Author Archives: Dolores Proubasta

Missing Cat!

posted February 21st, 2016 by
What's in Your Dog Shampoo

Missing Cat!

By Dolores Proubasta

 

Instead of panicking, enlist an action plan.

Cats don’t like to roam; most would rather stay home on a favorite armchair or window sill looking out, feeling wrongfully imprisoned.

Forced to “enjoy freedom” by guardians blissfully unaware of traffic, poisons, dogs, aggressive toms, pregnancy, neighbors who don’t like cats and other dangers, a cat will stake his territory, usually very close to home, and fend for himself as well as he can. For entertainment, he will do exactly what he would do in the safety of a living room (observe, sleep, chase, groom…) with the occasional kill of a songbird as a bonus. In fact, there is not much out there to do for an animal that has no place in the wild, and much less in the city, except as a “companion.”

Outdoor-access cats develop a check-in routine for feedings or human companionship. When they fail to show up at the usual time, guardians should presume their pet is in trouble and start an immediate search, following the recommendations stated below. Intact males and females are even more at risk because, even if able to return, the males may be wounded, and the females will be pregnant.

For cats to live long, healthy lives, the only alternative is to adhere to the indoor-only plan. However, a door is left ajar or a screen comes off the window frame, and before you know it, the cat is out.

Given a chance, most indoor cats will heed the call of the wild only to discover there is danger all around. Faced with strange smells, noises, and creatures, the errant cat, instead of high-tailing it back to safety, may go into hiding. If vocal, he’ll be quiet; if friendly, he’ll avoid people; and movement will be under the cover of bushes, night and shadows.

Back home, the cat’s absence is met with justifiable panic. The first impulse is to send out search parties in different directions to cover as much ground as possible and to plaster every utility pole in town with “Lost” posters. This M.O. is the correct one… if a dog goes missing. However, if a cat goes missing it requires subtle adjustments explained below. The first thing to remember to recover your cat is that he will rarely stray beyond three or four houses in either direction from where he ran out. Of course, a cat cared for enough to be kept indoors is presumed to be spayed and neutered; if not, all bets are off.

Quick action, a good plan and perseverance are imperative. Don’t ever think “He’ll find his way back,” because there are at least as many chances he will not. Waste no time and do the following:

  1. Put food and water by the door the cat exited.

Keep it fresh. Alternatively, set a humane trap (see 7 below).

  1. Search for the cat right away.

Don’t be discouraged if the first attempt fails; the cat may still be enjoying the newly gained freedom. Walk the immediate neighborhood at least twice a day without fail (preferably in the quiet hours of the early morning and late evening—take a flashlight). Search for the cat alone; only the cat’s closest people should be involved because un-familiar voices and smells will send him into deeper hiding. Don’t send a child to do the job unless it’s the cat’s primary friend.

Your personal and steady involvement in the search helps remind your neighbors that the missing pet is not a passing concern to you, but a serious one. Don’t expect them to do your job for you, but they can be your eyes when you are not there (see 4 below).

Call your cat in gentle reassuring tones so that he may realize he is still near you, and, therefore, safe; this may keep him from wandering farther away.

Ask permission from the neighbors in a five-house radius to access their backyards, even when they are at work. Don’t bother to ask for access to yards with dogs, because no cat would hide there. Obtaining permission to enter other people’s yards (without being mistaken by a prowler) is a huge tactical ad-vantage because tool sheds, decks, porches, and access to crawl spaces are behind, not in front of, houses. Look under structures, behind bushes, up trees, around wood-fence runners and window ledges… Leave no place unchecked.

Carry an unopened can of fishy food. If the cat is spotted, he may respond to the temp-ting sound and smell of a freshly opened can.

Take a pet carrier with you if you think the cat may walk into it or if he may be difficult to restrain in your arms once caught.

  1. Post laminated “Lost” signs in the intersections around your address.

Use packaging-strength clear tape to affix the sign to utility poles — unlike staples it works on metal too. Place the signs at lower than eye level for car drivers to see. (Remember to remove all signs after your pet is found as a courtesy to your neighbors and a signal that the search is over.)

