Choosing a Pet

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ILLUSTRATION: STEVE CHARNEY
Though no pet is care-free, some types require much less care and keeping than others.

This guide to choosing a pet helps future pet owners decide what type of pet to get, guidelines for the care and keeping of a pet and the necessary space needed for a pet.

Choosing a Pet

IN MY PRACTICE I’VE SEEN count less animals and their
owners, and nearly every type of pet known to man–from
Great Pyrenees dogs to Persian cats, from panthers to
pythons, hamsters to hogs.

At our house, too, we’ve had a constant parade of animal
guests, ranging from the mundane to the mysterious-all of
them loved. So it’s with a plethora of pet experience that
I offer the following tips on choosing a pet that’ll
best fit your home sanctuary.

Now, I’m going to approach this subject in a manner that
you might find unusual. You see, I feel that in a
compatible person/pet relationship, the animal’s
personality mirrors the owner’s and vice versa. So it’s my
opinion that when deciding on what kind of pet you want,
you need to look within to see the kind of person you are.

Are you affectionate to a fault? Do you feel a real need to
be around friends often? Do you tend to be enthusiastic,
active? If these characteristics fit you, you’re a prime
candidate for a dog–or most dogs, anyway. Dogs vary widely
not only in their size and in the amount of “fur” they
carry, but also in personality traits. Some breeds tend to
be more outgoing than others, some less active, some
friendly and some downright temperamental.

If you enjoy quiet and relaxation, if you like affection
but don’t feel a constant need for it, you’re a likely cat
person. If you are exuberant at times and have a flair for
humor, a bird may be your best choice. And don’t overlook
the other pets when you’re trying to match-make yourself. At
one point I was a turtle person; it was a time in my life
when I needed to learn how to calm myself, to become more
meditative. My turtle’s unblinking eyes and slow, barely
discernible breathing were my teachers, my mirror into the
inner self.

Care and Keeping of Pets?

Once you’ve looked within to find the kind of pet
personality that’s right for you, take another look-but
this time at your pocketbook and other practical factors.
Be honest with yourself. Realistically, how much care and
attention can you offer? Your own and your family’s needs
come first, of course. How much time, patience and money do
you have left over for a pet?

Some animals require a great deal of time and attention.
Consider a pooch, for example. Those first few months of
training a pup to be an acceptable member of human society
can be nearly a full-time job. And, though dog-training
chores gradually diminish as the animal learns the whys and
ways of mankind, the training never really ends. You have,
after all, accepted with a pup the responsibility to tend
an animal that will never progress beyond the unbridled
exuberance (and inherent destructiveness) of the average
two-year-old child.

Though no pet is care-free, some types require much less
care and keeping than others. My advice to you is to
honestly appraise the amount of extra time and energy you
have (don’t rely on the spouse or your youngsters; it’s
best to assume that all the pet chores will fall in your
lap). Then weigh that excess against the amount of care
that a pet you’re considering will require every day, seven
days a week. If you don’t know how much care and keeping to
expect from a particular type or breed of animal, ask your
veterinarian or someone who has raised and trained one
(don’t ask the person trying to sell the critter to you).

And then there’s the expense of pet care. Like they say,
“It ain’t the price of the marriage certificate that’s so
high; it’s all that upkeep afterwards.” Pet prices vary
from free to several thousand dollars. You pick your own
entry level, but whatever the initial price tag, it will be
only the beginning. Consider the hidden costs involved with
a dog, for example. There’s the doghouse and pen, the
leash, rawhide bones, flea powder, shampoos, chew toys, the
grooming, the food dishes-and the food itself.

And the vet bill gets added to all that. I tell owners to
set aside $50 to $100 per year on average for a dog’s
veterinary expenses, a little less for a cat. That’ll cover
most routine expenses here in Kansas, where I practice. But
if you live in a more expensive area, or if your pet
requires unusual or emergency treatment, your vet bills can
skyrocket.

How Much Space Do Pets Need?

OK, let’s say that your heart, the amount of time you have
and your pocketbook are all big enough for a pet. The next
question is: Do you have enough room?

If you live in a one-room studio apartment, obviously
you’ll need to look for a pet that is content in small
spaces. A reptile terrarium, a fluff of hamster or gerbil,
a bird or perhaps a cat are reasonable choices. And don’t
overlook fish. An aquarium of fish will, in exchange for a
periodic feeding and a modest amount of attention to water
purity, provide you an amazing amount of soothing and
calming energy through the fishes’ watery comings and
goings.

If, on the other hand, your manse sits in the middle of a
full section of rural land, your pet horizons are far
greater and include many a different species and breed of
animal.

The key point to keep in mind here is that a pet is your–and only your–responsibility. Many people, when deciding on
a pet, tend to look only at what the pet can offer them.
It’s important to keep your expectations in mind, of
course–after all, if you’re looking for an animal that will
faithfully guard your belongings, a gerbil clearly will not
do. But it’s also important to honestly assess what you
have to offer–in personality, time, budget and space. Know
thyself, and you’ll know what kind of pet will be happiest
sharing your life.

Dr. Kidd, a long-time contributor to MOTHER EARTH
NEWS, is a Kansas-based veterinarian with a special
interest in holistic health care for animals and their
owners.