Consider long-term commitment before buying a pet

ngel Robinson, office manager at Anne Arundel County Animal Control, holds a dog named Rabbit who is being cared for at the Anne Arundel County Animal Control headquarters in Millersville. Robinson advises people to research animal ownership before getting pets, but is proud of her shelter's accomplishments in adopting out more than 1,000 animals this year. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Smith)

By Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Smith, Defense Information School

Walk by a pet store on any given day and try not to be sucked in by that doggie in the window.

Cute kittens, puppies, ferrets, and all different types and sorts of little, furry bundles of love, right?

Impulsive thoughts run through your mind: “Ooh, I want one!”

Stop right there!

Pet ownership is a commitment, a long-term commitment and not just a commitment in time. Pets are costly and require attention. Take the time to make an educated decision before you get a pet.

Things to consider: What happens to this animal if I buy it and can’t commit to it? Am I willing to commit a couple of decades to pet ownership? Can I afford regular veterinarian visits, and what if this animal gets sick? What if I have to move? How do I maintain military readiness and own a pet at the same time? Am I or any of my family members allergic to animals?

All these considerations should be thought out with pros and cons weighed and long-term commitment made before military personnel — or anyone — purchases or adopts a pet.

According to one animal control professional in Maryland, many pet owners don’t invest time in research. So they don’t know the requirements of pet ownership, which leads to surrender of animals to shelters.

“People surrender their animals for various reasons,” said Angel Robinson, office manager at Anne Arundel County Animal Control. “The most common reason why people bring in their pets is because they are moving or their landlords will not let them have the animal.”

Robinson’s office is filled with employees and volunteers dedicated to helping animals. The shelter is a busy place with customers going in and out. One lady brings in a crate of four 12-week-old kittens with hopes of finding them homes with the help of the shelter’s staff and volunteers.

Inside the office is a very energetic little dog named Rabbit. Rabbit has a broken hind leg, but you wouldn’t know it. Rabbit eagerly awaits the next opportunity at attention, licking its whiskers, waving its little body side to side, wagging its tail. You would think it was perfectly fine, but Robinson said Rabbit is due for surgery to fix the broken leg.

Abandoned Pets

Dogs and cats are not the only types of animals owners surrender, said Robinson.

“Right now we have pigeons,” she said. “We recently had turtles, we have a bearded dragon. In the past we’ve had alligators, chinchillas, guinea pigs. We had a kinkajou. We get pigs a lot. We’ve had horses, all kinds of snakes. We get rats, we get mice and all kinds of fish.”

Regardless of the type of pet you want, Robinson said the most important part of the pet ownership process is in the research.

“There’s a ton of information on the internet, or you can go to the library,” Robinson said. “Look it up and make sure you know what it entails to take care of that animal. Definitely figure out what type of pet will work for you before you start looking. Know what you want before you go out there.”

Support Organizations

Throughout the U.S. there are many animal rehabilitation and support organizations.

In Eastern Maryland is Rude Ranch Animal Rescue, a no-kill, no-cage sanctuary shelter with six separated areas for cats and a couple of areas reserved for dogs.

Katherine Evans, the president of Rude Ranch Animal Rescue, said people don’t consider the long-term commitment requirement of pet ownership.

“We get requests and emails from people saying their kids went to college, and with the kids gone, they don’t need the pets anymore,” she said. “We had five domesticated rabbits abandoned about a mile down the road, just sitting on the side of the road, frozen in fear.”

Evans has many stories of poor decisions made by people in pet ownership.

“We ended up with a dog here several years ago,” she said. “The grandparents had their grandkids coming for the summer, so they got a puppy for the kids to play with. Then, when the kids went back home for school, they were done with the dog, so they just turned it out. They put it out on the street.”

The rescue’s environment features sectioned-off areas throughout for cats and dogs. There are cat shelves and walkways installed on the walls and throughout the home. Perched on a shelf in the main living area is an elderly cat named Tommy Tomcat, a Rude Ranch favorite.

“Tommy is actually almost 20 years old now,” Evans said. “He can be so loving. He has this certain personality.”

Tommy is one of about 60 animals at the rescue.

Benefits To Ownership

Evans said there are a lot of benefits to pet ownership as pets can bring a sense of purpose to people who want something to take care of, and pets can be beneficial to a person’s overall fitness.

“In terms of dogs, if you need exercise, well that’s a good excuse to own one, because dogs need to be walked, or they can be a jogging buddy,” Evans said.

Human health can be a deterrent to pet ownership for people allergic to animals.

“Allergies are another reason for animals being surrendered,” Robinson said.

“I would say the top three reasons people surrender their pets is moving and they can’t take the pet with them; someone in the family has allergies; and that they can’t afford to take care of the animal.

“Usually, cost is the biggest shocker to people.”

The upfront cost of an animal is only a portion of its overall cost, as food and vet bills contribute significantly. According to petplace.com, a dog or cat can cost more than $10,000 over the course of its lifetime.

Long-term considerations for the animal itself is another point to ponder. What if you do have to surrender for reasons out of your control? What will ever happen to that cute little animal you once wanted so much, your beloved pet?

Before you impulsively convince yourself that you must have that cute little doggie in the window, take the time to research and consider the long-term investment.

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