Buyer Beware: An Update on Quality Pet Selection
Even though we pet-owners routinely accept that our definitions of quality pet nutrition or healthcare will change as more information about these topics becomes available, when it comes to selecting a pet, that's often not the case. Instead, we may rely on little more than what worked for us—or our parents!—in the past, or even some vague gut feeling. However, much has changed on the human-companion animal scene and those who want to ensure a positive experience for human and animal alike need to consider those changes. Step one is dispelling some myths about ideal pets and how to locate them.
A common lament I hear from my disenchanted clients with their problem-plagued pets is, "I don't understand. We had Labs (goldens, beagles, Siamese or Persian cats) when I was a kid and we never had these problems." That's not the myth part of it. That's quite true. The myth is assuming that dogs and cats as well as us, our pet-related needs, our pet-related expectations, and our lifestyles are the same as they were back then. None of those are, so get that thought out of your head. Even if we could suddenly resurrect those perfect dogs from our childhood, the chances of them fitting into our lives so perfectly now aren't that great.
Myth Two: "Get a purebred because you'll know exactly what you're getting." This might be somewhat true for those looking for a good herding or hunting dog who know exactly what function they want the dog to perform and the genetic make-up of the lines with the highest probability of producing such an animal. Whether that potential will translate into a good family pet is another question entirely. Which brings us to the next myth.
Myth Three: "Animals from working or show lines who lack the wherewithal to succeed in those functions make ideal pets." Wrong. They might, but there's absolutely no guarantee that they will. It can require a lot more physical and mental capacity for a dog or cat to succeed in a busy young family than in the show ring or field (or as a mouser).
Myth Four: "By getting an older animal, I can avoid all the young animal problems." The busier we are, the more appeal this myth has. Alas and for multiple reasons, the probability of an adult animal who is being given up not having problems is sufficiently low that I advise extreme caution when considering such animals, and especially if you have young children in the household. Which brings up another common myth related to pet adoptions.
Myth Five: "By adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group, I can do a good deed and get a great pet." Once again, there are definitely no guarantees about this and the bias may be tipped in the negative direction, depending on where you live. Pet adoption organizations in rural (and especially southern rural) areas may have sufficient animals of all ages that it's possible to find some real gems among them if you do your homework first. It's not a given because organizations with a plentiful supply of animals are now shipping them to areas where widespread spay and neutering campaigns have negatively affected the make-up of the resident populations. Sadly, some young animals may be taken away from their mothers, moved to a shelter, vaccinated, wormed, spayed or neutered, shipped to another facility miles away, put up for adoption, and be in their new homes by 8 weeks of age. Although the party line says all that physiological and behavioral stress won't have some negative effect on that animal, I've seen enough and heard enough about animals where this hasn't been the case that I don't accept that view.
And just as food supplies from distant, unknown sources may bring problems with them, so may those animals. Two current worst-case current situations come to mind. In the first, some either extremely naïve do-gooders or flat out charlatans have been selling vanloads of disease- and parasite-ridden southern pups at northern shopping malls to inexperienced, kind-hearted folks. In the second, others are importing and placing street dogs from foreign countries, often with little or nothing in the way of reliable veterinary care. Those who adopt these animals often assume that all sorts of inspections rule out any possibility that their new pet will carry diseases or parasites that may undermine the animal's health and/or be transmitted to humans or members of other species. Sadly, that's simply not the case. Nor is behavioral stability guaranteed because these animals often have survived thanks to qualities that enabled them to succeed in harsh environments with minimal quality human interaction. How likely is it that those same qualities will predispose these animals to get along in a family with kids, or in some other environment where behavioral stability and the ability to get along with people is a must?
So how do you find the best dog or cat to meet your and your family's needs? Recall the title of this commentary, "Buyer Beware." Assuming a roughly average 13-year canine and feline lifespan, you'll have a long time to ponder any negative results of a pet-related, emotion- rather than knowledge-driven impulse. The best pet-selection advice is to know yourself and your limits and those of the species, breed, and individual animal you wish to add to your household. As far as how to go about that, a good place to start is by reading DogSmart or CatSmart, both of which enable you to create a database of information specific to your needs.
If that seems like too much work, I can only share what I know from personal experience and that shared by the owners of thousands whose pets developed problems. If you're too busy to read a book or otherwise give these pre-pet-acquisition considerations the time they deserve, you're probably too busy to successfully integrate today's pet into today's household. Far better to enjoy the pets of those able to make this commitment than commit yourself, your family, and any animal to a less than rewarding relationship.
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