  1. Distribute flyers, i.e., paper copies of the “Lost” sign, to each house or apartment near yours.

If the resident is not in, do not insert the flyer in the mailbox, which is unlawful, but tape the flyer to the storm door or another visible spot by the entrance. Individual flyers give your neighbors a sense of how important your cat is to you; give contact information, a visual description of the missing cat and additional pertinent information. (Keep it short.)

  1. Take a copy of the flyer to the city shelters, humane societies, and neighborhood veterinarians in the event the cat is trapped by animal control or someone else and taken there.

Do not use this wide coverage, however, as an excuse to stop looking. The cat is most likely only yards away from you.

  1. Search online.

Post your missing cat’s description, photo and last location on all social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. While your general news feed is a great place to gain leads, there are specific lost and found pet pages for most towns or areas.

  1. If your cat is hard to catch, set one or two humane traps.

A raccoon-sized trap is most comfortable for an average-size cat. Put one by the house entrance or where your cat was last spotted. Be prepared, however, to catch other cats before yours. Carefully release the unwanted (and angry) guest and start again. But first you will have to wash and disinfect the trap thoroughly to avoid contamination if the previous animal was sick and also because your cat will not walk into a place where another may have urinated or left the scent of fear.

For a baited trap to be effective, remove any other feeding stations. Ask your neighbors to refrain from trying to be kind by feeding your cat. Only hunger will drive the cat into the trap. A pinch of catnip next to the food may make it more enticing.

Also, covering the trap with a towel or blanket makes it more inviting and provides shelter once the cat is inside. Traps must be checked frequently to avoid exposure and prolonged fear of any animal inside.

With the plan outlined above, a cat should be recovered within hours or days of the escape, but be prepared to persevere longer. The search has to be aggressive and methodical. The life of a feral cat is short and hard; death is usually painful. Most feral cats were once owned by people who either abandoned them or “lost them,” which simply means they failed to look for them under the mistaken belief that “Tom will come back when he’s ready.”

Yard Dog Watching the Watchdog

posted May 15th, 2012 by

by Dolores Proubasta

“OUT OF SIGHT, out of mind.” Whether in a farm, city back yard, or rust-piled junkyard, an animal kept outside is lonely. Indoors, sheltered and enjoying the comforts and company they deny to the dog (or cat), people reason that animals don’t belong inside because of shedding, odors, breakage, etc. In reality, a pet has no more bearing on the cleanliness and good order of a home than a child does; only the adults do.

Why is it that some people get a dog—an animal who loves people more than people love people—just to lock him or her out? It makes no sense. And even worse, under average conditions this segregation evolves into benign neglect that tends to worsen as time goes by. Soon, the children don’t want to play with “it” anymore because he is too big; grandpa is afraid to go out because “it” jumps… Starved for attention, sometimes he also misses a meal or two because the family forgot to feed “it.”

Ignored by all, without affection, guidance or purpose, the yard dog will either become aloof (a form of depression), aggressive, an escape artist, destructive or a nuisance barker. Shelters are full of dogs with just such problems for which only the owners are to blame.

The overall unfairness of segregating pets outside the human circle may deteriorate into gross insensitivity or even a felony if they are not brought indoors: (1) when they are sick or otherwise incapacitated as listed in Table 1; (2) in bad weather such as thunderstorms, ice storms, flooding, tornadoes and life-threatening temperatures; (3) when herbicides and other harmful chemicals are being used in the yard; (4) when construction, regular services and other activities may cause the dog to escape; (5) at night.

A strong argument in favor of bringing dogs in at night is their unsurpassed value and reliability to warn against intruders, gas leaks, smoke and more. However, for dogs to protect people, people must first protect dogs. Left outside, the dog may be the first victim, or not be heard by those he’s trying to rouse. A garage, by the way, does not constitute “inside” for security purposes or for the animal’s sake (footnote of Table 3).

Yard dogs (and cats) usually rank with the bike and the lawn mower in the estimation of those clinging to the primitive notion that a dog belongs outside. It is a fine line between benign neglect and criminal neglect, and it is not what the owner thinks is “good enough” for the yard dog, but what neighbors, discerning TulsaPets readers and other “watchdogs” for the animals see with their own eyes. If conditions are substandard or endangering to the dog, it’s a civic duty to report them to authorities and keep the vigil.

