June 01, 2012
The realities of pet ownership and your home
That puppy or kitten you see in the pet store window may be such an adorable ball of fur that you just want to cuddle and play with it, and you just can’t resist bringing it home. But here’s a piece of advice: resist. Or at least, resist until you have had the time to consider all the implications and weigh all the pros and cons that pet ownership can bring.
The pet food ads that pervade the TV landscape will have you thinking of all the good times you can have with your animal companion, but it’s really not a balanced picture. There’s a ton of commitment that goes along with pet owning, and not everyone is up to it — Calgary’s several pet adoption agencies will certainly attest to that.
And if you’re moving to a new home — be it a condo or a single-family – the considerations multiply considerably. What flooring would be the most pet friendly? Are there bylaws in your condos that bans pets? How do you protect your new furniture? These are all questions to answer before bringing a pet home.
Having a pet is ultimately a very rewarding experience, the constant companionship, and the friendship they offer is better therapy for the soul than any session with your psychologist, but it does involve a lot of hard work. We talk to a few experts to determine what has to be considered first before plunging into pet ownership, especially for cats or dogs.
The social hound
There is, of course, a ton of financial commitments that have to be considered whenever pets are concerned. But, according to Acara Kada, who owns the See Spot Run dog walking service, the biggest commitment is time — the time you spend with your pet.
Kada says dogs are social animals, but they don’t only need your companionship, they also need the company of their kind. “You can’t just leave your puppy at home for long stretches of the day all alone, they need to go out and socialize with other dogs. Imagine what it would be like if you were in solitary confinement in prison, you’d go crazy. Same thing with dogs, so don’t be surprised if they make a mess of your home.”
An important thing about socializing with dogs is that the younger puppies tend to copy behaviour of older dogs. “They need to be in a pack environment, whatever the leader does, the followers do, and the puppies can get their cues about good behaviour from socializing with older dogs.”
Puppies also have smaller bladders and need to be relieved at least every couple of hours. “Puppies need a lot of attention, it would be a good idea to hire a dog walking service, or even a neighbourhood kid you can trust to take the dog out when your not home,” she adds.
This is where it starts to get expensive. Kada says she charges $20 for a three-hour park walk ($15 gets them 20 minutes), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as pet-associated costs go.
The cost of companionship
A visit to the vet will likely cost you $70 to $100 per, then there’s vaccination, spaying/neutering, licenses, grooming and of course, food. Some estimates put the cost of having a puppy as much as $2,500 a year (a kitten, meanwhile, would run you about an average of $1,500).
Kelly Bitz, who owns Scarlett Francis pet sitting service, says it may be a good idea to get pet insurance. “If your pet gets ill, you can easily be stuck with a $2,000 bill. Having pet insurance gives you that peace of mind,” she says, adding that these can be anywhere from $25 a month, depending on what kind of deductible you’re comfortable with.
She adds that planning ahead is essential when thinking of owning pets. “Pet-proof your home, don’t leave out things they can chew on. Some house plants are poisonous to cats so you have to research that. It’s also a good idea to know if anyone in the household has allergies to pets before you get them than find out later and then have to get rid of the pet.”
Cats in the cradle
Let’s face it, cats are a lot lower maintenance than their canine compatriots, they can pretty much take care of themselves, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that they only need their litter box.
Debbie Nelson, executive director of the MEOW Foundation, advises to get your kittens spayed or neutered before they are four months old. “You want to get rid of hormone-related bad habits as early as possible, female cats experience heat cycles as early as six months old,” she adds.
But the best advice she can give is to do your research about your intended pet and have the time to train them. “Getting to know your cat first is essential, some people may have the idea that cats will just sit in their laps and purr contentedly all the time, but if you get a kitten, chances are that won’t happen any time soon, as they tend to be more active and want to move around more than adult cats.”
She also says that cats are only seen as independent, “but they are companion animals and need as much company as a dog.”
Know yourself and your pet
Kada says some research on the breed of dog you’re getting is essential, but seeing if that particular breed will fit your lifestyle is equally important.
“Finding out if the dog will fit the lifestyle you have is important – getting a work dog like a border collie or a German shepherd for someone who has a sedentary lifestyle will be a big mistake,” Kada says.
Nelson agrees. “Think of your lifestyle – if you live a very active social life and your home is more like Grand Central station with lots of people coming in and out, then a cat may find that pretty stressful.”
Pets and the home
Pets and new homes don’t always mix, there’s the worry about the damage they can do to flooring and furniture to name a few. When you are buying a condo there’s also the added fact that you first have to find out if pets are allowed at all in the building (most have a limit in the size of the pet).
Jennifer Killoran who just moved into a new condo with her two dogs — a 12-year-old lab mix and a seven-month-old bulldog — says getting the first scratch on her spanking new hardwood flooring was a gasp-inducing moment. “But you get over it, scratched flooring is just a fact of life with dogs,” she says. “So is dog hair in clothes, but I just buy 3M lint removers by the bulk,” she adds, smiling.
Kada says laminate flooring is a little more resistant to scratching, but having slate floors are the best for pets. “It’s not only scratch resistant no matter the size of dog, but also easier to clean.”
Nelson says cats will need scratching posts — at least two — where cats can sharpen their claws. “Scratching posts have to be tall, put these near a window and they will be your cat’s second home. They usually find this scratching/climbing post naturally, but if not, try putting a little catnip on it.”
Making these considerations before jumping in and getting a pet will help alleviate the strain that most pet adoption agencies, like the MEOW Foundation, face. “We receive about 700 cats for adoption every year,” Nelson says.
So the next time you see a cuddly little puppy or kitten, don’t get carried away by how cute they look and take the time to carefully consider what you’re getting into.
Take me home
Adopting a dog or cat in Calgary
Adopting a pet is a great way to help an animal and keep unwanted critters off the streets. As an added bonus, you get an animal that may be more mature and whose personality is already known. Here are some local organizations that offer cat and dog adoption.
MEOW Foundation offers a foster-to-adopt program to ensure a good owner/cat fit, and takes in only stray or abandoned cats.
Pawsitive Match Rescue rescues dogs from life-threatening situations in Canada, USA, Mexico and Turks and Caicos and helps them find a home in Canada. www.pawsitivematch.org
Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) rescues stray animals from First Nations and rural areas and places them in loving homes. www.arf.ab.ca
Looking for a specific breed of dog available for adoption? A good list of breed-specific organizations can be found at www.albertadogs.com.
Photos courtesy MEOW Foundation, See Spot Run, Kelly Bitz and Dave Macaulay.