How to choose a pet – Part 2

Choosing a pet is all about poop-namely, who cleans it up.

Whether you have the time and means to take care of a pet are good to ask, too, but first and foremost the question you should always ask is who cleans up the poop. Cat, dog, fish, bird, horse, ferret, rabbit, snakes-all of them poop, and all of them need someone to clean up after them. It’s a neverending disagreeable task that is the price for having a living creature share in our lives, over and on top of the price of the animal in the first place (all the more reason to adopt).

Most people choose small pets such as fish, rats, or mice for their children “to teach them responsibility” and are shocked (dismayed, or both) when they find that they are the ones scooping the poop, because their child doesn’t/can’t remember to do it. This is why, when you’re picking a pet, to pick out the one that you can stand taking care of. Responsibility is best taught by example, anyway: learning about the kind of care the animal needs, getting the right equipment, feeding and cleaning and picking up the poop, are all tasks that the child can assist in and take pride in being responsible for, but you have to remember who’s the adult, and who’s ultimately in charge of the situation.

Once that is decided, decide whether you have the means to care for a pet properly-no point in teaching “responsibility” if you’re going to take shortcuts with the care. By “shortcuts” I mean skimping on the cage, if the animal needs one, depriving it of toys, failing to maintain the appropriate temperature, etc-things that the animal absolutey needs to thrive. Depending on the species, that can include anything from special heat lamps to specially-built hiding places. Shortcuts can certainly be taken with things like cat toys (a ball of aluminum foil lasts almost forever), dog collars, chew-toys for hamsters and rodents, and, depending on the kind of fish, the gravel lining the bottom of the tank. In other words, things that don’t matter.

A word here on vet care: you should have some money set aside to take your pet, no matter how cheap it was to acquire, to the vet. If spending $50 on a $2 rat seems ridiculous to you, then either reconsider the kind of pet, don’t get one, or get a veterinary degree: the owner’s responsibility towards the pet is to take care of it as well as possible. The animal doesn’t have a choice as to whose home it lands in, but you have the choice whether to be the kind of person who is responsible enough to recognize when the animal require veterinary care AND provide it.

You should also consider what the needs of the animal are in terms of time and energy: fish are a popular choice because they are “low maintenance”, but what the sales clerk won’t tell you is how much time it takes to clean the tank every month or change the water. Puppies need A LOT of time to train properly, while kittens are less socially demanding, but may need to be fed seven times a day (no exaggeration). Do your research on this: go to the nearest library, sit down, and read as many books on how to care for XXXX as you can stomach. While much of the advice may be common sense (feed, walk, brush), learning that XXXX requires 3 hours of exercise a day may be an eye-opener as to whether getting XXXX is a good idea. Learning that YYYY requires at least 15 square feet of space and a floor-to-ceiling terrarium, for instance, may also deter you from getting YYYY if you live in a studio.

Pets are living creatures that we have decided to take responsiblity for, and it is only proper and right that we fulfill those responsibilities as best we can.

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