So, you’re thinking of getting a pet, or else have one already but still have some questions. Well, we’ll try to help. People and animals have lived together for thousands of years, even if some of the larger animals happen to live in barns that are more suited to their needs. The first thing that I think is important is to learn all you can about the animal you want, the species, it’s habits, needs, personality and even negative points (at least negative in relation to your environment – not all animals are suited to every environment, of course.) Most of you will be interested in dogs, cats, turtles, ferrets, birds, bunnies and fish, but what matters the most I believe, for both of you to enjoy the experience, is mutual respect. If you think of your pets only as toys, or ‘dumb’ creatures to “make behave” through your power, or forget for one day how they depend absolutely on you for whatever and whenever they eat, you’ll end up discouraged, and feeling mean because your ‘pet’ will not want to listen, and take every opportunity to get up and go. But by taking the time to teach them the ground rules, in a kind and respectful manner (and never withhold food as a punishment), you can end up with the best friends of your lifetime.
Animals may have different priorities than we do, and not appreciate what’s important (like white upholstery!), but when grown, they are intelligent adults, capable of adult behavior as it makes sense to them, and can learn to live happily with you, as well as respecting your needs. It may seem like fun to tease them at times, but they are unlikely to find it as funny as you do, and may interpret your actions as cruelty. Animals rarely strike out for no reason, and most of the time they’re just afraid.
The first thing you’ll need is patience, the second consistency. The more an animal is able to count on you, e.g. for food at the same time every day (anticipation is half the fun), or for playtime, learning, etc., the easier it will be for you to work together. Being specific counts – presenting commands in the same way when teaching them makes it more likely that they will learn what you’re asking, rather than changing each time and confusing them. And remember, they don’t speak English (or whatever language you do) but as their natural senses are better than ours, they are smarter at learning our ways than we are about theirs – just give them a chance.
Consider your family when choosing a dog – if someone will always be able to not only walk the dog at the same times each day, but also be able to handle it. A large or strong breed of dog, adequately trained to behave at home, may not be willing to ‘heel’ when walked by a young person in places that challenge it, and safety should always come first. Others are just naturally yippy, and rather than having them wear electronic device collars for life if you’re in an apartment, it might be best if you get a quieter breed.
Cats are different in that they are much more like each other, whatever the breed, than dogs are alike. Breeds are different in smaller ways, though individuals do have their own personalities. Cats are easier to maintain as they don’t need to be walked, learn in a day to use a litter box and keep themselves clean, though still need to be brushed if they’re long haired, and definitely love a clean box along with lots of little toys and climbing ‘trees’.
You don’t train cats as much as you simply reinforce good behaviors when you see them, and distract them from unwanted behavior. Cats don’t lick your face as a rule, though it may occur on occasion, and they don’t jump up on you when you come in the door – in fact, they’re more likely to wait in the kitchen for their next meal, then after washing, sit in your favorite chair for the night. However, cats are at least as smart as dogs, though show it in subtle ways that need to be watched for to be appreciated – they really can be fascinating. They may keep you in stitches playing silly games, and want you to play when they’re young, but can become independent as they get older, but will still keep your lap warm if you’re lucky. Again, it is so important to do your research when choosing a cat, though in ‘real life’ cats often choose you, if only because your cooking smells good from outside the porch!
Both cats and dogs will be expensive if you go to a breeder, but please consider local shelters as great places to find your new friends. They won’t cost you anything beyond food and vet bills, and will show their appreciation for having been rescued. And all should be neutered at the first opportunity. You may plan to keep your pet indoors (a very good thing in big cities or even small towns), but too often the inevitable happens and they get out, and not only do they end up with litters of babies but, in the case of cats anyway, may lower the local bird population – they can’t help what’s instinctive. And if a dog is suddenly on its own, or joins up with other strays, it’s quite possible someone could get hurt. The best reason, of course, apart from local bylaws, for keeping your pets under control is their own safety. All it takes is one car, when your pet is focused on playing, and you don’t want their lives to end in that way.
I haven’t gone into particulars of other pets here, but hope I’ve at least left the point that the better you treat your animals, the better they will treat you. Just as with people, some come with problems, but most of the time it’s not their fault and will love you all the more for your patience and caring. They’re not really that different from us in the end – we all want good food, shelter, medical help on occasion, a soft bed and good friends. By reading and listening to others before buying or adopting, you’re far less likely to end up on the steps of a shelter one day, wanting to leave your ‘problem’ pet to likely a very unfortunate end. Animals can provide you a world of joy for very little trouble, so do give them a chance and be glad that you did.
The internet is a great place for doing your research, just make sure you don’t take advice from the first site you look at – the wider the pool of information you look at, the more likely you’ll be to find answers. A wonderful example of a great website is The House Rabbit Society – never again will you think a rabbit just lives on carrots or won’t make a good pet!