5 Things You Should Consider Before You Take the Leap
For many, the solution to the isolation and repetitious slog of the past two pandemic years (years!) was to adopt a pet into the household. This is a wonderful way of introducing activity, love, and companionship into your life if that is what you are truly seeking. Plus, if you adopt from a shelter or rescue organization, you can feel good about potentially saving a life. Pet ownership isn’t always a walk in the park, especially in the COVID era, so here are a few things to consider before adding a pet to the family.
Consider your why
The first and most important thing to think about before getting a pet is the reason you are doing so. Are you looking for a fuzzy lap warmer to sit with in the evenings? A reason to get outside more? A creature on which you can heap time and energy so you can stop hyperfocusing on yourself and the bleakness of human existence?
The pandemic has a lot of people reassessing their priorities and making life changes, and for some that means acquiring a fuzzy family member. But pets are always a long-term commitment (even goldfish can live for a few years), so it’s important to be honest with yourself to make sure you aren’t solving a temporary problem with an extended solution.
That being said, there is nothing like curling up with a good book and a purring cat in your lap, or rolling over in the morning and waking up to a sloppy kiss from your adoring dog. An animal that needs daily exercise is a great way to motivate yourself to get outdoors for more walks and hikes. And if it’s entertainment you’re looking for, some exotic pets can be wonderful alternatives to more mainstream animals. (We know someone with a leopard gecko that has a hysterical sense of humor. Go figure.)
Analyze the cost of having a pet
Pets are expensive. Without exception. And the more you dote on a particular animal, the more money it’s going to cost. It’s easy to fall into an “oh, goldfish only cost $2” mindset when you walk into a bright pet store, but then you need to remember that goldfish may be cheap but aquariums, food, aerators, water purifiers, and all the other accouterments can be costly.
For dogs and cats the cost isn’t necessarily upfront but more of a long-term consideration. When you add up vaccinations, health exams, monthly preventative medications, litter, collars and leashes, food, and grooming, you can expect to spend at least $1,000 a year, according to the ASPCA. And that’s if the animal doesn’t get sick or injured. We’re not trying to suck the fun out of pet ownership, but it’s important to calculate whether you can afford these upfront and continuing costs, especially if you have a fixed income.
Be realistic about your time
Time is another important consideration when it comes to getting a pet. Some pets — dogs and birds come to mind — require vast amounts of time to train, exercise, and care for properly. For retirees time isn’t really the limited asset, but if you have a job that usually requires you to be in the office all day the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to take advantage of more virtual work hours. That’s perfect for house-training a puppy, for example, but it’s important to remember that these exceptions to the daily grind won’t go on forever. If you’ve adopted a high-energy dog breed, that time you’re spending potty training will just convert to walks and time at the dog park, so plan accordingly.
A lot of people adopted pets at the beginning of the pandemic — almost 1 in 5 American households, according to the ASPCA. Now, many of them are now scrambling to figure out how to help their pets adjust to a new routine, now that life looks a bit more normal. Cats, on the other hand, mostly require fresh food in their dish and a human to silently judge, so the time and emotional commitment will vary based on the type of pet you acquire.
Choose the right pet for you and your lifestyle
Pets come in all shapes, sizes, breeds, and temperaments, so it’s important to consider what you prefer before you go out and get something. In addition to what you can provide, it is equally important to consider what the animal needs, and then ensure that these two factors match up.
Shelters are filled with pets who were surrendered because their owners realized they couldn’t provide the space/time/money/care that they required, and it is epically unfair that the animal is the one who pays the price. That kind of trauma — for both the pet owner and the pet — can be avoided by researching any animal or breed that you’re interested in. For example, French Bulldogs are wonderful pets. They are adorable, they don’t take up too much space, or eat too much food, and they’re easy to pick up if they’re being uncooperative for some reason. But they are also plagued with health problems that often require really hefty vet bills (thanks, in-breeding) so any potential owner should keep that in mind. Every breed has its own pros and cons, so familiarity with each will help you find a pet that will match the kind of companionship you’re looking for.
Plan for the future
While you may be considering a pet at a time when much of your life is centered around your home, that may not always be the case. You may be working from home now but will that be changing? Or perhaps travel is on your horizon. Thinking ahead and introducing your pet gradually to this changing lifestyle can help stave off problems such as separation anxiety. Consider getting a reliable pet sitter now, in order to familiarize your pet with the person who will take care of them in your absence. Try to plan ahead for “normal life” post-pandemic in order to ease any transition your pet may have to experience.
Finally, because I am nothing if not completely biased on the subject matter, please consider adopting, not shopping for your new pet. Shelters are great places to meet an animal before making any permanent decisions so you can get a better feel for their personality and energy level, and they’re also much cheaper than buying your pet from a breeder. Also, senior dogs and cats are frequently overlooked at shelters, but they often make the best companions anyone could ever want. The hard work of training them was done by someone else, and now they just want naps, snuggles, and regular meals. Rescue groups and animal refuges can be harder to work with (most rescue groups have a vetting process and paperwork for prospective owners that would make government employees blush), but you will also be more likely to be matched with an animal that is perfect for you and your family.
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