Our love of animals has made us a nation of pet owners. Dogs, cats and birds are probably the most popular, it is a choice that we must live with for many years afterwards. In the case of dogs and cats that would be somewhere around 15 years, give or take a year or two. If you are thinking ‘which pet?’ then perhaps the following will help you to make up your mind.
If you are looking for a companion then a dog is an excellent choice because, as they say, a dog is man’s best friend. There are some serious points to consider first, not only for your sake but for the dog’s sake too.
• Dog’s need exercise, so unless you live in a house with a huge garden then you need to take a daily walk to keep the dog fit and happy. This has the added advantage of keeping you fit too and also of allowing the dog to perform his toiletries and socialise with other dogs. It is necessary to take a ‘doggy bag’ with you to ensure that the area where you walk is not soiled and to enable you to dispose of it in the litter in the bins provided or, failing that, to take the bag home and dispose of it there.
• If you buy a dog because you want your children to grow up with one, then remember that the dog will be around for about 16 years, so if your child is 10 then he may have left home and dog behind for you to care for ten years later. So make sure that you want a dog too and resist getting one just for your child.
• Dog’s need food, shelter and medical care all their lives. As they get older the medical care increases, just as it does for humans. When you know the size your dog will attain, then check how much food it will need and the cost of it. If it is going to live out of doors then do the same for the kennel. You can cover medical bills with pet insurance but this does increase as dogs get older and more likely to need veterinary care.
• Dog’s want your time and attention. They need it too if you are going to train them to be obedient and clean around the house. A dog is an intelligent creature, he needs to be loved and to feel part of a pack. In other words a happy dog is part of the family.
Cat’s,on the other hand, cannot be relied upon to be companionable, although many love to be around you, the relationship is not pet and owner as it is with a dog. After living with a cat for a while you may realise that the cat chooses you, not the other way around, and no one owns a cat. Cat’s are independent, some love to be out on the prowl, other like to sit on your favourite chair, some want to stay out all night, others want the fireside. One has to take them as they are.
• A cat is an ideal pet for someone who does not want to be tied down. A cat exercises itself and eats less than a dog. If you want to go on holiday a good neighbour will gladly feed your cat.
• You need to be able to read your cat’s body language in order to avoid games that end in scratches or even bites. So it is not a good idea to get a cat while your children are small. Some ca’s can’t tell the difference between your fingers and small prey. You have to watch the eyes and the ears, if the eyes narrow, beware - if the ears go flat, retreat. Having said that some cats are very tolerant and put up with almost anything, but by and large they are in the minority. Most cats fall somewhere in the middle and providing you give them the respect that they deserve they will be comforting to stroke and will oblige with a reassuring purr. Think of them as little tigers and you will be fine.
• Cat hair is a problem especially if the cat manages to sit on your chairs. Visitors will leave with hairs on their pants. If you comb a kitten this will establish a good routine to maintain especially during the summer months when the cat may moult.
• Cat’s are natural hunters and they bring their catch home. Be prepared to find the occasional mouse on the doormat. It is more unpleasant if the cat catches a bird. Sometimes you can rescue it before any damage is done but cats are responsible for killing many birds. A collar with a small bell will warn the bird and frustrate the cat, and it will save many a robin or blue tit from an unexpected,unpleasant and unnecessary end.
As a cat is free to roam alone it will meet with danger especially at night from cars, loose dogs and foxes etc. It may enter a shed and be unnoticed and locked in. So you will encounter some anxiety with a missing cat from time to time. Sadly some cats just disappear. Some may even choose to find another family to live with. You may not get closure on a lost cat.
One other popular pet is a bird, usually a budgerigar or a canary. If you can live with a creature in a cage which is very little trouble then a bird will be the answer for you.
• Birds are contained in one small area of the house. They might make a mess scattering their seed on the floor but it is localised and requires little effort to clean up.
• If you choose a budgerigar you get a lively little fellow, pretty to look at, chirps but doesn’t sing, but can be trained to speak a few words. Budgies are friendly and bold, so if you open the cage door they will eventually jump out and fly around the room. They will even fly to you, alight on your shoulders and even feed from your hand. If you give them some freedom in this way remember to close the windows and doors during flight time or you may lose them. Missing budgies are very common but it is doubtful if they survive very long outside of their protected home environment as falcons are also common birds and brightly coloured cage birds are easy to spot and unused to evading capture.
• A single bird is a lonely one. Get two and buy the largest cage you can afford for them.
I hope this is helpful advice from an animal lover and pet owner. I have lived most of my life with cats and dogs. For a short period I enjoyed birds, but not until my husband built a large aviary in the garden.
May your choice bring much pleasure to both you and your chosen pet.