What people should consider before buying a pet.

Schnapsie asks: My wife and I are thinking about getting a new pet for our home. How do we know when we have the right suitable pet? What criteria shall we use?

Hi Schnapsie –
Boy that’s a great question!  In a lot of ways we pets seem to pick out our people, but in the end, it is the person that makes the actual decision to purchase an animal, and that decision needs to be taken very very seriously.  Handsome always says that the single smartest thing he ever did in his life was getting me, and of course I agree all the way!  But people make the wrong decision all the time, and that can result in a lot of misery – for the person, and especially for the pet!
There are lots of good websites to give you specific advice about how to buy pets, such as the Humane Society (http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/puppy_mills/tips/buying_puppy.html) and (one of my favorites in general) About.com.

But there are some important questions to ask even before you think about where or how to buy one.  Here are some biggies:

  • 1) Do you, or anyone in your home, or any friends you have or want to have, have allergies?  Handsome, for example, has always been allergic to cats.  Now there are things he can do so he can spent time around them safely, but buying a cat isn’t something he’d normally choose to do!  Meanwhile, he has friends who can’t hang out in our house because they’re allergic to my fur.  But for them, there are non-allergenic dogs (a Portuguese Water Dog is one, which is why President Obama chose that breed when he bought Bo).  Other people have problems with bird feathers, or even rodent fur.  I’ve never heard of anyone being allergic to a fish, though, so I think you can get one of those no matter what!
  • 2) How much room do you have?  When Handsome decided to get a dog, he moved out of his nice apartment and found a tiny house, just so I could have a yard to run in.  If you live in an apartment, it’s okay to get a dog, but you’ll have to walk it a few times a day, and your neighbors might get really peeved when we bark, or even just walk around on hardwood floors with our toes click-click-clicking all day and night!  If you have a small place, that’s great for a cat or a small dog.  But are you one of those people who doesn’t like having an animal have full run of your home?  If so, maybe you’ll be better off with something that stays in a cage.  Mice, rats, birds, guinea pigs…   Hmm, my mouth’s watering and my pulse is getting fast!  That leads me to think of…
  • 3) Do you have any other pets?!  If you have a cat and you buy a bird, the odds are high that you’re creating a Tweety-and-Sylvester relationship in your home!  Similarly, if you have a dog, you might want to think before you buy a rabbit or kitten.  Tragedy might well ensue!!  On the other hand, if you have a dog and buy a fish or lizard, that shouldn’t be a big problem.  Or of course, if you have a bird and buy a ferret – no problem!   But be sure and think first – is one animal going to hate another?  Or worse, is one animal going to looooooove the other, especially as a snack?!
  • 4) Do you have time for the pet?  Animals are pretty easy to live with as a whole, but we do require work.  Dogs need to be walked, cats need clean litterboxes, fish need their water changed.  Handsome got a turtle once, thinking it would be easy to keep; eventually he found it took more work than I did, what with cleaning out its aquarium, changing water filters, and all.  So be sure you don’t get a pet who requires more work than you can spare.
  • 5) Can you afford to care for the pet?  Nothing is sadder than someone buying a puppy and building a beautiful loving relationship with it, and then having to give it away because they can’t afford to feed and care for it.  Most pets are pretty cheap to care for (except for medical bills, which I’ll come to later).  But not everyone can afford a pony, or even a python.  Whatever you get, it’s very important to be sure you can keep the pet for as long as you both shall live.  Does that phrase sound familiar?  It should:  Buying a pet is like getting married!  You two beings plan on staying together “till death do you part.”  So it needs to be taken that seriously!
  • 6) Should you get insurance?  Pet insurance is a pretty recent thing, and Handsome and I have had great luck with it.  True story: the day after my policy began, I broke my toe while jumping on the fence to talk to the neighbors.  Boy did that insurance help with the medical bills!  Of course, just like any other insurance, it’s possible that you might regret throwing cash away by buying it.  I mean, if your pet stays healthy till the day it suddenly keels over, you’ll have lost money on the deal.  But that’s why they call it “insurance;” it’s there to ensure that you can afford anything that comes along.  It’s certainly not a necessity, but if you don’t get insurance, you should plan with your family for anything that might happen.
  • 7) Okay, the biggest question of all to ask:  What do you really want?   Most people like all sorts of animals, but that doesn’t mean every pet is right for them.  Turtles sit and float and don’t do a lot more.  Gerbils run on wheels all night.  Malteses like to sit in laps.  Snakes eat live mice for dinner.  Labrador Retrievers like to swim.  Cats like to keep to themselves a lot and only show affection when they’re in certain moods.  Monkeys like to swing a lot, and tend to bite when they get older.  The best thing about having a pet is the joy of having nature in your home, but having that should make your home feel better, not like that scary movie where they chant “Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!”  So when you think you know what you’d like to get, do a lot of research.  Go to websites, go to the library, and find out everything you can about the kind of animal you’re thinking of getting.

After all, you wouldn’t marry someone without knowing all about them, would you?!  Yikes!!

Okay, Schnapsie, there’s my long long advice.  I hope you and your wife are able to make a decision that pleases you both.  And I also hope you’ve noticed just how nice and tolerant I’ve been here.  Because I’ve gone this whole way without saying…
SOME people are just GOOFY, and they go out and buy a CAT!  Who in the world would want one of those nasty stinky things in their home?!  Meowing, Yowling, oh they’re just….

Whew, okay, that’s out of my system.  The truth is everyone’s different, and that’s what makes the world a great place.  After all, some people don’t like big friendly knuckleheads like me!  Handsome likes to sing an old song to me, that really is what you and the right pet should sing to each other forever: “To each his own, I found my own, one and only YOU!

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