Thursday, April 3, 2008

The real cost of pets

Hmm... I understand the point of this New York Times article on the costs of having a pet. The writer is trying to alert folks on a budget about the often overlooked expenses of living with an animal. Or she just got a copy of the 2008 APPMA pet products trend report and pitched it at her editor as something fun. (Hey, we journalists do that.)

But talk about missing the boat. First, she mentions not buying a dog from a pet store in a kind of obligatory way. BUY a pet? Reputable pet supply stores no longer sell pets. They pair with shelters to do adoptions, but they do not sell puppies or kitttens, and those sad, grimy little corner stores that do ought to give any half sensible person fair warning. Yes, you might be the last chance for the poor animals there, but odds are you won't get a healthy animal. Then, she talks about adopting from a shelter but seems surprised that "you cannot just walk in and pick up a dog or a cat." She mentions that the usual fee may include shots and/or neutering, but not why shelters ask questions. It's not just to screen out the crazies (that, too), but it's also often part of a national effort to better pair people with pets. People who know what they're getting in terms of temperment, health, needs, and lifespan, are better able to make the lifelong commitment. The shelter asks questions because they don't want that cute kitten coming back in six months, when she's no longer quite so adorable. Or that frisky puppy returning in a year, untrained, because his once-playful antics no longer amuse the clueless owner.

Yes, regular vet visits are expensive. As is proper food, bedding, litter, etc. But if someone is going to write about who pays the real cost in improvident pet adoption, that writer should at least note that too often it's the animals who pay – and they pay with their lives.

(Thanks to Scott Delucchi of the Penninsula Humane Society for explaining how shelters are making sure more animals have healthy "forever" homes. Look for more in Probable Claws.)


Lesa said...

We adopted our latest kitten at a pet store, but it was through the local Humane Society, and they did ask a number of questions.

And, Josh is adorable. But, no one mentioned the cost of extra toilet paper and paper towels, and replacement earbuds, XM radio cords, and telephones because he likes to chew. Ah, Josh. We're working on that chewing habit. But, it's our responsibility to move paper products, and protect cords, and teach him not to bite and chew on things other than his toys. It's not humane to say, oh he has a bad habit, so let's take him back.

Clea Simon said...

Good for you, Lesa! But if you need help training, call the shelter back (or call a shelter like Penninsula - the link is in my blog). Shelters often have behaviorists/trainers on staff who can give you some good tips.

Literary Feline said...

I remember when I was first looking into getting a dog of my own. I contacted several rescues, and the list of questions they asked made me feel so proud. These were people who really care about the animals they are trying to place. They even want to come to your home and make sure it's safe. We adopted our Riley from a local animal shelter in the end. The staff at the shelter were very informative and asked many of the same questions that the rescue people had asked. I am grateful that they took the time.

Whenever a friend or coworker mentions interest in taking in an animal, I use the opportunity to educate them of the seriousness of the responsibility and the difficulties they may encounter, not just the wonderful and priceless moments that make all that more than worth it.

Sad to say, the phenomenon of returning "incorrigible" animals is also something I see in my profession; adoptive parents and legal guardians wanting to "return" the children they took in. It makes me very sad.

Clea Simon said...

That is so sad, LF. I guess I hadn't realized this happened with children, too. I know it's in part societal, that we have to build in structures that help people deal with problems with their kids as well as their animals - but the adoptive parents have to step up, too. Blech.

That said, thank you for sharing your story of Riley!