If only the more open-minded among the outdoors-school-of-thought would pause to ponder just how fair they are to their pets—are they providing essential comforts and protection (Tables 2 and 3)? Would they not realize how much easier it would be to integrate pets into the household’s routine, treating them as companions? Of course, the operative word is “fair.”

In the final analysis, one has to question the fairness— indeed, the humaneness—of barring Man’s Best Friend from being with the people for whom he would lay his life down.

What’s In A Name?

posted March 15th, 2012 by

by Dolores Proubasta

It is a remarkable sound, a name. It resonates with identity and plucks out the individual from a crowd or a pack. Men have used names since time immemorial, and there are studies underway to determine whether dolphins use them, too. To our knowledge, other species don’t use the equivalent of individual names, but cow or crow, domestic or wild, animals become “connected” to the names we give them. How connected? People seeking to adopt adult dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, ferrets, and others who already have a name often wonder if it is possible to change it.

Animal shelters tend to keep owner-given names—even when the animal is seized from its abusers—in the belief that an animal yanked out of everything he knows (good or bad) will find some comfort in hearing his own familiar name. It’s a debatable theory.

Relative to the radical changes any animal faces in a shelter or a new home—new people, rules, commands, environment and hostile pets, to mention only a few— a new name is the least of his concerns. Some “second chance” animals are in their third, fourth or fifth home (and may have had as many names), and a new name will be as readily accepted as a meal and a dry bed. Therefore, keeping the old name is not as essential as many believe; however, changing it can be.

A disturbing sign concerning timid, abused, neglected or overly-trained animals is that while they may “respond” to their name, they also shiver, cower, flinch or urinate. Whatever negative associations are the cause of the distress, shelter workers, foster parents, or the adoptive parents would be well advised to change it right away.

Even when an animal responds positively to his name, in the voice of strangers like shelter staff, volunteers and visitors, it tends to lose its “grip.” Unidentified strays, for instance, are given provisional names to which they are as likely to respond as not in the chaos of shelter conditions. I never cease to be amused (and equally irritated) by visitors who call out the name they see on the kennel card followed by an imperious command, such as “Sissy, sit!”

“Yeah…” thinks Sissy, “in a minute, Bubba, as if I understand what you’re saying with 92 dogs barking, gates slamming, kids squealing, and by the way, no hablo inglés!”

So the answer is yes, names can, and often should, be changed—left behind with a past best forgotten.

But still what to call the new companion? The power of the word should not be taken lightly, especially for personal names. Why is Dr. Dement a shrink? Or Mr. Goldman a jeweler? Think about it. Rare and crazy are the parents who would call their child, say, Ugly. It is all too common, however, for people to call their pets pejoratives like Loco, Stinkpot, Dummy, Cujo, and worse. Distasteful monikers are no reflection of the true nature of the animal, but of the owner’s low regard for him. It comes as no surprise then that animals surrendered by their owners to the local shelter often have ridiculous names.

Ideally, the name acknowledges the dignity, beauty and uniqueness of an individual. While old standbys like Max, Bella, Oreo and clichés a la Bunny, Kitty and Woof hardly accomplish such a lofty function, they are among the 100 USA favorites; each country has its own hackneyed nomenclature with which cats and dogs get stuck. Refreshingly, some pet parents find more inspired names, borrowing from flowers, gems, historic and mythical figures, natural phenomena, landmarks, vintage car models, heavenly bodies and much more—in English and in other languages, as well.

Dogs in particular quickly learn a new name, regardless of how old they are when adopted. The trick is to use it: 1) preceding every desired action; (2) in connection with treats, walks, play, approval and everything the pet enjoys; and (3) consistently avoiding nicknames, shortened versions, or “boy” until the official name is learned.

Like no other word, a name signals individuality, which is why neither “Hey You” nor “Stinky” will do. 

Black Dog (And CAT) Bias – Last Adopted, First Euthanized

posted March 15th, 2011 by

BY DOLORES PROUBASTA 

DADS (DIME A DOZEn) and BBDs (big black dogs) are labels for black dogs at municipal animal shelters in America. And these dogs often pay the ultimate price for their coat color.

