New Year’s Resolution: 10 Things to Remember Before You Bring Home a New Pet

Written by on December 31, 2013 No Comments

In 2014, countless numbers of pets will get new homes.  Some pets will come from pet stores, some saved from puppy mills, some rescued from shelters.  Many pets are gotten on a whim;  other pets are brought home by people with a particular goal in mind, yet things don’t always work out according to their expectations.  Neither situation is good for the pet.  This blog posting is to help people make good decisions before they bring a pet home.

1.  Any existing pets.  Some pets are tolerant of other pets; others not so much.  If your existing pet does not adjust easily to new pets, then you shouldn’t consider bringing any more into your house.  Remember, your first commitment is to the pet(s) you already have.

2.  The lifespan of the critter you’re thinking about.  If you are considering a guinea pig, you’ll learn online that guinea pigs live on average 5-8 years.  But what happens if instead your guinea pig–like ours–lives to be 12 years old?  Will you be there for the guinea pig if it lives longer than you originally thought?  My recommendation:  take the “average lifespan” of the pet from online information and add several years, just in case.  Then look into the future and see where you might be down the road.  Can you commit to that pet for its entire life?

When we took in Purrkins as a stray kitten, we knew we were committed to what might be a 20-year lifespan.

When we took in Purrkins as a stray kitten, we knew we were committed to what might be a 20-year lifespan.

3.  Your pocket book.  When we got our two puppies, Winston and Snickers, we got them for a “deal” because they were four months old and because one puppy had a scratch on his eye.  But, while we “only” spent $450 on the two puppies, the vet bill for their exams, shots, and heart-worm and flea prevention cost over $450. When Winston had an allergic reaction to his rabies shot, an emergency trip to a clinic cost us another $125.  A couple of months later, both pups needed grooming; that cost another $90.  So we spent over $1,000 not counting food, beds or any of dozens of chew bones.  In Something Furry Underfoot you’ll read how we rescued a rabbit we had to get neutered to address some behavior issues; we also paid about $500 to fix several very bad teeth.  My recommendation:  before you bring a pet home, have $1,000 saved up, and build that account back up as soon as you can after your initial purchase.
Snickers, our "deal of a dog" that will likely need eye surgery in the future.

Snickers, our “deal of a dog” that will likely need eye surgery in the future.

4.  Whether the pet is for an adult or a child.  Keep in mind that buying a pet for a child is often actually buying a pet for an adult to supervise, if not, assume care for.  My stepdaughter did well caring for the guinea pigs every other weekend she visited, but between visits, and when she went to college, I was the primary caretaker.  Every parent should be prepared to stand in for their children.

5.  Your lifestyle.  Do you have time in your life to give a pet the attention it deserves?  Or, do you travel so much or have such a tight schedule that you’ll seldom be home for your new pal?  Do you work 12-hour days and hope that if you get a puppy it can “hold it” while you’re at work?  Finally, do you need a neat, finished, perfect look to your house?  Answers to each of these questions will help you figure out if the pet you’re considering is the right one for you.  Here are some pet-specific things to consider based on experiences I shared in my memoir Something Furry Underfoot:

  • If you get a ferret, you’ll need to ferret-proof your house so your fuzzy can’t get harmed.  Ferret-proofing our house resulted in adding plastic covers (secured with duct tape) to each of our potted plants, rubber bands on our kitchen cupboards, and duct tape on the underside of our La-Z-Boy recliner (because a ferret in a recliner can be lethal to ferrets if someone sits on the chair!)
  • Rabbits are cute and fuzzy, but our rescue rabbit clawed on a bedroom wall and door frame.
  • Our two iguanas were very messy and needed their cage cleaned at least weekly.
  • Our male hedgehog went missing for three nights before we finally found him…he emerged from the kitchen cupboard.  Finding him required three night sitting in the dark, waiting.  (Read more in Chapter 4 of Something Furry Underfoot!)
  • Our new puppies damaged one baseball hat, one of their own beds, one contour rug, and they chewed a hole in the doorway to our bedroom.  We think that adds personality to our home.  Would you?
Winston posing by the damaged door frame.

Winston posing by the damaged door frame.

 6.  What you need.  If what you’re looking for in a pet is a companion, you probably shouldn’t consider a hamster, because most hamsters are solitary creatures that are perfectly happy alone, albeit with occasional run in an exercise ball.  If what you’re looking for is something to care for, there are plenty of shelter pets that need your TLC.  If what you’re looking for is an interactive pet, I can tell you that many cats are stand-off-ish and some are more lively at night than during the day.  So, before you bring a pet home, think about why you’re getting a pet, then do research to figure out what pet best meets your needs.

Smokey Joe, the mouse we rescued in our barbecue, has a home with us forever.

Smokey Joe, the battered mouse we rescued in our barbecue he deserved better than to be battered any more. (Note the very short tail, the torn ear).

7.  Your abilities in relation to the pet.  Ferrets are like toddlers stuck in the “terrible twos–they need to be watched closely while romping around.  Ferrets can live 5-9 years.  So let’s say you’re 16 and planning to go to college.  Or let’s say you’re physically unable to get around quickly to grab a ferret when it opens a cupboard.  Either situation makes for a bad deal for a ferret–the college kid may subject the ferret to irresponsible college kids who, albeit accidentally, are likely to cause the demise of the ferret; a physically challenged person may not be able to prevent the ferret from getting into trouble.  My opinion is that college students have no business getting pets; physically challenged people should consider pets other than ferrets.  So, think about your abilities in relation to the pet.
Smiggles, one very energetic ferret.

Smiggles, one very energetic ferret.

8.  What you can adapt to. Keep in mind that the pet you bring home may or may not be the pet you were hoping for.  We had a ferret named Coco that loved to bite, and loved to bite me in particular.  We didn’t get rid of Coco; instead, we learned to deal with her bite-i-ness by wearing heavy sweatshirts and moving quickly to stay out of her way.   Before you bring a pet home, please realize it’s a commitment no matter what that pet turns out to be like.
Hampy we got that nearly escaped from his box before we got home.

A hampster that nearly escaped from his box before we got home.

9. Your Plan B.  My stepson works at the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary and said somebody dropped off two rabbits because the two rabbits didn’t get along.  A Plan B–a plan to deal with the likelihood that their two rabbits wouldn’t along–should have been formulated before the owner got those two rabbits.  My friend, Brenda, came up with a Plan B when it turned out her two rescue rabbits didn’t get along:   one rabbit gets the run of the upstairs; the other the run of the downstairs.  Have your Plan B–your “What if?” game plan–formulated before you commit to a pet.
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9b.  Your Really Final Plan B.  Fact is, none of us make it out of this life alive, so it’s important to include in your “after-life” discussions with family and friends what you want to happen to your pets.  My friends all know that I own nothing I value more than my pets, so I know they will find good homes for all my pets should I not outlive them.  Be sure to have that conversation.
10.  Your commitment.  The common theme in this blog posting is that before you bring a pet home, you need to ask yourself whether you can commit to making the best home possible for that pet?  Will you be with it in sickness and in health, in good times and bad?  Will you always think of it before you make any life-altering decisions? I know of a woman who allegedly loved her pet parrot but fell in love with a guy and plans to move to an apartment out of state that does not allow pets.  Taking home a pet is commitment no matter what the future brings. 
Me and my two puppies, one of whom will likely need eye surgery in the future

Happy new year from from me and my two puppies, Snickers and Winston.

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