The decision to adopt a pet, especially a cat or dog, is a major one. Adorable as they are, it's better to approach the issue with your head more than your heart. Are you ready for the responsibility? Are you in it for the long haul? "Consider what your future lifestyle will be, since many dogs can live for 16 or more years and cats, 20 or more years," says Dr. Miki Shibata, a small animal specialist veterinarian at Ottawa's Greenback and Rideau Animal Hospitals.
The good news, says Jim Sykes, CEO of the Hamilton/Burlington Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), is that many shelters now use the 'Meet Your Match' system, a personality and lifestyle quiz to help pair potential adopters to dogs or cats that fit their lifestyle. Ensuring a pet’s personality complements yours improves the odds of a permanent match.
Are you thinking of welcoming a cat or dog into your life? Here are some key questions to ask yourself first.
1. Can I afford a dog or cat?
Citing statistics from the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Shibata says "In 2008, the average cost of owning a dog, including vet visits, food, pet insurance, pet license fees and gifts was $1,850. For owning a cat, the average cost was $1,400."
Vacation pet-sitting, doggy daycare, professional grooming, and veterinary emergencies not covered by your insurance will add to that total.
2. How much time can I spend with my pet?
"A dog shouldn't be left alone for over eight to ten hours – at the most. If your dog would be alone for longer, hire a dog walker or consider doggy daycare," says Dr. Shibata.
Dr. Shibata says dogs who are left alone and who suffer separation anxiety often engage in behaviour that's destructive to you (nipping or biting), your property (gnawed furniture, soiled floors) or themselves (self-biting, broken teeth, torn out toenails).
Adult cats are lower maintenance, provided their need for space, food, fresh water and a clean litter box are met – and provided you've got an aloof cat. (Often, former feral cats are a good match in this situation.) An affectionate "lap cat," however, may languish if left alone. Urinating outside the box or on your personal belongings is often a sign of an unhappy cat.
Page 1 of 23. Is my motto "Chihuaua or nothing"?
Sykes feels that almost any non-violent person can become a good pet owner, provided they're open-minded about breeds. "If you're an apartment-bound senior and you want an energetic Jack Russell, that wouldn't be a good match," he says. "You can't pick a dog based on 'I saw it on TV and it's so cute!' "
Do you like to unwind after work in front of the TV? Guess what: some dogs do too! Do you like to go for a jog? Ditto. "Don't try to go for a run with a dog that would rather be napping," says Sykes.
Breed traits, as well as individual animal personalities, need to be taken into account. Are you willing to do this? If you're fixated only a specific breed's looks or trendiness, you're setting the match up for failure.
4. Can I deal with training my pet?
Training is important and can prevent your pet from being injured. Sykes says adult or senior dogs and cats are great if you don't have time to train your pet, since many are well trained.
But are you ready for dog obedience classes or trouble-shooting to uncover why your cat is mysteriously peeing on your bed?
Some shelters, like the Hamilton Burlington SPCA are making it easier, with two-hour drop-in classes, as opposed to traditional eight-week class sessions, says Sykes. But you still have to make the effort.
Left unchecked, problems can escalate. "If your dog barks excessively, will this affect your neighbours and force you to give up your dog?" asks Dr. Shibata.
5. Do I know where I'll be in two years time, let alone 20 years?
Having a furry roomie may be tempting while you're away at college or university, or moving into your first apartment. However, adopting a "permanent" cat or dog when your life is anything but isn't the right solution.
Fortunately, says Sykes, there are ways you can get your fur fix, without adopting – then abandoning – a pet.
"Foster care is a great option," says Sykes, if you want a positive, but temporary arrangement lasting from a couple weeks up to a few months. Check your municipal animal shelter's website for more details.
The Hamilton Burlington SPCA, for example, has an innovative foster program that sends felines to live with students in Hamilton's Mohawk College and McMaster University residences. All the pets' needs are paid for, and at the end of the semester, cats and students part ways enriched by their time together.
Another option is volunteering onsite at a shelter as a dog walker, groomer or other type of volunteer. (And when you're ready, well, you'll already have an inside scoop on the personalities on the pets at the shelter!)
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