Friday, April 04, 2008

My Life in A Fish Bowl. The Caged & Leashed Secrets of Pet Ownership

Here's my list of what adoption agencies and pet shops don't tell you about your future pet. After we adopted our adorable dog, (that's Scruffy in the photo), purchased the hamster(s) and accepted the turtles, we discovered these hidden rules & costs of owning pets.

1. Don't rely on the kids. The adoption agency and the pet store will give you the 411 on kids & pets. With over-confidence, you will assume that you know the inside story about families and animals. Yeah, Yeah! After two weeks, the kids will get tired of the pet and you will be in charge of cleaning out the fish bowl, changing the newspaper in the hamster cage and walking the dog. Duh! You know that already.
And of course, as a responsible adult you will nod and mentally re-organize your agenda. Here's my warning: You bought it; it's really yours. Really think hard about what pet ownership will mean to the adults in your home.

It's like taking home a new baby. For the next 18 years, you will be responsible for potty duties, burping, early morning wake-up calls, training and other 24/7 duties. And like distant relatives, your kids will occasionally -- maybe often -- drop into to play with this baby, but most of the time, the pet is all yours.

2. A sick dog can be worse than a sick kid. A child with a cold or sore throat will tell you how much it hurts, how long it hurts and where it hurts. You'll have clues about when and if a trip to the doctor's office is really necessary. But a sick dog can't tell you much. There are no word clues to discover if the pet is deathly ill or just suffering from a minor ache.

Without a clue, you will feel compelled to visit the Vet often, which translates into huge medical bills.

3. Animals complicate vacation plans. Even short-trips can become a planning nightmare when you have a pet. I have traveled with a dog and hamster and it's often difficult to find accommodations for pets. If you're staying in a private home, your friends and family might welcome you, but have doubts about your pets. There are hotels and motels that accept animals, but you have to do a lot of homework to find a place that's open for pets. What's more, these establishments may also have house rules, restrictions or extra fees for pets.

Doggy daycare is expensive. If you leave the pet home, your vacation plans must include pet sitters, walkers, feeders and emergency numbers. What's more, you'll need a Plan B. For example, a friend of mine with an extensive, expensive fish tank had to rely on a back-up battery-operated lighting and feeding system when the electricity went down in our area. He was out of town when our neighborhood was dark and his rescue efforts involved phone calls to neighbors and friends.

4. Watch out for odors: Pet owners have to be especially aggressive about animal odors in the home. Our turtles, for example, did not have much of scent. But when the filter on the turtle tank broke, the odor became overpowering and we had to change the water daily until we could repair the filter and water pump. For a brief period, our home smelled like a water treatment plant on a bad day. Yuck!

Likewise, even slight odors from hamsters, cats, dogs and birds can cling to drapes, carpets and sofa cushions.

5. Be on the alert for allergies. My middle son is allergic to birds; my daughter is allergic to hamsters. We learned the hard way. For instance, during the two-plus years that we owned a series of hamsters, my daughter was constantly rubbing her nose and sneezing. We were in denial about the cause. But guess what? My daughter's allergies disappeared when our last hamster was put to rest.

6. Pets bite back. Dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters can bite and scratch. Most pets are excellent around small children, but little kids often pull on pets (tugging on tails, ears, etc). As part of the family petting zoo, even a patient animal may occasionally bark or nip out of frustration.

7. Guard the home office: Warning: If you have a home office, be prepared to relocate to a bathroom or closet when your dog barks during a telephone interview or sensitive conversation. Most people will be amused or tolerant of the situation, but some will have doubts about talking with you while a dog barks in the background.

8. Education is a commitment. Even if you pay to have your pet professionally trained, you will have to invest time and energy to educate your dog, cat, bird or hamster about house rules. Puppies are very hard work, albeit worth the effort.

9.You will become a competitive pet owner. When I had my first child, I secretly compared my baby to others. I was very proud when my baby walked and talked before other babies. My children are tweens and teens and I have become a competitive pet owner. I compare my dog's manners, appearance and personality to other dogs on the street.

I'm trying to re-train my Type-A personality. But, honestly, I've had better luck training my dog.

10. You will love, love, love your animal. Yesterday, a woman in my building was on the verge of tears. She's a grandmother, with an 18-month-old grandson. "The little one died," she said. I almost passed out from grief and empathy. But then I realized that she was talking about her little dog. (She had two dogs). Upon learning that her grandson was well, living and healthy, (thank goodness), I felt such relief. But then I felt another wave of grief and empathy.

My neighbor really loved her dog.

Bottom Line: I highly recommend pet ownership. It's a great way to forget yourself and celebrate life. But caring for a pet is a huge responsibility.
By the way, this article from MSN Smart Spending has great tips about pets:



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