8 Tips for Choosing a Family Pet

I am a lover of animals and once thought I could take on anything. My childhood was spent next to our family cat who slept by my side every night. I was never afraid of animals and even found certain cuteness in the turtles, frogs, and squirrels that lived in near my home.

I was that girl who showed up on my best friend’s doorstep with a puppy to add to her 5 kids. Her children were so terrified of this little dog; they danced on the counter tops refusing to crawl down. I know, I can’t believe I did that to her! Now I know, and I have repetitively apologized for my ignorance. However, that little dog was the best thing that happened to her family. Her children went from being terrified of animals to loving other dogs. They took on the responsibility to care for him, play with him, and love him. This past year they lost their little “Ritzy” and they still miss him dearly.

pet3Every once in a while life surprises us. When we find ourselves caring for something else, we feel bonded and committed to caring for that creature. On the other hand, like parenting, we sometimes have to make those hard decisions to do what is best for the animal, even though it is not the favorable decision. Immanuel Kant once stated “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Pets can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be defined as anything from a fish to bird, a mouse to a cat, or a dog to a horse. So how do you know what best matches your family? How do you avoid falling subject to impulse adoptions and regrets? I hope that by sharing our family experiences, you will gain a few tips and think about what family pet best suits your home.

Remember that little girl that grew up with a cat and thought she could take on any animal as an adult? Well, she can’t! I am a weak sap. On more than one occasion I have given in to the soft, furry, fluffy stage only to discover that the cute stage wears off… so here are my tips:

IT WILL NEVER BE EASY

Shortly after my husband and I married, we adopted fish. Yes, Fish! My husband always wanted a fish tank and he got it … a 55 gallon, deep water tank. What could be so hard about having a fish tank, right? You fill it with water, treat it, dump the fish in, and feed them once a day. I was so naïve! It was not that simple. I thought it would be a beautiful set up, peaceful to look at, and easy to care for. Instead that stupid fish tank sucked up my money, my patience, and eventually the fish. No really, I accidentally reversed the valves on the tank filter system and instead of sending fresh water out of the filter, I sucked the fish into the filter. We started noticing fish missing. We thought we had a scavenger in the tank and started taking bets on who the culprit was. Then one morning I woke up to an empty fish tank. How could this be? That is when I opened the canister to find that I had sucked up all of my husband’s fish! I was pregnant with our twins and cried for an hour. As much as I hated that tank, those stupid fish grew on me. I named them, fed them, and cared for them for several years. I felt so bad. We never filled the fish tank again and ended up selling the tank at a garage sale. I declared we were not a “fishy family”. What I thought would be easy, turned into routine tank cleans, constant monitoring of water temperatures and algae levels and feeds twice a day. Easy it was not!

DON’T GIVE IN TO THE FUZZY

pet8Since I’m offering personal confessions, I will also tell you about the bunnies. They were my choice! We found them on our trip to the local pumpkin patch. They were cute, soft, and fuzzy. I couldn’t resist. I had to rescue them. We paid $10 for the bunnies on an impulse decision, and by the end of the night were $200 into housing our new furry friends. Our bunnies were spoiled rotten. We fed them all the mustard greens they wanted and because we lived in the country, hay was in abundance. We got them in October and then survived one of the coldest winters on record. We had several feet of snow and spent several days without electricity. Our bunnies were moved indoors until temperatures warmed. When spring finally arrived, so did the surprises. Our bunny family had grown. We now had 6 bunnies! Once again we fell in love with the soft and fuzzy friends, but we could not keep up with six bunnies. We found loving homes for the babies and continued to prepare for our twins.

As you know, multiples can change everything! The day our twins were born my husband also landed himself in the hospital with a medical condition of his own. The weeks to follow seem like a blur. We re-homed our bunnies as we couldn’t at the time give them the attention they needed. That was one of those hard decisions, but we have no regrets. Four years later they are still thriving on their farm loved by a wonderful family. As for our family, we spent the next 3 years pet free.

This was a good thing! It allowed us the time to really consider what we wanted as our forever pet, and gave us the time to search for what we really wanted. We considered our previous experiences and each of the following when deciding to bring home a puppy. This leads me to my next tip …

CONSIDER HOW MUCH TIME YOU HAVE

pet6Every animal requires care, but certain animals require a little more attention and care. Cats, dogs, and farm animals not only need daily subsistance, but they need human interaction as well. If you travel, or work extended hours outside the home, you might lean more toward adopting a fish or a hissing cockroach; something that requires a little less cuddling and only occasional maintenance. Don’t be fooled in thinking a small hamster or Guinea pig will require little maintenance. You will need to clean the cages regularly and may find their nocturnal tendencies less than entertaining.

