Years ago, when my brother was a young Cub Scout, members of his troop each came home from an activity with their very own goldfish, to the surprise of their parents.
None of the fish lived long. One fell victim to a cat. Another jumped out of its bowl, likely trying to escape water that had become too warm from sitting next to the radiator. A third was poisoned by pencil shavings that were accidentally dropped in its bowl.
I’m not sure if the exercise taught exactly the lesson that was intended, but it was a lesson nonetheless: responsible pet ownership goes far beyond simply remembering to feed your pet.
Pet ownership is a serious responsibility and yearslong commitment. But over the years, I have met far too many dogs here whose owners frequently let them roam the streets, untrained and unneutered, dodging cars and nipping at neighbors.
If you’re considering pet ownership, please don’t do it impulsively. Research each animal’s and breed’s needs and temperament and consider how they might fit into your home and whether you feel confident you can continue to meet those needs during your pet’s entire lifespan. How much space does the animal need? How much mental stimulation? Exercise? Food? Specialized grooming or veterinary care? And how much will all of that cost?
Once you have your pet, be prepared to do the responsible thing by providing them vaccines and other needed preventive care. If you’re getting a dog or cat, make sure they’re spayed or neutered so you’re not contributing to the overpopulation that results in about 3 million cats and dogs being euthanized in shelters each year, according to the Humane Society.
In that vein, I would also urge you to strongly consider adopting from a shelter. Adopting from a shelter has a lot of advantages beyond the altruistic ones — it’s cheaper, the animals can be more unique, you have a better idea of their personality and often someone else has already gone through all the work of house training them. I loved the shelter dogs I grew up with.
Once you bring your pet home, be prepared to give them a safe environment that fits their needs. If you get a rabbit, for example, you should know that they love chewing wires and can electrocute themselves if you leave them unattended with cords. If you get a dog, it’s your responsibility to make sure they can’t easily escape your yard and run into traffic if you’re leaving them to run around unsupervised. If they’re a “frequent flyer” at the local shelter, that’s on you. Dogs also need proper training and socialization. That doesn’t necessarily mean a full repertoire of show tricks, but basic manners and housetraining are important.
Also, definitely don’t be like the guy who once got angry at a photographer and I for showing up to a house fire and asked, “Do I need to bring my pit bull out? She bites.” Owners like that are why certain breeds have a bad reputation.
It’s also up to you to recognize that not everyone loves your pet as much as you do. I personally love dogs, and am delighted when I get to interact with my friends’ pets, but it’s also important to respect that some people have allergies or phobias or simply don’t enjoy unfamiliar, unleashed dogs bounding up to them unexpectedly at the park.
Asking, “Is it alright if I bring my dog/cat/snake?” and respecting a “no” is important.
Lastly, clean up after your pets. Don’t be that entitled person who lets their dog do its business in other peoples’ yards and walks away, or makes everyone have to watch their step at the park.
Owning a pet is a truly wonderful thing. But our community will be a better place if everyone makes sure their pet ownership is as enjoyable for their pets and their neighbors as it is for them.