How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 32

Pet ownership has many obvious advantages, but it also requires a lot of responsibility. In the following essay, I will indicate aspects which I think make a better pet owner.

First of all, before adopting a pet, it is crucial to understand that this is a long term commitment. The future pet owner must consider whether or not he is able to plan fifteen years ahead for a mutual life with a pet. He must also take into account that it can be a significant financial expense, considering that the pet may encounter various health problems over the years.

After taking this into account, the future owner should consider the type of animal, the size, sex, breed, age, energy level, grooming needs and temperament that are best suited for his family’s personality and lifestyle. In this decision the future owner should also consider his level of activity, the amount of time he spends at home, whether he lives in a private house or an apartment, whether there are (or expected to be) small children in the family, are there any known allergies in the family etc.

Inexperienced pet owners should consult with a friend, a relative, a veterinarian or a certified trainer before choosing the appropriate pet. Following these steps may dramatically increase the chance of having a long-lasting, wonderful relationship with the pet.
Once these parameters are carefully considered, the remaining question is where to adopt. In my opinion, it is most preferable to adopt from an animal shelter. I believe that abandoned pets are more inclined to appreciate the new owners and are most likely to be grateful and loyal for the rest of their lives. However, if the owner wishes to be more confident about the pet’s expected size, appearance and character, he may prefer to adopt a purebred pet. In this case, it is important to adopt from a responsible and ethical breeder, in order to avoid genetic health and behavioral problems caused due to unauthorized and unsupervised inbreeding.

Many owners encounter behavioral problems with their pets. These problems could be attributed to things experienced by the pet prior to meeting the owner, but could also be caused by the owner himself. A good owner should recognize his limited abilities and knowledge, and should seek a professional trainer to treat the problems correctly. Incorrect treatment with a problematic pet can cause more damage and only intensify the problem. Under no circumstances should the pet owner punish or treat the animal violently. A good owner should try to figure out the reason behind the problematic behavior. He must realize that it expresses distress and that the animal is not doing anything maliciously. Treatment of behavioral problems should be done using positive training techniques and positive reinforcement that encourages proper and desirable behavior.

A good owner is one who is curious and wants to learn and improve. He can read pet-related information or consult a veterinarian and other professionals. As I see it, knowledge is one of the things that can most effectively prevent development of health or behavioral problems. In addition, a good owner should ask the veterinarian (as a reliable source of information) for explanations about routine treatments required for the animal, nutritional needs and forbidden foods , common diseases and their symptoms  and the changing needs of the animal throughout its life, relating to age and health conditions.

In this context, it is imperative to mention the importance of spaying and neutering pets. This should be done out of concern for the animal’s health, while also considering the fact that millions of pets are abandoned every year and many of them are euthanized. For these reasons, I strongly believe that a good and responsible owner should neuter or spay his pet.

Beyond basic concern for the pet’s health, which includes available clean water at any time, food, anti-parasite treatment and regular visits to the veterinarian for a physical examination and vaccination, the pet owner should dedicate time for the mental well-being of the animal. This includes proper socialization as a puppy in the critical socialization period – the pup should be exposed to people of all ages, sexes and colors, to other dogs and to different stimuli, in order to reduce the chance of developing anxiety and behavioral problems in adulthood.  The owner should provide mental stimulation and appropriate pastime for the animal – in the form of different toys and games. As I see it, keeping the pet mentally active is no less important than keeping it physically active. A pet that is not environmentally enriched may be bored and develop behavioral problems.

A good owner devotes a good amount of attention to his pet and makes sure the pet has the proper routine of play and exercise required for the animal’s needs. The pet owner should also put emphasis on basic obedience training .Understanding that a dog is a social animal, the owner should provide it with a social life – among other dogs and humans. An owner needs to allow his dog to run and play freely, but he must also keep it from getting too rowdy, wandering off, or hurting itself and others – dogs or people. Therefore, the dog should only be off-leash in appropriate and safe areas.

A good owner is one who understands that when raising a pet, like raising children, it is important to be consistent and to create a routine and a sense of security. An animal that does not know what to expect, tends to be confused and easily scared.

A good owner must be aware that a pet has feelings – it can experience sadness, joy and pain. The owner should try to prevent the animal from being exposed to unpleasant stimuli and avoid suffering and pain as much as possible.

Obviously, a good owner should not abandon his pet and leave it alone for too long. When there is no choice and he must be absent for a prolonged period, he must ensure that someone will take care of the pet, preferably someone who knows the animal and vice versa.

A good owner will preserve his relationship with the animal and understand its needs without neglecting it, throughout changes that may occur in the owner’s life, such as moving and introducing a spouse, children or other animals to the family. Good owners see their pet as a partner for life, as part of the family and not as a tool for any kind of purpose, like self defense.

As for food, there is a misguided assumption that a good owner should feed his pet expensive and prestigious food brands (Super and Ultra Premium). In most cases, a healthy animal will be satisfied with cheaper food, as long as it is AAFCO (or a European equivalent) approved as complete and balanced and containing all the essential nutrients for the specific type of pet. As long as the pet feels well and its coat looks healthy and shiny, I see no reason to buy an expensive brand of food.

In addition, the overweight and obesity epidemic of the western world is also spreading to our pets. It is very important not to base the owner’s relationship with the pet on food, and to not try to compensate for lack of attention and play time with food.

I believe that a good owner should know his pet both physically and behaviorally. He does not have to be a vet or have any knowledge of medicine to recognize that something is wrong. Although animals tend to hide their illness, a good and alert owner should notice small changes such as mood and activity changes, changes in eating or drinking habits, changes in urine or bowel movement, any new abnormal lumps etc. In situations like these, early detection and contacting the veterinarian for fast and effective treatment, may save the animal’s life.

Perhaps one of the most important and difficult decisions for an owner whose aging pet’s condition is deteriorating, is when to end its life humanely .A good owner should put aside his personal pain and his desire to spend as much time as possible with his beloved pet. He must concentrate on the pet’s quality of life and must not prolong its suffering. The owner might want to consult with a veterinarian who knows the animal in order to determine this difficult decision. A good owner should know that at a certain point, the kindest thing he can do for his pet is to let go.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that raising a pet is a wonderful journey, full of joy and exciting experiences. Almost every pet owner is bound to make mistakes along the way, but I believe that being a good owner is a combination of long term commitment, responsibility, love, compassion, good intentions, experience, and the willingness to learn, for the sake of the pet’s mental and physical well-being.

Taking all of this into account, it is evident that pet ownership requires a lot and is not necessarily for everyone.

N. Bejarano

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