by Jane Ehrhardt
Jane Ehrardt is editor of the Animal Protection Division of the American Humane Association
|Dogs and/or cats currently reside in a majority
of American Households (57 percent). However, a 1995 Gallup poll discovered that more than
90 percent of those surveyed want a cat or dog.
So how do you choose one? There are currently 140 dog breeds and 36 cat breeds to select from, plus the myriad of mixes. Don't pooh-pooh the mixed breeds; they are often hairier and just as beautiful, intelligent and affectionate as the purebreds.
Since a pet will truly affect your entire lifestyle, lifestyle should dictate the pet you choose. Someone who lies on the couch watching TV should not have a dog bred to herd livestock, like a corgi or sheltie. Cats, of course, are ideal for this lifestyle, but if you want complete silence, don't choose a Siamese - they vocalize a lot.
Now look at your spare time. Factor in how much time you want to spend grooming and exercising to determine the ideal pet's size, look and species.
As for size, dogs, unlike cats, grow to be anything from a handful to a houseful, so choose one that you can and want to handle. Some of the smaller dogs, like a Jack Russell terrier, require more exercise and and interaction than the big ones, like a Great Dane. Do not rule out a large dog simply because you live in an apartment or do not have a yard. Nor do dogs need midday walks. Since dogs sleep about 18 hours a day, evening and morning companionship and exercise are fine.
Keep in mind that all these time requirements, and costs -- food, veterinary care, grooming, toys, license -- will continue throughout your dog's or cat's life (generally at least ten years).
If you want expert advice on this life-altering decision, ask your veterinarian and certainly your local animal shelter staff. Shelter professional match pets with people for a living. The over 6,400 humane societies and animal control agencies in this country actually adopted out 4.2 million animals in 1994; an estimated one-fourth of these were purebred.
Shelters, then, are the optimal place to find a pet. Millions of adorable, affectionate, healthy cats and dogs are surrendered to shelters each year. More often than not, these pets are given up because the cuteness and novelty wore off, and the real work began.
In a study in 1995 by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy of 1,100 animal shelters, 56 percent of the dogs (this includes puppies too) had to be euthanized, and an astonishing 72 percent of the cats and kittens. This equaled the death of over 2.2 million pets in only about one-sixth of the shelters. Most of these animals had to be humanely put to death because there are simply not enough responsible homes available.
So, when you get a pet, get it neutered. You end up with a calmer, healthier pet and the shelters end up with fewer animals they must euthanize.
And choose carefully. As statistics show, most people who don't keep their pets for life did not plan ahead or held unrealistic expectations for their pet. Before you commit your home, family and budget to the responsibility of a pet, remember that it is for a lifetime -- a lifetime of costs and annoyance generously mixed with immense joy and love.