They are routinely passed over for adoption in favor of other color-coated dogs, which is why they are the first ones to be “pulled out” for euthanasia when there is no room for new arrivals with better chances.

Older black dogs are sometimes killed as soon as they exit the animal control truck, because of the attitude “why even try.” Black cats and kittens fare no better due to superstition and lower visibility as they hide in the back of cages. Visit your local shelter with an eye out for black dogs and cats and you will understand. Even cute black puppies don’t sell well by retailers or breeders.

This is nothing new. Even Celts, Vikings, and Romans linked black dogs with bad omens and demonic incarnation. Primitive minds in today’s world still do.

Black dogs and cats which languish at rescue shelters are sought for adoption before Halloween by those practicing witchcraft and associated superstitions and blood sacrifices. Reputable rescue organizations prohibit adoption of solid black, solid white and black/white cats and dogs during the Halloween season.

British Islanders believe eerie black dogs haunt castles and graveyards, while Central and South America are rich in negative “perro negro” legends. Superstition and fear may explain the curious moniker “black dog” for depression and drug induced hallucinations.

Because domestic animals reflect human preferences, the idea that dark-colored dogs are more effective deterrents to enemies was not lost on those who selectively bred black from wolf grey. Over time and breeding, black became the “default” color for domestic dogs.

However, black is not evident in the Canidae family – wild dogs such as Dingo, Culpeo, Dhole, Bush Dog or wolves, jackals, foxes or coyotes. Only the endangered African Wild Dog or Painted Dog has splotches of black.

Part of the reproductive success of darker dogs is that they are more resistant to the UV spectrum and therefore less susceptible to skin malignancies. While they are more prone to heat exhaustion, cancer claims fewer lives and that favors their genetic lineage.

The fact that black dogs appear more forbidding is also an advantage in the survival game. Even sheep are quicker to react to black and dark-colored stock dogs than to lighter coat colors.

Many people, however, do admire the elegant, slick, intense good looks of darkcoated breeds and their mixes. Dog behaviorists, veterinarians, responsible breeders, and human companions agree there is no link between the color of an animal’s coat and undesirable character traits.

Black dog bias, low adoption rate and high euthanasia in municipal shelters is hard to prove with numbers because animal control shelters and humane organizations do not keep data on size, breed and color of dogs euthanized or adopted. Empirical data, however, indicate that more black animals wait longer to be adopted and run out of allotted time in city shelters.

Discussions are beginning about how to encourage adoption and create appealing environments that show off dark-coated dogs, cats, and other small animals such as rabbits.

“Not only black, but dark brown, grey, brindle or merle dogs are also long-stay residents at shelters,” says Jess Chappell, a volunteer photographer at the Royal SPCA in York, UK. “They simply just don’t stand out in poorly lit facilities, and so they are less noticeable or attractive. It would certainly be interesting to compare adoption rates in shelters with good and with bad kennel lighting!”

Ambient lighting is one of several image enhancements that humane societies and animal control departments can provide. Other solutions are suggested at the various websites in the information list.

Essentially it all boils down to exposure with pizzazz: “Black Coat Gala,” “Hair O’ the Black Dog Happy Hour,” “Black CatWalk Night,” “Shelter-Black-is-Beautiful Pageant,” are some of the imaginative fundraising and adoption event themes shining the light on black dogs.

A friend, owner of a black dog, acknowledged recently that he did not know about black-dog bias. Eddie’s beloved Labrador retriever, Danner, is his first black dog. “Now that you mention bias,” he said, “I realize that while I can’t clone Danner, because of him there is no question that the next dog I adopt will be black. That’s my bias.”

Reverse bias for BBDs would be welcome.

 

Teach the Children

posted November 15th, 2010 by

Story by Dolores Probasta

TWIN TODDLERS on a stroller see a dog; one recoils and cries while the other reaches out and giggles. Everything being equal, one is a born animal lover and the other is not. Through their formative years, the twins will become entrenched in their respective innate tendencies or adapt according to the examples they observe.

