Ecstatic dog greets Christy
Cricket greets Christy. Photo courtesy of Dr. Christy Corp-Minamiji
I am an animal-free veterinarian. That’s right. Unless you count the spiders that have negotiated rental space in a few corners in exchange for insect abatement or my humanoid offspring, my home has no residents belonging to the animal kingdom.
Can you trust a veterinarian who has no pets? Aren’t the morals of an animal doc with no animals a bit suspect? So many animals need good homes….
Right. They need good homes.
And at this time, my cramped condo wouldn’t be a great home for most animals. I have roughly 1000 square feet indoors and a 14x12 foot back patio. That pretty much rules out chickens, goats, horses, elephants, cattle, and bison. It also leaves little leeway for most dogs of the size and activity levels that suit my temperament.
Okay, Christy, why don’t you give a nice senior kitty a home? Or provide for a parrot?
Putting aside the “No Pets” clause in my lease, the most honest answer is this: I know too much.
I know what it costs to provide even routine care for most pets to the level I consider acceptable – this includes food, toys, yearly examinations, proper vaccinations and parasite control, dentistry, etc. And I’d need to maintain an emergency fund for when the cat eats one of the seven thousand hair ties roaming the house or the parrot dismantles his cage and goes walkabout. This would all be fine, except I live in a town with a high cost of living and I have three offspring, two in college, one in high school, and all (thanks, COVID) living at home. This means budgeting for the level of care I’d want for my pets isn’t an option for me right now.
I also know the time and attention our pets need. Well, fish don’t require a lot of interaction, but based on my juvenile goldfish track record, I’m not going there.
Companion animals need companions. Most of our companion species are, like humans, social creatures. They need exercise, interaction, play, and enrichment of their environment. Right now, in the midst of COVID, I could provide bucketloads of companionship to pretty much any pet. But we won’t be home-bound forever. Sooner or later, the world will return to some sort of interaction; history tells us that much. And for me, that means going to an office and traveling – lots of traveling.
Some animals do fine with peripatetic owners. My friend Justin’s cat Steve copes quite nicely with his crazy schedule, even if she does require him to transform into a cat-chair as soon as he returns home. But many more pets experience separation anxiety ranging in severity from chewing the edges of furniture to self-mutilation or escape.
What does an animal lover do without animals to love?
I’ve cultivated a chosen family of pets.
Nikolai-the-wonder-cockatoo would claim precedence. Even when we’re 2000+ miles apart, Nikolai demands video calls and proxy scritches. “Call Christy! Christy scritches?” We eye-bond and sing and dance, and I am a frequent participant in the nightly Bird Parade.
And then there is Cricket. Darling Cricket, service dog emeritus. Even though we can’t visit right now to keep his owners – my late, beloved friend Caroline’s parents – COVID-safe, my couch still bears the marks, scars, and leaking stuffing of an exuberant golden retriever puppyhood. Videos of my adopted dog keep me going when the days are rough.
While we are talking dogs, Tamsin would like to point out her place as my “step dog.” Tamsin, a 3ish-year-old Cane Corso belonging to my kids’ father and his partner, most closely resembles an exuberant 100 lb. potato who thinks she’s pocket-sized. Visits and kid-swaps wouldn’t be complete without a Tamsin welcome. And when Tamsin greets you, you know you’ve been greeted.
Speaking of welcomes, I can’t leave out the pop-group “Coral and the Panthers.” Coral, a 5ish-year-old lab/something/something belonging to my partner’s family, is roughly 70 lbs. of kinetic energy. Once Coral stops the crazed donut-spinning-tail-whipping welcome, visitors to her home are then graced with the Presence of the Panthers. Bob and Bond are jaguars poorly disguised as housecats. Sleek, black, and about 30 lbs. each, either “panther” can stand on hind legs and plant their paws on my hip. (I’m 5’8” with long legs.) Nothing in their small, fuzzy kittenhood predicted this outcome.
My pet family also includes pets belonging to my actual family. My parents have had two black standard poodles at a time since the early 2000s. Like the Sith, there are only ever two, and there is always a master and an apprentice. The current Senior Poodle is Zoe, age 12ish. Her apprentice-in-crime is Cleo, a youthful 7-year-old. Zoe and Cleo like long walks in the forest or along the beach, barking at pretty much everything, and counter-surfing when my Dad’s been cooking. 70-some-odd years of having dogs, and Dad still can’t remember not to leave food on the counter.
Living downstairs from Zoe and Cleo is Magnus, my sister and brother-in-law’s Norwegian buhund. (Go ahead, I’ll wait while you Google.) After some bumpy beginnings, Magnus has been provisionally accepted into the Poodle Clubhouse.
What’s my point, besides introducing my fabulous furry family?
Just this: wanting a pet doesn’t always make one the best potential provider for a pet.
There are a lot of factors to consider before rushing to the nearest shop, shelter, or breeder. Can you fit a pet into your budget? How are you with cleaning, chaos, and cacophony (most animals make noise)? Can you add another living creature into your daily routine – feeding, exercising, playing, medicating, grooming? Do you travel frequently? Are there restrictions where you live – state law, municipal regulations, landlord restrictions? How do you feel about sticking with the relationship for better, worse, sickness, health, etc.? Committing to a pet is committing to a lifetime relationship: animals get sick; they get old; they may develop behavioral problems; your personalities might not become compatible; they frequently smell – yet they still deserve stable and caring homes with someone who can give them the time and resources they deserve.
August 27, 2020
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.