Family: Getting a Pet

A Little Bundle of Joy... and Responsibility

by Consuelo Solar

Carol and Daniel arrived in Toronto a year ago as newlyweds. They are not ready to start a family yet, but something was missing. Feeling lonely away from their home country, they wanted to share their house with a pet.

“We used to go to the park and see how people walked their dogs and talked to each other about their pets, it is really a way to get to know people that have that in common even if they come from a different country,” says Carol.

Finding a companion, investing in a show champion, having an excuse to socialize with fellow pet owners, or simply helping an animal in need – whatever your reason, owning a pet is a wonderful experience, but also a big responsibility.

Pets deserve loving homes for their entire lives, and cats and dogs usually live eight to 20 years, depending on genetics, health care, diet and environment. According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat ever died at age 37.

Toronto Humane Society spokesman, Ian McConachie, explains that this is why they interview adopters. “During the adoption process we try to determine if the potential owners realize the level of responsibility involved. Some people want large dogs, but they dont live in the right environment. Others dont think about the costs and some people work or travel a lot, and they just want a convenient pet rather than a companion.”

Lifestyle and finances are just a few things to mull over before making this decision. Many animals that end up in shelters come from homes that couldnt keep them, and this can be traumatic for both the owner and the pet.

The perfect fit

Carol and Daniel felt they were ready to make this long-term commitment. Since they live in a one bedroom apartment and they both have jobs from 9 to 5, they decided to get a cat, because it is less demanding.

Be careful with this myth, though, advises Diane Morgan in her book Good Catkeeping. "While it is true that cats are more self-sufficient than dogs, modern cats are dependent upon their owners for food, companionship, and veterinary care.”

Cats or dogs, large or small, all need to exercise, go to the bathroom and spend time with their owners. So if you have a busy lifestyle and a full-time job, that wont allow you to rearrange shifts, you might want to reconsider.

“There are all sorts of levels of pet ownership,” observes McConachie. “If you own a large dog it is going to require a heavy level of commitment, cats are more independent but they still need attention. If you really want a pet there are low maintenance animals like rabbits, jerboas, reptiles or birds that don't really require the same care. So depending on your situation, we might recommend a different kind for you."
If your heart is set on getting a cat or a dog, the next step is deciding on the appropriate age. While puppies and kittens seem to be the obvious choice, they require more assistance and surveillance than an adult pet. On their website, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) reminds dog owners “puppies do not come with an obedience guarantee, nor will they be housebroken.” The same goes for kittens. They are mischievous, can damage furnishings and can hurt themselves by chewing on electrical cords or by eating poisonous plants.

Once youve decided on species and age range, if you want a pet with specific characteristics your best bet is a purebred. Mary Lou Leiher, Toronto Animal Services (TAS) supervisor, urges people to go directly to a breeder if this is what they want. “They should do that either through the Canadian Cat Association or through the Canadian Kennel Club, both organizations can help people find a reputable breeder. There are some breeders that are not so reputable and people need to do their research.”

The Canadian Kennel Club (www.ckc.ca) recognizes more than 200 breeds, divided into seven groups: sporting dogs, hounds, working dogs, terriers, toys, non-sporting dogs and herding dogs. The Canadian Cat Association (www.cca-afc.com) showcases 48 breeds on their website. Keep in mind that buying a purebred pet is expensive. They usually start at $300 and can go as high as $22,000, such is the case of the exotic Ashera cat... of course most people don't need a kitty that's half leopard.

Mary Lou Leiher understands the preference for a pet that comes with certain physical and psychological guarantees, but she always recommends considering a rescued animal first. “People get a pleasant surprise with the quality of the pets they get from shelters. It's not like they are going to be a problem, or they are sick or ill; these pets have fallen into misfortune and need a home. The adoption fee is very low and it doesnt come close to cover all the expenses of treatments given to them before they are ready for adoption.” she says.

Carol and Daniel agree with Leiher, but they thought visiting a shelter could be too painful so they went to PetSmart instead. Petsmart (www.adoptions.petsmart.com) is part of TAS outside adoption program. Leheir tells us “a lot of people have some misconceptions about shelters, so this program gives us a chance to reach them, but also to talk to them about the fact that the shelter is really a friendly place and we have a lot of good services to offer them.”

Both the Toronto Humane Society (www.torontohumanesociety.com) and Toronto Animal Services (www.toronto.ca/animal_services) display all their animals on their websites, so that you can take a look before making the trip to one of their locations.

A good life together

Carol and Daniel adopted a one-year old cat. Once the litter box was filled and the food dish was full, they took a closer look at the information they got from TAS and realized that she had been vet checked, vaccinated and spayed. The $100 they paid also included a $15 license that they will have to renew every year to keep their pet properly identified.

Among the many documents in the folder, there was a pet insurance brochure that advised them to pay a monthly premium to save later in veterinary emergencies. They are thinking about it and comparing options – for now she is covered free of charge for six weeks. The oldest pet insurance company is Petsecure (www.petsecure.com), whose cheapest plan starts at $25 a month. Another one is Vetinsurance (www.vetinsurance.com), which offers special rates for kittens and puppies.

While playing with their cat, Daniel tells us, “I have to get up half an hour earlier to feed her and play with her before I go to work, but it is worth it. She is exactly what we needed.”

CNM