Parents, relatives, friends, and teachers may partially influence, unintentionally in most cases, the children’s developing attitudes toward animals. Mind-shaping events are usually unremarkable and can take place anywhere. A stranger helping a turtle across the road or rescuing an injured stray are behaviors a child observes in everyday life and may commit to memory; just as sure as he remembers opposite behaviors, like big brother running over a cat intentionally. Even at a distance, we can provide positive examples that, we can only hope, will override (or put in question) the negative attitudes toward animals children see everywhere – often at home.

Much can be taught just walking one’s own dog. When children are in sight, even if they seem to be paying no attention, do all the right things: pet your dog, give her a drink of water, say things like “good girl!” and look pleased to be with your companion animal. Smile, because the deductive logic to even the youngest child is: person with pet happy; pets good.

Use common sense in the manner you address a child and whether it is prudent to do so under the circumstances, but opportunities pop up everywhere to influence children favorably toward animals. “What a beautiful dog! How old is she?” you ask a child playing in his front yard with a dog nearby. Either the child will be flattered by your interest, which means he already appreciates his pet, or at least he’ll realize that other people see beauty in the dog he takes for granted. Perhaps imperceptibly, the dog’s stock has gone up in the eyes of the child.

A recent example: A four year old girl was playing at a fountain in the park. “Are you through?” I asked after waiting for a while. “Astra is thirsty; let me show you something neat.” She moved aside keeping a wary eye on my dog as I started filling a plastic bag with water. “Now comes the best part,” I said enthusiastically lowering the bag to the floor, “Drink, Astra!” which, to my surprise, the girl repeated. While the dog lapped water the girl came nearer. I explained that dogs also get thirsty and that we have to give them fresh water often. She nodded. A seed of knowledge was planted.

Be receptive to children who show interest in your dog. (1) Answer their questions, (2) convey positive attitudes through small talk: “Did you know that dogs are our best friends?” “Have you visited the animal shelter?” etc., and (3) smile.

If a child hesitates to approach or even recoils from your dog, smile and say, “Don’t be afraid; dogs are good.” With an older child, ask why he is afraid and provide facts that may help sort out his feelings – facts no one else may provide otherwise. Try to encourage the shy or scared child to come closer to your dog (if safe) or at least mention the dos and don’ts of approaching a dog – again, you may be the only person to teach a youngster safety rules like “Never scream, stare, run away…”. Be encouraging. If your dog is good-natured, every step a child dares to take to come closer builds confidence and may, in fact, help him or her avoid being bit in the future.

If the dog is unaccustomed to children, and one wants to pet him, let the kid come as close as it’s safe and make an excuse like “Gengis [always use the pet’s name to personalize him] is not feeling well today, but maybe next time you can pet him?” Smile. Don’t ever discourage a child who is animal friendly nor give him a reason to change his mind.

At the petting zoo, the state fair, the park … animals and children come in contact. When parents fail to teach children properly, petting may turn into hitting. To allow a child to mistreat an animal is a disservice to both; it is everyone’s responsibility to immediately protect the animal, and call the parents’ attention to the incident. If the child appears to be alone or with other youngsters, say a firm “No!” and explain calmly why this behavior is unacceptable. Talk to the parents if they show up – be polite but firm. Animal cruelty is a precursor to violence toward people and a warning sign of certain psychopathologies; law and order are well aware of this fact.

By the same token, when a child is being kind to animals, a smile of approval or a word of praise from you is deserved recognition he or she may not receive otherwise.

When talking to the children of neigh- bors, friends, and relatives, consider animal topics; ask, for instance, what their favorite animal is and why, and you can reinforce their feelings or, if necessary, correct misconceptions. Even in short exchanges, the perception that adults talk nicely about animals enhances their value.

Fibbing about animal “encounters” is part and parcel of growing up. Children under the age of seven often claim that an animal has either scratched or bitten them (usually when no one was watching). If there is no blood, it’s simply a childish boast, a call for attention, or a misconception … which, nonetheless, may cost an innocent animal a trip to the shelter or worse. If there is no wound, there is no reason to believe the child, but still you should ask, “Well, since you are not hurt, what do you think we should do?” In most cases the child will be vague or recant coyly. The alarm should be sounded to all concerned when a child insists on blaming the animal and, worse, if he demands “punishment.”

