Considerations before you bring home a pet

My Story: Adding a Pet to Your Family

contributed by JD

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Before you decide to add a pet to your family, there are a few things you should consider. First thing to consider is who will care for the animal? In my experience, as the mother of three children, it is usually not the kids who care for the pet no matter how much they have begged for that puppy or kitten. I say that one or both parents should be onboard with providing 99% of the care for the pet before adding one to the family.

The next major consideration is time. Check out various breeds of the animal you have in mind. For purposes of this article, we'll limit our investigation to dogs and cats. Various breeds have needs that might not be compatible with your family's lifestyle. If you are a sedentary family, don't opt for a high-energy pet that needs long daily exercise periods. If you want a pet to accompany you on walks or outings, don't get a cat. If you work away from home all day, a cat will be fine while a dog will likely be in distress and will leave messes for you or even destroy your furniture, not to mention any shoes s/he can get to.

Money is always a consideration. If money is an issue, stay away from breeders and check carefully before you buy from a pet store. Instead, do your homework online. Some dog breeds have developed hereditary deficiencies due to genetic manipulation by breeders over time. You don't want your family to fall in love with an animal that may well experience chronic health problems and a premature death. I have been advised by several vets that pet insurance is not a good investment. This may change over time, but it is a concern.

Will you deny your pet routine check ups or medical care should the need arise when the budget does not have any flexibility? It is a great idea to discuss this frankly before considering adopting a pet. Actual dollar limits can be determined for some scenarios. A hip replacement for a dog costs upwards of $1,500 in my area. I have not set aside money for that. Should the need arise, I'd be hard pressed to move forward with the surgery since we have determined that we will not spend more than $1,000 for any pet-related expense even if it means that we must sacrifice the pet. That's a touchy subject and many animal lovers will choose a different amount or just charge whatever fees are required. For our family, while our dog is a beloved member of the family, we will not allow her to put our family's financial well being in jeopardy.

To keep routine vet and medical costs down, we use the services provided by our local Humane Society (ASPA). The vets and vet techs there are compassionate and helpful. They maintain records on all our animals and offer discipline training and kennel services. Their charges are about half what would be charged by a vet in private practice in this area. We follow their suggestions regarding diet, exercise, inoculations, and medications. As for humans, a good diet and regular exercise will delay or prevent the onset of many health issues, saving money for us in the long run.

There are plenty (an over abundance) of pets for adoption! From pure mutts to pure breeds, they are all available for adoption through the Humane Society, local animal shelters, and no-kill shelters. Many of these organizations have their available pets listed online, usually with photos and personality profiles. After disasters like Hurricane Sandy, a sudden increase in adoptable pets occurs. Pets can be obtained for free from some local vets (especially kittens) or for as little as $25 during adoption "drives." If you have your heart set on a certain breed, you can research online to find just the right dog. Most breeds are represented in animal shelters as rescues from puppy mills, bankrupt breeders, and those who've suffered from the downturn in our economy. You just have to do your homework.

Feel free to call your local animal shelter to ask for assistance in picking the right pet for your family. If you want a mixed breed puppy that will not grow to greater than 25 pounds as an adult, you'll need their expertise. If you want to assure that your new cat will be snuggly and good around small children, the staff will be able to guide you. Should you want assurance that a new puppy will not need a grooming visit ($35 to $50 in my area) every month, the staff can make recommendations for you. No one has a crystal ball, but their educated guesses will be the best you are likely to get. And, since purebred animals have more predictable behavior, likely medical issues, sizes, etc., you might want to stick to a certain breed to get closer to your requirements than a mixed breed can offer. But do give those mutt puppies and mixed breed kitties a chance.

Please be clear that I have no personal prejudice against adoption of purebred dogs from breeders. I just think that there are enough dogs and cats (and birds and snakes) already looking for homes. If you remain unsure that adopting a pet is the right thing to do, you can get a free sample by offering to dog sit for a neighbor or just walk their dog or change the kitty litter box a few times. If you love animals but can't provide a good home for one, offer your services as a dog walker or cage cleaner. Your volunteer services will be appreciated.

If you have a home looking for a pet, do the math and the research. You'll find just the right new "family member" waiting for you.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to

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