Friday, January 15, 2010

What Does Responsible Pet Ownership Really Mean?

By Julia Williams

When you think about the term “responsible pet ownership,” what things come to mind? For some people, it might be something general, such as just taking good care of their pet. For others, it might mean something more specific, like making sure their dog is well trained, or taking their cat in for yearly vet checkups. Although there is no single “right way” to define responsible pet ownership, I do think there are several key components to it.

Are you capable of meeting their needs?

Adopting a pet is not all that dissimilar to adopting a baby. You are taking in a living being that will depend upon you for every single thing. One major difference between a baby and a pet is that a child usually becomes self sufficient in adulthood, whereas a pet requires you to take care of it forever. Thus, pet ownership is a serious commitment that should never be entered into on a whim. If your children are begging you to get a dog or a cat, consider whether your family is ready to accept the responsibilities this brings. If not, perhaps you could ease them into pet ownership with a fish or a hamster. These pets still require care and feeding, but the responsibilities are less involved.

Do Your Homework!

The time to ponder what responsible pet ownership entails is not after you’ve succumbed to those cute “puppy dog eyes” and adopted a dog, only to discover that the challenges of raising it are beyond your emotional, physical or financial capabilities. Those dogs often end up in animal shelters or worse, living in a home where they are neglected or unwanted.

Before adopting any potential pet, you need to understand what it takes to keep the animal safe, healthy and happy. You need to know what its habits, tendencies and social behaviors are, and whether or not they will mesh with your everyday life. If you’re ready to adopt a dog, you need to research the different breeds to make sure you select one that’s a good fit for your family and your lifestyle.

Can you afford a pet?

Food is only one small part of the financial responsibility of having a pet. If you adopt a puppy or kitten, they will need to be spayed/neutered, and immunized to protect them from diseases. Beyond routine vet care such as annual “checkups,” there may be emergencies and accidents that require extensive care and quite often, considerable expense. Will you be able to pay these unexpected vet bills? The additional expense of caring for a senior pet is one that most people don’t think about when adopting a puppy or kitten, but they grow old just like the rest of us, and may require special care.

Do you have time to spend with your pet?

It breaks my heart to see a pet living with people who rarely pay it any attention. Animals need interaction, companionship and love every bit as much, if not more, than food and water. These are the things that feed its soul, and although they may not be as obvious as a lack of food, going without these emotional needs does a pet just as much harm.

Responsible pet ownership means never adopting an animal during times of major stress or life changes. It also means that when these things invariably occur, we need to find ways to help our pets have stability. Depending on the circumstances, that might mean enlisting the aid of family or friends, dog walkers, pet sitters or a doggie daycare facility.

Exercise, socialization and obedience training

These are three essential components of responsible dog ownership that no canine companion should ever go without. To a lesser extent, felines need exercise and socialization too – and I’m sure many people would enroll their counter-surfing cats in obedience school, if only it existed.

Feed them a high-quality pet food

Good food is the cornerstone of good health, for humans and pets alike. This may be the easiest of all aspects of responsible pet ownership to provide for our animal companions. Because of caring companies like CANIDAE, we can feed our dogs and cats high quality pet food that we trust, food that provides the essential nutrients and ingredients they need to stay healthy.

Commit to your pet for life

“You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed,” said the fox in The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Very often, when a couple starts a family they decide to “get rid of the pet.” I’ve heard people say that their pet was only filling in until they could have a “real” child, and once the baby arrived they had no need for a pet. I’ve never understood this mindset, nor how anyone could bring a pet into their home only to dispose of it when something they considered better came along.

Before getting a pet, people who don’t yet have children need to consider their future plans. If having kids is a part of those plans, they need to decide if they’ll be able to care for, train and interact with a pet once they start a family. If the answer is no or even maybe/maybe not, then it would be extremely irresponsible to adopt a pet.

Every pet deserves to have a responsible owner. If we choose to adopt a pet, then it is our duty to properly care for them and to make sure they have everything they need to be healthy, happy and safe. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be a responsible pet owner, because the joy that my beloved cats add to my life is immeasurable... and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. My neighbor has a 8 mth old lab the parents got it for their kids who played with the dog as a puppy but now, no one pays any attention to it. I asked the kids if they play with it and they said "no" but when i asked the mother if she would be interested in selling the dog, she said,' No" and the kids play with it,I know they do not because I know when the kids are in the back yard and they are never back there. The dog is hyper, loving and lonely. I don't know what to do

  2. "perhaps you could ease them into pet ownership with a fish or a hamster. These pets still require care and feeding, but the responsibilities are less involved"

    Well.... I had goldfish as pets and they are not as disposable as so many people think. Most of mine lived to be 5, 6, even 7 yrs old. They need plenty of oxygen (airstone), a clean tank (NEVER change more than 1/3 of their water at a time - the excess new water can kill them), filtration, be frugal with their food, medicate them PROPERLY if they get sick. And talk to them -- they DO recognize voices and can be very friendly, even though there is a barrier separating you from them.


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