The FAQs and the Facts
Owning and caring for a companion animal can make most people happier, healthier, and wiser. Pets can make you smile, reduce stress, provide for social interaction, promote exercise and give your life a special type of meaning. Regardless of your age, living with a companion animal -- from fish to horses with everything in between -- can contribute significant mental and physical benefits to most everyone.
Pets help people learn. They teach you things about yourself that you may never have thought about. They take people back to the basics. They help you think and act in a more responsible, caring manner. They ask for very little, and give you everything they can in an amazingly simple, selfless way. They touch your body, mind, and soul. They breathe life into many who may have given up all hope. Pets are something you'll never understand if you haven't had one, and something you'll never forget if you have.
Because of what's involved in the ownership process, which can easily become overwhelming on the basis of cost, time, and lack of understanding of the specific animal. The actual ownership and care of a companion animal can easily be very different than that which was anticipated. And those unanticipated, and often unanticipatable, experiences might, at least initially, create more frustrations and doubt rather than happiness and joy.
Not only will the new owner have a financial commitment, any companion animal requires an owner to be able to commit time, and sometimes lots of time, to spend learning about and caring for the animal. Generally the more advanced and socially driven the animal is, the more time and effort will need to be committed.
Companion animals have behaviors that may be perplexing to most people. Through domestication, these animals have adopted more people friendly behaviors, still some of their normal acts and actions confound, frustrate, and anger owners and their families.
Companion animals age relatively quickly. Human lifespans are longer; however, most companion animals, depending on species, can live only a few years or up to twenty years. So, the length of a lifetime must be considered when making a lifetime committment to a companion animal.
A prospective owner must decide if they have the time, financial resources, leadership skills, and forgiveness for an occasional gastrointestinal mishap inside the house, before deciding what pet to get or even whether to get a companion animal at all.
To truly understand how a pet should be selected, potential owners need to think carefully about both pets and people as well. Regardless as to whether it be a dog, cat, or something else, companion animals are living, breathing, feeling beings that are both similar and dissimilar to people. Pets are not inanimate objects that can be turned off, unplugged, neglected or disposed of like an ill-fitting pair of shoes.
Today, half of America’s 78 million dogs and 86 million cats will not remain with their original owners for their entire natural lifespan. Some are neglected or stray and prematurely die from injury or illness. Many develop unmanageable behavioral problems and are sold, given away, or are placed in animal shelters for subsequent adoption or euthanasia. The reasons for these outcomes are varied, but in many cases can be traced to errors in the selection process.
Ownership will represent a change in anyone’s lifestyle. It brings increased responsibilities as well as a reduction in one’s former independence. So, to properly prepare for these changes, prospective owners need to do some soul searching and avoid any type of impulsive decision. Don't think about making a fashion statement with a Borzoi when a Beagle may be the best choice for you.
But the key question is: "How can you tell which type of companion animal is really right for you?" In some cases you really can't! So, and realizing that this decision is one for the long-term and hopefully intended to be made for the better, the very best advice may be to seek out a competent veterinarian and invest in a half an hour, pre-purchase office consultation to determine the most appropriate companion animal for your family. It could be one of the best investments you've ever made.
Probably yes, because knowing the breed will help define a dog's size, physical "look," genetic strengths and weaknesses, behavior, and longevity. So, what is a breed? (Note: While the dog is the subject of this question, similar scenarios apply to other domesticated animals.)
Artificial selection or selective breeding was practiced to create the first domesticated dogs from an evolutionary starting point of the natural wolf.
As civilizations developed in various parts of the world, based on each specific culture’s needs and desires, a variety of breeds came about. Most initial breed development simply involved fine-tuning the natural traits that the local type of dog already possessed and used for survival. In the wild, dogs and their ancestors were territorial, and engaged in stalking, chasing, killing, and often carrying some prey back to the den. Building on those characteristics early dogs were selected for similar tasks that refined those activities --protection, guarding, hunting, herding, sport, war, etc.
Dogs could be bred to be giants or dwarfs, long-legged or short, sight or smell sensitive, long-haired, short-haired or no haired, all in the space of a few generations. There could be a dog for every need, desire, or whim of mankind. And, as people began to travel and explore the world, dogs traveled along and different breeds were introduced to different parts of the world.
Today there are some 400 formal breeds recognized by major kennel clubs. Nonetheless, the most prevalent breed of dog (and cat) in the world, and arguably, the most unique, is one and the same and called "Mixed Breed."
The bottom line: by analyzing a specific breed of dog (or other animal), or the genetic mix of breeds in the mutt of your dreams, a prospective owner will better be able to understand the possible negative and positive aspects of the animal.
Whether it's a mixed breed or purebred animal, your best bet most likely could be any one of the several animal shelters or rescue leagues in your area. Often times, rescue leagues have foster programs that will allow you, in a sense, to "test drive" the animal in your home for a period of time before making a final decision. This way you can see if the animal fits in with your family and you can even take it to a veterinarian to determine its state of health. It's a win-win situation.
Much less desirable is to acquire a pet from a strip mall pet store, animal retailer, backyard breeder or any breeder who appears to be a mass market operation. In most cases, animals from these establishments have poor genetics, poor health, and poor socialization. Discount any money-back guarantee from pet stores, since animal retailers know that few animals are ever returned because of the near immediate attachment owners have with a new pet.
Again, seeking the advice of a competent veterinarian is always suggested.
Generally, the larger the animal, the higher the cost of ownership. Fish and hamsters cost less than cats and dogs; ponies and horses cost more. Additionally, geographic location and the ownership relationship/philosophy are equally important considerations: it costs more if a dog lives in New York City than in Comfort, Texas; and, a house dog that sleeps in bed with an owner will likely have more funds expended on it than an outside dog who rarely enters the house.
If an average 50 pound dog lives thirteen years, an average cat lives 18 years, and an average horse lives thirty years, how much will an average owner typically spend in an average income geographic area?
The answer might be more than you'd expect, but the caveat here is in the word AVERAGE. Using a dog, for example, average means a generally healthy dog, at least in its early to mid-life stage, for whom a knowledgable owner provides proper routine medical care, an appropriate diet, recurring socialization/training, and lodging. The average location is one in which the median household income is $50,502 (2011), such as in the Midwest. When many of the factors are above average, total ownership costs may increase by 50-100%; if below average, total ownership costs may decrease by 25-50%.
So, here are the magic numbers for what your total lifetime outlay may be expected to be for each major type of companion animal owned in the USA:
- Dogs = $14,000
- Cats = $12,000
- Horses =$20,000, if home stabled
Remember, a healthy companion animal might only cost an owner minor amounts spent for food and annual veterinary visits for most of its life, but significant injuries or illnesses within a short period of time could double any of the above estimates.
Behaving in an expected manner when being exposed to an environment or situation is a matter of socialization.
Seasoned actors don't have stage fright; airline pilots don't fear flying; NASCAR drivers love screaming around a high-banked track at 200 mph. The typical companion animal should accept rides in the car, visits to the vet, and having normal handling of feet and mouth by an owner.
Learning appropriate behavior so as to be comfortable in an environment or situation can occur through experiences or training. Training makes the learning experience better, faster and less injurious. That's why most people go to school. That's why dogs, cats, horses and other companion animals need to be trained by their owners.
While explaining training methods is complex, companion animal owners will go far by understanding that simply trying to make their animal's experiences non-threatening, enjoyable, and fun will create a willing pupil. With animals, including us humans, positive reinforcement wins the prize.