Sirius and Nefertiti - not a great picture, but a great friendship!
Sirius and Nefertiti – not a great picture, but a great friendship!

“Should I get my cat another cat?” a friend of mine asked me today. “I worry that he’s bored.” That question, and this weekend’s upcoming Sliding Into Home event at the Washington Humane Society, has me thinking about when, how and why we expand our (animal) families, and when, how and why we should.

5 Bad Reasons: Some of these reasons can be fine as a secondary reason to get a new pet, but they fall short as a primary reason.

Fluffy (or Fido) wants a friend. Let’s start with the idea that began this post. Sure, it’s easier to add a new pet to your home if your existing pet(s) get along well with others. However, new pets add new (and often unforeseen) complications to relationships between both pets and people. You need to be ready to deal with these changes, as well as the training, medical and emotional needs of your new pet.

It’ll teach the kids responsibility. Would you trust your kids to take themselves to the doctor and school, feed themselves nutritious food, and brush their teeth without reminding? If the answer is “no”, then you shouldn’t expect them to be able to take that responsibility on for a pet. Kids can participate in pet care and training under careful supervision, but, in the end, pet care is the adults’ responsibility.

The kids want a pet. This goes along with the previous point. But let’s take it one step further. Most domestic pets live several years – even rabbits and ferrets can live between five and ten years and indoor cats often live into their late teens, so they are likely to be around even after the kids move out. Parents need to be ready to provide a lifetime of care.

That pet is cute. Impulse buys rarely work out the way we want them to. When that impulse purchase is a TV, we can take it back, but when it involves a living being, things aren’t so simple. There are situations in which a pet must be rehomed for its own or other’s safety, but the emotional toll on both the family and pet are severe. Acquiring a pet should be a thought-out decision.

I liked that movie (tv show, book). Breeds and species can be popularized by their appearance in entertainment, such as books, movies and TV shows. However, their representations in these media often don’t reflect the realities of ownership.

5 Good Reasons: Few reasons are sufficient by themselves. But these are a few good starting points.

I’ve researched the breed/species and think it’ll work well with my lifestyle. The counterpart of the last point above, this is a good way to set expectations. As long as you then recognize that every animal is an individual and your experience may not reflect the “typical” individuals you have read about.

The whole family is ready to make a long-term commitment. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: a pet is a long-term commitment that may well outlast the children’s presence in the home and will likely outlast their commitment to providing daily care. Everyone should be prepared to commit to the new animal for it’s projected lifespan.

I would like the companionship. No doubt about it, pets are great companions. Research is mixed, but indications are that they may contribute to lower blood pressure and higher activity levels (for dog owners) – both pretty good things!

I am ready to put in whatever work is needed. Again, breed (or species) typical behavior is just typical, not a guarantee. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to predict how the addition of a new animal will affect relationships between existing residents. Extensive management and training may be needed both to build a good relationship between family members and make sure the new addition has the necessary training to be a good family member.

I have found the pet I’ve been looking for. There’s not much more to say here. As pet lovers, we are looking for companionship, and sometimes you just find the one you’ve been looking for. Even when this happens, you can’t expect everything to be easy – the need for hard work and a long-term commitment are still there – but sometimes for the right pet, these obstacles don’t seem quite so big.

So now that you are sure you are getting a pet for the right reasons, let’s get started. I’ll see you Saturday at Sliding Into Home – who knows, you might find your Next Best Pet!

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