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OK – you have a pet. Maybe it’s something standard like a cat or dog, maybe you went all exotic and got a hermit crab or a parrot (I’m particularly fond of the Norwegian Blue). Perhaps you got it from your cousin, or from a box outside the 7-11, or maybe after an exhaustive internet search, the humane society or a breeder…What now?
Here are five top pet-owner must-haves to keep your pet happy and healthy and to help keep your relationship solid.
5. Time. No point in having a pet if you’re going to lock them away and never spend quality time with them. Pets love to play and spend time with their people! Did you know that walking your dog is a great way to stay fit yourself? Sure is – science (Science!) tells us that people who regularly exercise with their pets are more beautifuller, smarterer and healthtastic! However, people who try and walk their hermit crab are maybe best avoided. I usually cross the street if I see my weird neighbor Jules out walking his hermit crab.
4. Space: Pro tip - don’t get a Great Dane if you live in a tiny fourth floor walk-up. Try and match the size of your pet to the space you’ll be sharing. Live in a Plexiglas bubble under the Chesapeake Bay? A wee guppy is for you! Renting a one-room flat in Rio? Something small like a Yorkie or moon snail fits the bill quite nicely. Jules and his hermit crab Gerardo live in a big, old Victorian. Plenty of room for an energetic hermit crab to run around! Don’t forget that big dogs need big space, and don’t forget you’ll need a relatively larger space for their bathroom visits, too.
3. Patience: Some pets come trained and ready to roll. Bathroom habits? Got that poop down! Walking on a leash and not dislocating your wrist? Got it! But some pets, especially the younglings like puppies and kittens, will need your patient tutelage to learn the ropes and know that peeing on the expensive Modigliani rug is a no-no. Make sure your temperament and time availability matches how much work you’ll need to do to get your pet ready for life in your household. If you have a demanding 9-to-5 job that’s usually 9-to-whenever, you might need to rethink your plan to get a puppy unless you have some help. Gerardo tells me that Jules took months to teach him how to use his tiny, crabby litter box and that Jules’s job at the mortuary kept Jules from properly giving Gerardo the attention he deserves, and that really put a strain on their relationship. I don’t have the patience to train a puppy (kittens usually are a little easier to assimilate into a household), so my wife takes on that role when needed.
2. Money: Some pets start out free – don’t cost you a farthing. Pick up a cute kitten or puppy in front of the Wal-Mart, inherit Aunt Penny’s poodle when she moves to Peru, though, and the meter starts running. Most pets aren’t what you’d call “expensive” but there are expenses associated with owning a pet: food, medical care, insurance, toys and (if you’re like Jules) tiny leather jackets, motorcycles and helmets can all really add up. Make sure you have a little savings socked away for a rainy day or a pet medical emergency and don’t skimp on cheapo pet food. Good nutrition is cheaper in the long run because you’re more likely to have fewer vet visits. Jules only buys Gerardo’s fruits and veggies from a farmer’s market.
1. A doctor: I always dislike it when people use the word “people” to exhort people to do something, but seriously, people, if you have a pet you need a doctor for that pet, folks. C’mon, people! I figure about one-third of the people (!) I see in the pet ER don’t have a regular vet for their pet and that just ain’t right! Preventive care - check-ups and vaccinations - comes from a regular vet. Jules takes Gerardo in to see Dr. Peeples regularly for check-ups, and that one time when Gerardo was racing around on his tiny Harley and he forgot to wear his helmet and for some reason was wearing a giant fruit display like Carmen Miranda and he crashed and fruit went everywhere and he broke his little shell and had to go to the veterinary ER. I forgot what my point was, but just make sure you have a vet. People.
Pets make our lives waaaay better, so it’s up to us, their owners and guardians, to make sure we do what we can to help them live lives that are as free of stress and want as we can make them. Love them, feed them and get them proper veterinary care and they’ll reward you with many happy years of wet noses, wags, purrs and tiny motorcycle tricks.