EVALUATE YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION

Americans spent an estimated $55.7 billion last year caring for their pets. This year they estimate it will soar more than $60 billion. When you look into the eyes of that cute puppy waiting to be adopted, consider the costs that come with caring for an animal. In addition to adoption fees, most 4-legged friends will cost you an average of $200 in set up fees (This includes food/water dishes, kennels and/or beds, toys, collars, and licensing).

In addition, estimate the vet bills you will receive consistently for the first year. Your four legged friends will need shots (every few months), neutered/spayed, and if they get sick or have random issues, that will add in additional charges. Check into various pet insurance policies with your local vets or your employer. This may save you money in the event of an injury or illness, though most pet insurance plans do not cover routine visits, tests, or treatments. On average you can estimate on spending $20-$100 a month on your pet for food and additional care. The size of the pet will make a big difference on how much you spend. If you are strapped financially, you might choose a smaller pet. Before adopting a pet, price out food, bedding, toys, cages, etc. Make sure the monthly turnover costs are well within your budget.

YOUR ANIMAL NEEDS SPACE IN YOUR PLACE

pet5Before your commit to adopting an animal, make sure your home has adequate space to meet the pet’s needs. It’s really difficult to house a large dog that needs room to run in a small apartment with no yard. Allow your pet the space it needs to be happy. With caged or tank animals, provide them additional space to dwell. Don’t cram 30 fish into a 10 gallon tank. Allow growing room if your pet is not full-grown. With farm animals make sure you have the proper enclosures, fencing, and adequate outdoor space.

THE FAMILY DYNAMICS

Many people bring children home to their pets, but you are bringing a pet home to your family. Talk to your family about your decisions to adopt the animal. Consider the needs of each member of your family and get everyone involved. Talk to your children about the responsibilities of caring for a pet. Allow them to participate in raising the animal. This is a great opportunity to teach your children responsibility and how to care for something else.

ALLERGIES / EXPOSURE

pet4Never adopt an animal without first exposing your children to it. Make sure there are no allergies, and if you have a child with allergies, carefully consider all breeds and/or options to avoid any possible exposure. It is important, to not only consider your immediate family members needs, but also any extended family members or any friends that may visit on a regular basis. We had to consider my daughter’s skin allergies as well as asthma. We did our research on several dog breeds and then exposed her to the dog before making a decision to adopt our puppy. You don’t want to put anyone’s health at risk.

HOW MUCH EFFORT ARE YOU WILLING TO ENLIST

As you start to consider what animal you wish to adopt, start to think about how much effort you want to put forward in raising your animal. The age of your animal will make a big difference in the amount of time you hope to spend on training. If you don’t want to put forth the time to potty train, look into adopting an older animal at least six months of age. If you don’t want to train the pet, also take time to evaluate the amount of tricks, commands, etc. the animal can do and watch how well it responds. Training an animal requires a lot of work. It is a full-time job in addition to being a full-time parent. If you don’t have that kind of time or energy, I would recommend choosing a pet that is already trained.

pet2Most importantly, remember that every animal has a personality. You can spend hours researching a specific breed, financially preparing for what you need, and educating your family on how to train … and still you may still end up with a clearance puppy. We love our little dog, but there are days we jokingly call her “Marley.” She is as sweet as they come, but as stubborn as an independent toddler. She has the ability to chew on everything in my house, likes to surprise me with “surprises”, and can exhaust me by the end of the day. But…she lets our four year old twins carry her like a rag doll. She allows them to dress her up in tutus, and runs them silly around my house. She adores our twins, and our twins adore her. They are best friends for life. As I noted before, it didn’t work out with our fish or the bunnies, but we hit the jackpot with our puppy. Never be afraid to admit your mistakes, and never be afraid to open your heart again. Adopting our puppy leaves me with no regrets. I’m sure if our Lily had a voice, she would say “I’m not spoiled; my master is just well trained.” The amount of love you give to your pet will come back tenfold. No amount of frustration or money can replace the giggles, the cuddles, and the joy our little girls share with their puppy.   Just remember, you are a survivor of multiples. You’ve got this!

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toddlers runningMinden Buckingham lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Mike and fraternal twin girls,  Hanna and Emma.  She has two bachelor degrees from Portland State University in Business Management and Human Resources Management.  Minden is a stay home mom and enjoys the outdoors, photography, and writing.

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