Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What My Dog Taught Me about Responsible Pet Ownership

By Julia Williams

In a perfect world, every pet would have a responsible owner. Our companion animals bring so much joy and love into our lives, it’s the least we can do for them in return. Why then, do so many of these wonderful creatures find themselves living with humans who are not responsible pet owners? Although intentional neglect does occur, sometimes people are just simply unaware of how to properly care for an animal. They may have jumped feet first into pet ownership without thinking about what an animal needs to be happy and healthy. It’s still sad though, because the animal pays the price regardless.

I am an animal lover to my core, and it pains me to admit that I was a less than responsible pet owner once. I didn’t do it deliberately, and at the time I didn’t even know I wasn’t being a responsible pet owner. Yet ignorance is no excuse, and although my story had a happy ending, I’m still ashamed I didn’t know better.

Growing up in the country, we had a dog, two Shetland ponies and several cats. I felt a deep kinship with all animals, but surprisingly never bonded with any of the family pets. When I was 18, I lived alone in an apartment that belonged to my Mom. I’d been volunteering for my local animal shelter for a few months when the most adorable little puppy came in. Every time I walked by this puppy’s cage, my heart melted. I wanted this puppy more than I can remember wanting anything else in my young life.

Thinking only of that desire, I adopted this puppy. I didn’t consider the consequences; I didn’t think about what it meant to be responsible for an animal who would depend on me for every single thing; I didn’t contemplate the future in any way, shape or form. Nowadays, I think shelters are stricter about who they approve for adoptions, but at the time I don’t think anyone questioned my ability to care for this poodle-mix pup.

In terms of providing PJ with proper nutrition and vet care, I was a responsible pet owner. But I didn’t have a clue how to raise my puppy to become a well-behaved and well-trained dog. In truth, I didn’t even think about it. Blissfully unaware of what responsible pet ownership really entailed, PJ and I lived quite happily together for a year.

Then one day, I decided I was tired of the simple life. I packed my minuscule belongings and my dog into my car and moved to a big city, to share an apartment with my best friend from high school. She was happy to have me as her roommate, but not so thrilled to live with my dog. It certainly didn’t help that at 19, I was more interested in going out to meet people, attending rock concerts and having fun, than I was with spending quality time with my dog. Walking PJ was a chore, and I didn’t do it nearly often enough.

PJ did what any young, energetic dog would do in her situation. While I was away all day at work, she ransacked the apartment. She got into the garbage and scattered it everywhere. She chewed holes in our clothes and shredded the sofa cushions. PJ was bored, and she destroyed anything she could get her paws on. Coming home day after day to a trashed apartment began to take its toll on me, and on my relationships with both PJ and my roommate.

At the time, I felt that the responsible thing to do was to find PJ a new home, one where she could get the attention she deserved and obviously craved. I gave PJ to this sweet old couple who had no children. I knew they would dote on her, and she’d be so happy. Still, I dearly loved PJ, and letting her go broke my heart. It brings tears to my eyes even now, as I write this. Much older and wiser now, I can’t help but wonder “what might have been,” had I only known what responsible pet ownership really meant.

The most important thing my dog PJ taught me, is that the time to learn about responsible pet ownership is long before you decide to adopt that cute puppy or kitten. Long before you bring them home, you need to educate yourself on every aspect of pet ownership and care. You also need to take an honest look at yourself and your capability to be a good pet parent. I didn’t do either of those things, and PJ paid the price.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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