This can be a hot-button topic for a lot of people. Just like parenting, everyone seems to have their preference on what is the “right way” to do things. As far as the Electric City Pittie Committee is concerned, we have some guidelines for what we consider responsible pet ownership. We feel that they are pretty straight forward.
If you haven’t chosen your new family member yet, and you’re looking for a new pet to bring into your home, consider the following:.
Appearance does not dictate personality. Just because you like the way a dog looks that doesn’t mean it is the right fit for your home, lifestyle or your personality. This is SO important because if the animal turns out to not be the right fit, that animal may find itself looking for a new home or living a pretty miserable existence. (Which can lead to destructive behaviors and habits.)
Just because a puppy is the product of parents that are a good fit, doesn’t make the puppy a good fit. All animals are individuals. Just like people, personalities are unique to the little furry being they belong to. Human children are never a clone of their parents in all ways, and it should never be expected that a puppy will be, either. Yet, so many people breed their animals hoping to have “one just like” mom or dad. This particular hope leads to litters of puppies that add to the number of unwanted animals every day.
Consider adopting an older animal if your life isn’t set up for a puppy. Puppies require more potty trips outside, more supervision, more teaching. Just like young humans, young animals require the time to create boundaries, expectations, and basic understanding of indoor living. (This isn’t to say that these things may not be necessary in an older dog depending on their history)
Meet the dogs you’re interested in adopting. If you have other animals at home, make sure they all get along. If you have cats, make sure that the dog you’re interested in doesn’t have a prey drive.
If you own your home, make sure your fences are secure, your homeowner’s insurance allows the dog you’re looking to adopt, and that any ordinances in place with your HOA, development, neighborhood, city and county allow for your new addition. This may seem like an overly cautious step to have to take, but you would hate to lose your homeowner’s insurance because they find out somehow that you have a restricted breed of dog and they drop your policy. Or that the fence you thought would keep your dog in was not secure and your new addition has managed to escape and get hit by a car. How horrible would it be to have your HOA or other entity come knocking on your door and tell you that your new family member is a violation of your agreements somehow and your choices are to move or give up the dog? I mention these things because they happen. They are not far-fetched, they happen all the time.
If you rent, make sure that your landlord approves your adoption ahead of time and in writing. Does your lease allow for animals? Does the landlord’s homeowner’s/building insurance policy have a restriction on the types of animals or breeds allowed? If you have roommates or sublease, make sure everyone is on board before the new arrival comes home. Again… I’m not throwing out some far-fetched scenario here. I watch it happen daily. “I can’t keep my dog, my apartment doesn’t allow pets, and now the landlord is going to kick me out if someone doesn’t take her by tomorrow.” This is not the landlord’s fault, nor is it the dog’s fault.
All of the things we just listed above are considerations for responsible pet owners before a pet ever comes home.
Once the dog comes home, the real work begins for the responsible pet owner. Keep in mind, that just like human children, pets are dependent on us for their every necessity. Food, water, shelter, medical care, socialization, education, companionship and any other need that should arise. Even though they are not human, they are living beings. Living beings who have been domesticated to crave the affection and attention of their human caretakers. They are members of our families and that can be costly. Consider the fiscal responsibility of maintaining the health and well-being of a dog.
Veterinary care can add up, but truly, it is not optional, no matter what someone tells you. Puppies under 8 weeks of age are working off of the immunity their body was provided by nursing from mom. After 8 weeks it is time to start boosting their immune system to things like Parvo, Distemper, Kennel Cough and Rabies. Parvo, for example, is a horrific virus. If you have never witnessed a puppy with Parvo, I hope you never have to. Parvo basically attacks the inner lining of the digestive system and causes vomiting and diarrhea. That diarrhea is often hemorrhagic, meaning it contains a lot of blood coming from the entirety of the GI system. Parvo is treatable, but costly. Surviving Parvo is more the norm than it was 20 years ago, but depending on the hold the virus has and the age of the patient, treatment can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars, to a few thousand. All of it is preventable, though, with a simple vaccine. Many of these communicable viruses and diseases can live in the environment (even in extreme heat and cold) and can be transferred to the next dog without the dog ever having to have come in contact with the infected dog. This is why we require all dogs who join us in our pack walks to be current on vaccinations or titers, and we do not allow puppies that are too young to be fully vaccinated, for their health and safety.
