If you ask most children what they would like for Christmas, at some point in their young lives the answer will be a puppy or kitten. This answer has always been a difficult one for anyone trying to keep up Santa’s image.
Unlike most gifts, it can’t be simply put away in a toy box or given away to some charity after the new has worn off. And, of course, all cute puppies and kittens grow up to be not-so-cute cats and dogs with needs and concerns of their own.
Having an answer that will delay the expectation of owning a pet to a time that is more appropriate is a good start for those who are not ready to take on the responsibility. For those thinking of adding to their family this holiday season, October is the time to begin planning for a 15 to 20 year commitment, not the week before Christmas when your child asks for a new pet.
The first step is to evaluate your home for its capacity for a new pet. Are the current pets likely to accept the newcomer? Are you planning for the damage potential of a kitten or pup? If this is your first dog, is there enough room for play and exercise and can your yard safely confine a dog? Is your pet area free of potential toxins such as medications, toilet bowl additives, poisonous plants and pest control poisons? Where will the dog or cat be allowed in the house and do you have safe means to prevent them from going to areas that are off limits? Where will you keep your puppy during housetraining? Who will be training the puppy? Do you have the time that a new pet will require?
If these questions didn’t create too much panic, the second step is to determine what type of puppy or kitten would be most suitable for your family, your home, your lifestyle, and your future. Unfortunately, this step is usually surpassed by your child wanting the breed of the cat or dog that was in the latest hit movie. Don’t cave in!
There are many books and websites that describe the different breed characteristics of dogs and cats that can be helpful if you are looking for a purebred pet. Whether to buy a purebred dog or cat or to adopt one from one of the many rescue organizations is a decision that should be well thought out.
Of course, there are seemingly countless adoptable great dogs and cats at our local shelters. Many of the dogs show characteristics of the commonly known breeds and, acknowledging some room for variability, usually carry the same personality tendencies of those breeds. In addition, many shelters have volunteers who will perform temperament evaluations on the dogs and cats available for adoption. Our local shelter employees and volunteers from the Friends of the Shelter have great reputations for caring for the homeless pets of our county and can offer excellent advice when helping you choose a pet for your family.
The third step is to make plans for the physical and mental well-being of your dog or cat. A visit with your veterinarian for your pet’s first exam and vaccinations is a good time to discuss potential behavior concerns and to learn of organizations that can help you with training your pet. For dogs in and around Los Alamos, I highly recommend the Los Alamos Dog Obedience Club. They offer various training classes for dogs older than three months. For information on training and other concerns, please see their website: ladoc.dogbits.com.
Cats too can and should be trained. The alternative is to be trained by them. Unfortunately, there are not that many organizations to help with this. Your veterinarian should have some basic information and recommendations for training kittens. However, there is one critical rule. Never encourage a kitten or cat to play directly with any part of your body–use toys.
Finally, the most critical part of owning a cat or dog is training and educating the humans at your home. Many serious behavioral problems of dogs and cats develop because of improper owner behavior. Understanding how to properly communicate and respond to your pet’s actions is vital to having a well-behaved pet. I have yet to find the perfect book that describes this problem and offers all the answers. However, Jan Fennell’s book “The Dog Listener” offers some concepts for dog owners that I think should be seriously considered.
Dr. Bob Fuselier is a veterinarian at the Animal Clinic of Los Alamos. You can follow his veterinary-related articles at the Clinic’s blog site: http://aclapets.wordpress.com/.