When I lived in Idaho, I befriended a white Siamese cat with crystal blue eyes. She was malnourished, incredibly skittish, and without a home when the first frost came early in September. The reality was that I couldn’t take in a cat because our current apartment didn’t allow pets, and I was leaving Idaho to move back to San Francisco in a month. While I was allergic, I also couldn’t bear leaving her outside to freeze. So I named her Kitty, gave her some milk (and tofu because it’s all I had in my fridge), and then searched the aisles for a disposable litter box knowing I had to immediately find her a home. Then the real problem set in because I fell in love.
I know many people who have had to make similar tough decisions when thinking about bringing a pet into their lives. But before the decision is made, there are considerations to mull over—some that are obvious and some that don’t always immediately come to mind when we’re busy falling in love with Feline or Fido.
Why do I want a pet? Did you just go through a break-up and a new pet sounds better than a new partner? Did you just lose a loved one and want to fill the space where he once lived? When I met Kitty, I was leaving a relationship. I was incredibly lonely, and needed companionship and love. The problem was that I was about to become homeless myself. Not a great time to adopt a pet. Think about the needs you hope a pet will fulfill before you adopt your pet, not down the road when you’re picking up puppy poop or scooping the litter box and wondering, “How did I get here?”
Am I having kids any time soon? Can you handle having a newborn and a puppy? It will probably be a tough road, no matter how alpha female you might be. Sometimes parents get a pet after many pleas from their young children, but guess who walks Bailey every night? If you’re thinking about adding children and pets to your life at the same time (or even just a few years apart), it might be best to wait until your children are older, when having a pet can be a learning experience in ownership.
Speaking of kids, which breed is right for mine once I have them? Which breed would be best for me? And for my other pets? I grew up with Golden Retrievers, which are marvelous with children. (I held onto our Misty’s tail so I could safely make it up and down the front stairs.) Chow Chows are not as nice with kids, as I recall one almost biting my finger off when I walked to first grade. Do your research on breeds that will work with your living situation. Make sure that the breed you choose can also handle your other pets, like my roommate’s thirteen-year-old cat, George, who huffs and puffs when anyone new walks through the door.
Is it important to me where I find my pet? Many puppies in pet stores come from puppy mills, where they’ve lived in a cage for their entire young lives, only to be put in a cage once again at the pet store. Breeders tend to be more pricey, but usually these pets come with papers and good genes. Adopting from the SPCA works for many, as pets who have been rescued can sometimes be the best pets since they’re being given a second chance. But they can be traumatized from abuse, too, so ask the right questions and see if you could foster a potential pet first. Online sites like Pet Finder let you search by breed, age, and location to find the best pup, kitty, or even snake!
Is pet insurance worth it? I chuckled when I first heard about pet insurance, but then I did a mental calculation of the dog bills my mother (a double dog owner, and dog boarding and pet care business owner) has paid over the years and decided it may be a sound financial move. Many pets will require emergency surgery or become ill, just like humans, and pet insurance can bring a major cost down to a tenth of the uninsured price. With pets becoming the children of the new millennium, companies are even offering pet insurance as an option for employees in benefit packages. The Humane Society sponsors Petplan, which has coverage for life, covering your pets for any illness they develop, for no matter how long they have it.
Will my pet’s health habits reflect mine? Are you a yoga junkie or a runner? Can your pet run alongside you while you ride your bike? If you travel a lot for work or keep late hours and have less time for activities with your pet, consider looking into pet services that take your pet for hikes or group frolics in the park or at the beach. What about eating style? Does your pet get to eat organic just as you do? Chat up your local pet store employee to see what he or she might recommend.
Do I like to sleep late? I do, especially on the weekends. With my roommate on a three-month vacation, I’m filling her shoes as the sleepy head who gets dragged from under my covers by the meows of her two kitties. Just like kids, pets will likely wake you early, excited by the prospect of breakfast and spending some time with you.
Are my weekends and nights pretty planned or can I make room for a pet? For many people, having a pet is a step before having a child. But even if you’re not considering kids anytime soon, pets will require you to keep a tighter schedule and also a big chunk of your time—just like children.
Can I leave work at a consistent hour to get home and care for my pet? If not, then get thee to a dog walker. It’s not fair to leave a dog at home or in a crate with a full bladder. And kitties need their share of love and attention, too.
Am I buying this pet with a partner? Could I handle it if my partner got the pet in the event of a break-up? How can I address this delicately before buying? Just like talking about children, couples need to talk about these things before adopting pets, perhaps even put it into writing. Your local SPCA might be able to help as counsel while you navigate the unexpected, like custody, in preparation.
What happens to my pet if I die? Who will I ask to care for him or her? Like marriage, a pet can last a lifetime. You can work with an attorney to research whether a life insurance policy will allow you to designate some funds to care for your pet once you have passed. It’s possible to create a trust that will cover your pet’s costs to whomever you choose to leave him or her with, and a will for your pet is not unheard of in our pet-loving society.
There is a happy ending to my story with Kitty. The week before I left, a friend of a friend stepped up to the plate and took Kitty in. He hung onto her during her rough transition time of peeing on his couch weekly. He sends me photo updates when I ask for them; she’s gained some weight, and has found a new love. And I’ve learned that love for an adopted pet can be shared among many.
Kitty explores her new home. Photo courtesy of Mike Clelland.