Thursday, June 10, 2010

Part 2: Why only rich people with perfect lives should have pets.

I remember a time in the little patch of the world I lived in where most folks got their dogs a rabies shot because they had to, and unless it got sick most folks never even thought twice about taking their animal to the vet... not because it was second nature to do it but because it was just something they never thought to do. You had a farm dog, if it got sick and you couldn't fix it you took it out behind the barn, tossed a treat on the ground, shot it in the back of the head when it wasn't looking, shed a tear or two, and got a new dog. And you never ever EVER named your dog 'Yeller, no matter how yellow he might be.

With changes in the way we view animals and increased standard of living and a higher understanding of the mental and emotional depth of animals times changed. Animals often get to their doctor for check ups more often than their humans do. It's not uncommon for animals to get twice yearly check ups with booster shots and live on thyroid meds and anti-depressants and steroids to stop them from itching and... well, yeah. Critter's lots in life have changed a lot in the last 40 years that I have walked the earth.

When I was a kid the only time my animals got to the vet was when they were obviously dying. And by then, it was almost a guarantee they would die because the issue had not been dealt with when it was still treatable.

Often when someone wants to adopt a rescue or buy an animal they bemoan the price (I paid a $400 adoption fee for my dog, which is steep, but I have seen adoption fees as high as $3000!! For a DOG!!) and many rescuers and breeders say "Purchase price is the least of the costs associated with animals, if you can't afford $2000 to buy a dog you can't afford to have a dog."

So, is that true? It seems that for many people if you can't immediately find thousands of dollars for life saving surgeries and treatments you can't possibly be a responsible pet owner.

So how much does it cost to take care of a pet in an ideal situation? One of the Standard Poodle rescues i looked at required twice yearly checkups, a specific raw food diet that you have to purchase for exorbitant prices from the rescuers (totaled about $250 a month to feed one dog), life long continued professional training and yearly consultations with a canine behaviourist... PLUS annual home visits (you pay for travel) and a minimum of $4000 set aside for emergency vet bills. And... the rescue retained ownership and you could not euthanize the dog without their written permission. Somehow i seriously doubt they EVER adopted out a single rescue. If they did it was to the rich people with perfect lives I mentioned above.

How much does it cost to take care of a dog in a less than ideal situation? a $10 bag of Walmart food every month and a couple pennies for a bullet if it gets sick maybe? (I just saw most of the people I know cringe. Just to be clear, I am not advocating you shoot your dog instead of getting vet care! just trying to make a point.)

I'm sure there are plenty of people who think each of those options is repulsive in some way and absolutely ludicrous. But somewhere in the middle is where most people expect their pet care to fall.

So what is the minimum of care that a responsible pet owner MUST provide? Well, I would suggest that the minimum be this: purchase price and initial vet care (puppy shots, spay/neuter though if you get an older already altered dog this cost could possibly be NOTHING), basic maintenance for your area (heartworm preventative/rabies vaccination/daily feeding, flea and tick treatment), and a humane euthanasia.

I just saw several people cringe. No mention of food quality? No mention of twice yearly check ups? Nope. if more people would be honest i think they would admit that in this economy they have started cutting corners on their OWN health care and their animals health care has gone right out the window.

So... should these people who are honestly no longer able to provide top of the line medical care for their animals rehome them? Stop and think about it, if they were financially secure when they got the dog and now they are flat broke and they called a rescue and said, "I can't afford this dog, I need to find it a good home" three quarters of us rabid animal lovers would roast them alive over a fire of righteous indignation for tossing away their pet. But if they can't afford the best of care we will rip them to shreds for that. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. So what is the answer?

Personally, I think the answer is if you can meet the immediate needs of your pet, food, water, love, and a quick humane end of life if something comes up that prevents them from having a good quality of life... that is enough. Not ideal, not best, but ENOUGH. And there is no shame in doing ENOUGH if ENOUGH is all you can do right now. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that if you can't make your house payment and you are spending more money on a high quality brand of dog food than you are on people food there IS shame in that. But not in doing enough when that is all you can do.

Poor people can make the best pet owners. There. I said it. Some of the best results i have had from placing animals were when I placed animals in homes no 'real' rescue would touch with a 10 foot pole. Some of the worst placements were with people who looked PERFECT on paper. Looked perfect in person too. Turned out to be massive cluster-fudges. 10 years later two animals I placed in homes i wasn't entirely sure about (with family members, lol) are happy, loved, enjoying life... and several of the ones I placed in homes i was sure of are just gone. One of the ones who are still in their home I placed them in has a thyroid problem. they took him to the vet and got him tested even though since they got him they had lost their job, their own insurance, can't afford their own meds. They started him on meds, but it required retesting monthly to check liver levels to make sure the meds were not damaging his liver. So they opted to stop treating the thyroid. The dog is in no pain, he is not suffering, but it will likely shorten his life. And he is fat, even on a tiny amount of food he is fat because of the thyroid issue. So... should they get rid of him because they can't afford him? I do not think so. What would be worse for this dog? Living a few years less in a home where he is loved, adored, spoiled, and has formed a relationship with his humans or being sent to a rescue or shelter at 6 years old to try and find a new home? Is it IDEAL? of course not. But they are his people.

If they had started out in this situation would i have thought it appropriate to acquire a new pet? Well... that isn't a simple question.

The obvious answer is no, of course not. But what if the neighbor's wife died and he is away from home 14 hours a day working and their dog is in a deep depression and he can not provide the care (daily socialization) for it that the dog needs so he asks a neighbor that the dog already knows and is happy to see each day when they are outside if they will take her? say the neighbors are poor, but they are taking care of themselves. They love the dog, they are willing to take the dog, but realistically all they can provide is a lot of love, cheap food, and euthanasia if the dog gets sick. Is cheap food and a lack of possible surgical intervention if the dog gets a tumor or intestinal blockage better or worse than a trip to the shelter, a week in a strange place, and dying by injection at the hands of a stranger? Or even just a trip to the vet to be "put to sleep"? Hm, more years in a loving home with people who adore you or dead? Tough choice there.

Listen, if you can't take care of yourself DON'T GET AN ANIMAL. PERIOD! If your wife just filed for divorce or your husband just lost his job... use your brain and consider that your life might be changing a LOT in ways that won't let you keep/provide for your animal and DON'T GET A NEW ONE!!! But if you have a pet and can't afford the level of care you used to? If you CAN take care of yourself and your family and still afford dog food... it seems to me that it would be a rotten shame for an animal to die when it could have a loving home just because that loving home can't provide it with $60 a bag food.

Crappy things happen in everyone's lives. Times change, situations change. You never know for sure what tomorrow will bring. If we each had to be 100% sure nothing would ever go wrong that would effect our ability to have a pet no one would be qualified to have a pet. Because none of us know for sure. If you have been living on state aid for 12 years and rely on your parents for gas money? That isn't an unexpected situation, it is a life style. But if you make your rent on time and feed your kids even though at the end of the month you only have enough for two trips to McDonald's and you decide you want to spend that money on cat food and cat litter instead of junk food? *shrug* It's not ideal, but in the really real world what IS?

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