Responsible Pet Ownership Means Knowing When Not To Have A Pet

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Post by Blog Manager Robbi Hess

“I worry about my dog,” “I hope my family has been taking care of my kitty the way I used to,” I hear these comments and more when I visit my mom at the nursing home and it made me ponder responsible pet ownership.

My mom is surrounded by people who apparently have owned and loved pets at one time in their lives. By many accounts, several of the people there were in the same situation my mom had been in. She and her dog, Chico, went from living with my sister one day to the next day my mom being hospitalized for broken ribs and shoulder, a few months of rehab in the hospital and then a move to the nursing home area.

Our family was faced with the dilemma of, “Who is going to care for Chico?” I adopted him and he shutterstock_83795509lived with us, and our menagerie, until he crossed OTRB.

The conversations that fly around the nursing home about pets and who’s going to care for them made me realize that even if you’re a pet lover, there may come a time when you need to consider your life expectancy and overall health compared to the life expectancy of a dog or cat you want to adopt. Consider this: if you are in your 60s or 70s and adopt a puppy or kitten, there could come a time when you are no longer able to live independently and are faced with the question of, “Who will care for my pet.”

If you’ve had your pet for a decade or more chances are you can’t imagine putting him or her in a shelter if you have to relocate to an assisted living facility or a nursing home. But what if no one in your family can take care of the pet? When you put it into that context, chances are you may not want to adopt unless you have a plan in place for the care of your pet until the end of his or her life. Could you imagine having to have your beloved companion placed in a shelter? The outlook is not always good for senior dogs. Imagine too how your pet would feel if he goes from a loving home to a shelter situation — it would be frightening and devastating to say the least.

Don’t leave your pet’s welfare to chance. Here are conversations to have now with your family and honestly, with yourself, before you undertake the duty of bringing a pet into your life:

  • Are you healthy enough to adopt a pet? Will you get a puppy or a kitten? Regardless of our age, the demands of puppies and kittens are myriad. They require a lot of attention in order to make them “good citizens.” They need to be trained, walked, perhaps groomed, house broken or litter trained, occupied so they don’t chew shoes or climb curtains. Do you have the energy for that?
  • Is your temperament suited to the time and effort a young pet will take? I admit that bringing my mom’s dog into the house was an adjustment and he was a senior! It meant adding additional walking duties to my day, additional feeding duties and additional snuggle times (not that those were bad, but it was a change of routine for all of our pets).
  • Wanting the companionship that a pet brings is more than understandable and studies have shown that seniors — especially those that live alone — benefit from having a pet in the house. A pet can keep you active and involved. But you may need to weigh your desire for a pet against what will be in the best interest of the pet when you can no longer care for him or her.
  • Do you have a family member that is willing to and will commit to taking your pet in if the time comes that you can no longer care for him? If so, you need to have that family member (or friend) involved in the pet’s life from the get-go. It’s hard to bring a new pet into a multi-pet household and have her blend into the existing dynamics. If spending time together prior to a move being necessary isn’t possible, you may be faced with a dog with behavior issues she didn’t have before simply because she’s been taken out of her usual environment and thrust into a world of strangers. A well-behaved dog can quickly become considered an ill-behaved dog if not integrated into the household properly.
  • If you simply need a dog or cat in your life — and we can’t certainly fault anyone for wanting that! — consider adopting a senior dog or cat. The animal will be calmer than its younger counterparts and may require less work with housebreaking or litter training. Senior pets are typically so grateful for a new chance at life in a loving home that they will lavish you with love and attention and are eager to please.

Remember, age is not the only factor to think of when you ask the question, “Who will care for my pet?” While no one wants to think of bad things befalling them, accidents do happen. I urge every pet owner to talk to friends and family members and make a plan for the care of your pets if you no longer can.

Do you have a plan in place? I’d love to hear about it.

(Photo: Shutterstock, Couple and Jack Russell)