even decades. Dogs may be with you 10 or more years, cats easily live 15 years, and some birds can live for over 75 years. They are not disposable and should not be treated as such.

Once again, the parallel to dating is obvious: Why do you want to be in a relationship? It really does matter. Are you looking to fill a void or are you looking for someone to share your life with. Much like a pet, partners are not interchangeable and having time between relationships is a good thing. It gives you time to get to know who you are and what your needs are. If your ultimate goal is a life partner, it is important to know who you are so you don’t get lost in someone else’s life. Now that you have decided that you are ready for a new addition, there are just a couple more considerations.

Should you get a young animal or an older one?

This comes back to a few of the previous questions, namely time. A young puppy or kitten will require a lot more training then an older one. With a puppy comes crate training, leash training, basic commands and what not to chew. Puppies are not able to hold their bladder for more then a few hours, so this could make the training more problematic. Adopting an adult dog or cat may be the best choice for you. With an adult animal you already know the personality and the shelters are filled with adult animals looking for a second chance. For me, puppies and kittens are wonderful…in someone else’s home. Many people overlook older pets, since I don’t have the time or patience to raise them correctly, I will always opt for an older dog.

Where should you go to find your perfect companion?

why adopt shelter petEach year an estimated 9.6 million animals are euthanized in the United States. Over half of the dogs and roughly 75% of the cats that enter shelters are euthanized. More cats are euthanized because most states do not require licensing and therefore owners cannot be identified. I will always recommend adopting from a shelter, breed specific rescue group or a reputable breeder. All of my dogs are rescues. J’Maul, the Ridgeback Mix was found in a dumpster by a Dayton, Ohio police officer. Annikka, my black Chow, was found chained to a guardrail off Interstate 75, and Isabella, my tan Chow, is a survivor from a cruelty/neglect investigation.

Having worked in a shelter and worked with shelters for several years, I have a great deal of respect for them and the work they do on behalf of unwanted animals. I encourage you all to do what you are able to do to assist your local shelters; volunteer, donate and adopt. I am also an avid supporter of the website You can type in what you are looking for – dog, cat, bird, etc, age, and size and how far you are willing to travel to visit your potential new pet. Some people are focused on a specific breed of animal, and a rescue may not be able to satisfy their needs. There are excellent breeders out there. With that said, I would still encourage you to research the breeder. Visit the breeder’s facility and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Interview the breeder. Remember, this will become a part of your family for several years. Don’t be impulsive.

Tying it All Together.

Everything I mentioned has something in common; researching the type of pet that best fits your lifestyle, researching specific breeds and finding a good veterinarian can all be completed more thoroughly and efficiently via the internet. It also provides you with some basic search criteria and will make you more comfortable when you visit the shelter or breeder. This holds true for dating sites as well, be optimistic about the possibilities, but stay realistic as well. Accept these sites for what they are and remember that some people may be less than honest in their profile.

Always think of safety first, but if you choose to post a personal online, remember that it is visible to the world. Think about what you put out there, and who may have access to it. Although a time saver, unlike face to face, you really don’t know who is on the other side of the screen. Meeting people through friends, social, religious or political groups guarantees a common interest and an avenue for beginning a conversation. Despite Skype and webcams, it is hard to compete with face to face interaction. You never know what may happen when you take a chance.   You may make a friend or find a companion who will share in your daily routine and enrich your life. 


About the author As Director of Animal Welfare Studies and Education Dean Vickers provides education on the proper use and benefits of PetSafe products to legislators and pet owners worldwide while using their feedback to improve products. The former Ohio State Director for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has assisted with animal abuse and neglect cases, as well as advocated to strengthen animal welfare laws through articles, speeches trainings and more. Vickers is a graduate from The Ohio State University with a degree in History and Political Science. He currently lives in Knoxville with his 3 rescue dogs, Annikka, J’Maul and Isabella.  

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