Give children gifts that enhance or suggest the bond between people and animals, but animals themselves should never be the gift, because the message “easy come, easy go” is implied. A child who wants a pet should be involved in the adoption process and be taught, to the extent of his mental capacity, the responsibilities attached. Discourage parents from surprising the kid for the holidays or any other occasion. Instead, suggest they make it a family project: Look at books or web sites about pets, go together to the shelter, discuss the implications … and in the process it may become crystal clear that the child couldn’t care less.

Pets rarely live up to the “entertainment” value children expect. This, too, presents a teaching opportunity. As a visitor, ask children to show you their pets, especially those in cages. If well cared for, ask questions and praise them and their pet!

More often than not, however, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals are banished to a catch all room or to the garage once the novelty wears off. If conditions indicate neglect, don’t be shy about making suggestions to the child and the parents on how to improve the quality of life of the pet. When conditions are deplorable, however, don’t waste time recommending changes that will never happen; just ask whether they would like to give (or sell) you the animal. You can then contact the humane society to find a better home. If your personal involvement is out of the question, report the case to the authorities.

Children’s behavior toward animals reveals much about their character; it has to be monitored, encouraged or discouraged, and guided toward higher levels. It cannot be ignored, as it often is at home and school. The influence of outsiders is not insignificant, because even the smallest kindness (or unkindness) is stored. It is in the interest of children to accumulate good examples to live by. The welfare of tomorrow’s animals hangs also in the balance.

A Pet in OUR House?

posted October 15th, 2010 by

BY DOLORES PROUBASTA

When people who live together
disagree about issues concerning household pets, the alarm is sounded for those who have no voice in the matter. All it takes is for one person to complain about allergies, or start a pet defamation campaign for barking, shedding, or any perceived problem. The complainer can be persistent, deaf to solutions, and wear the housemates out. Off to the shelter goes Lucky, or to the mystery “farm” the complainer has found (but no one else can) where the pet will be free to roam and, possibly, be hit by the first truck to come down the nearby interstate. In any case, the end of Lucky restores peace in the household, until another pet arrives.

Animals come to live in plural households by (1) acquisition — e.g., a family adopts a pet, a member of the household inherits Aunt Celia’s African Gray, house partners take in the cat the neighbors abandoned, and so on; or (2) blending – people move in together bringing their respective companion animals to the mix. In either case, everyone concerned, including children (for educational reasons), should sit down to a realistic discussion of expectations and consequences before committing to a new pet. In the process it will become evident that either:

1) There is general reluctance to take on responsibilities; the pet is considered a toy for the children but not much more; one or more people are “afraid” or “allergic” or “don’t like animals;” the head of household won’t allow a cat indoors … Clearly the idea must be dropped before an animal suffers the consequences.

2) Only one adult is in favor and capable of assuming pet-related responsibilities. This individual needs to realize that he or she is entering a single-owner situation, with all its burdens. Those unwilling to contribute to the pet’s well-being now may never change their mind … while expecting equal say. Is the principal caregiver willing to accept this duality; is it fair?

3) Adult household members accept financial and labor responsibilities. They understand the drawbacks of pet ownership and still look forward to the new “family” member. In this ideal setting any issues that arise – as in Lulu-atemy- Manolo-Blahnik-pumps — can be resolved with behavior modification (keep the darned shoes in the closet!), compromise, and cooperation.

In households with pre-existing pets, their temperament must be considered and proper introductions preplanned. Seek advice from your veterinarian and acquaintances with multiple pets. Give animals time to adapt to the new environment and reward them every time they approach each other in peace. Don’t overreact to the occasional tiff. The main obstacle to pets’ mutual acceptance is anxious, overbearing, or impatient people looking on!

“But wait!” says you, “Most people start their own brood with less consideration than the purchase of the next SUV!” True, and two wrongs don’t make a right. The law is less equivocal about neglecting children than about outright abuse of animals denied equivalent rights. The following points should be considered to avoid doomed situations:

Show of hands: In favor of and against a pet.
50-50 is not a good start for a pet in a twopeople household. If opposition is grounded on irresponsibility of the pet proponent, it may be necessary to bring in third parties to make the case. If a responsible pet proponent is denied the request frivolously, this sounds like a “people problem.” Neither scenario bodes well for companion animals. Unless … the pet proponent is responsible and takes full charge, and the other party accepts a passive role … and doesn’t scare the pet when they’re alone!

Make a realistic pet budget.
Consider (1) routine veterinary care and occasional emergencies; (2) heartworm preventative medicine, flea/tick treatment, and medication when needed; (3) high-quality food brands which will reduce elimination and help maintain a healthier pet; (4) pet sitter or boarding fees; (5) bathing/grooming, obedience training, and other life enhancements. Be prepared to exceed the basic budget and expect the unexpected like major veterinary emergencies, moving with pet(s) to a new city or country, and other substantial expenses.

Can one household member alone bear the expenses and the chores associated with a pet?
If it takes two (or more) incomes to afford a pet, then the loss of a job, separation, illness, or other eventualities will put the animal at risk. “Can’t afford” and “Change of living situation” are leading excuses for surrendering pets at the shelter. The fact is that when the financial chips are down some people abandon their pets but not their beer, junk food, manicures, and other such necessities. Those who honor their commitment, however, will cut their own expenses in favor of their pet(s).

If the household runs on two or more unblended incomes, create a pet kitty or determine who will pay what directly.
If only one person cares and pays for the pets, he or she should be prepared to (1) keep them in case of a change of living arrangement; and (2) find a stand-by surrogate caregiver (among friends, relatives, or for hire) before the need arises, since other household members can’t or won’t.

Assign specific responsibilities among members of the household (e.g., Table 1) and agree on household rules concerning pets.
Pets cause additional upkeep of both house and yard. Who will potty train and clean after the inevitable accidents, who will scoop up cat litter boxes and dog doo in the yard (daily), wash bedding, wash bowls after meals, bathe, brush, walk, train, play, etc.

Animals in cages and aquariums require daily cleaning and attention because they cannot escape their own litter or the boredom of being forgotten in their small confinement. If a child is given responsibilities, an adult must be at the ready to back him up when he balks at chores once the novelty of a pet is over.

Establish the rules of pet etiquette in advance: Will the dog be allowed on furniture; the cat on counters … will dogs be in crates, in the yard, or inside while people go out … fed before or after people … The list of “rules” gets longer when people are short on tolerance for animals – and this is a warning sign in itself. Animals should not be expected to act like automatons. Reasonable rules everyone is comfortable with make it possible to train pets consistently without giving contradictory commands that set them up for failure.

Couples should agree not to give away, banish to the backyard, confine, or neglect the pet(s) in the event of a baby. If there is any doubt that a child might displace the pet, don’t have one … or the other.
Pregnant women are often warned by the well-meaning and least informed about the dangers of scooping cat litter, dogs biting toddlers, bird diseases, and sundry reasons not to keep pets. Qualified advice from a physician, veterinarian, and especially women who have successfully handled both pets and motherhood should allay such fears.

What to do if faced with the ultimatum “The pet or me!” Does anyone in the household have the mettle to give the deserved answer? Think about it beforehand.
Behavior, finances, and division of labor are the daily issues of shared households. People unwilling to add pets to this difficult equation are wise to recognize that they can’t or don’t want to handle it. It’s those who bring in, tire of, and give up pets with childish disregard for the consequences of their acts that need help. A pet in our house!? Let’s talk about it.

A sample chart of tasks*

  MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT SUN
6 AM walk 4 4 4 4 4 2 3
6 PM walk 2 2 2 2 2 3 2
Scoop yard 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Morning snack 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wash water & food bowls 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wash bedding           3  
Brush           2  
Dinner 4 4 4 4 4 4 4

Bark Park (Sat & holidays): 1, 2, 3, and/or 4 Veterinary visits: 1, 2, 3, or 4 as available Obedience class: 2 and 4

*A house with yard, 2 dogs, and 4 adults. Each person’s name or, as in this example, assigned number is written in the box corresponding to task and day. Every household member involved in the care of pets should have a back up in case of travel or illness.

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