Training isn’t an option it is a responsibility. Training a dog doesn’t have to be a full time job, it doesn’t have to be hard work, it doesn’t have to not be fun and your entire household should be involved and invested. If you are raising a child, you try to instill basic manners, basic socially acceptable and unacceptable concepts. The same is true with our animals. House breaking, chasing, barking, biting, pulling on the leash, destroying furniture, plants, etc are all typically unacceptable behaviors. All of these things are our responsibility as pet owners to address and work on teaching the animals in our care. It isn’t the dog’s fault that they chased the mailman down the road if they’ve never been taught it is not acceptable. Training is more than “sit”, “stay”, “shake”. How about, “no, that’s not appropriate. we don’t stick our nose in between people’s legs”? Or, “Drop that!” (and have them actually drop it instead of trying to become part snake, part dog, and unhinge their bottom jaw and swallow whatever they have in their mouths whole? Trust me, this one has come in REAL handy for me, personally.) What about training your dog to know that they aren’t in charge? Ooooohhhh, that’s a tough one for some folks to swallow, huh? I know so many folks that want to know why their dogs think they are in charge… its because they’ve been allowed to be. Its not too late to fix that.
Digging, barking, chasing, getting in the trash, chewing up things they shouldn’t, walking on a leash, walking off leash, agility, canine good citizen, therapy dog work, walking appropriately in a group of dogs and playing appropriately with other dogs are all things that we need to teach our dogs to do, not to do, work through or accomplish. Yes, there are easy dogs, and there are hard dogs. But, I promise you, when you put the work in and you see the reward, and you develop the bond with your dog that happens through these processes, you won’t look at training in quite the same way. This isn’t a job, this is an expectation. A lifestyle that allows you so much freedom with your dog. Training… it is your responsibility.
Ok, now I’m going to wade into potentially hostile waters, and you know… I am ok with that. I am jumping right in with both feet. Sterilization. (Spay/neuter.) This is a responsibility. I am talking to the average dog owner here, and truly, even the hobby breeder. (And especially the backyard breeder.) The “responsible breeder” is few and far between. If you have no intention of getting your dog genetic testing, OFA Hip Certifications and Eye certifications (breed dependent), then in my opinion, you aren’t prepared to breed. If you aren’t prepared to go through 3 or 4 (minimum) heat cycles with a female while researching appropriate studs with the same genetic testing and certifications, and set up pre-natal veterinary care and open the breeding conversation with your vet, then you aren’t ready to breed. A responsible breeder knows what health conditions are trending in their breed and has researched blood lines and followed previous litters’ health to ensure they aren’t breeding genetic conditions or genetically linked predispositions into their litters. Anyone who is willing to do these things, knows their breed, and is working on breeding out genetic abnormalities, following health records of lineages, and understanding the stock the breeding is coming from, by all means… breed responsibly. Otherwise, please spay and neuter your animals. Discuss your options with your vet. Sterilize based on the breed, size, and medically recommended age and maturity, but for the love of God, it is your responsibility to make sure there are no “oops” litters in the mean time.
According to the Kitten Coalition (www.kittencoalition.org) approximately 2.7 million companion animals are euthanized every year in shelters. YES… MILLION. Every “oops” litter matters. Creating lives that have a better chance of ending up euthanized because they are unwanted is irresponsible. It isn’t a lesson on the “beauty of birth” or an opportunity to try and clone a current pet, or a necessary “rite of passage”. Animals aren’t like people, they don’t mourn the loss of the ability to procreate. They don’t wish they had the opportunity to find love, settle down, buy a nice place with a white picket fence and have 3.2 “children” and a minivan. They don’t equate their testicles to manliness. (Its not even a concept for dogs.) I have been accused in the past of “not wanting the world to have dogs”. This is SO not the case. I adore dogs. I don’t know what my life would look like without dogs. But, sadly, I feel like the average person doesn’t understand the sad reality of the plight of the millions of animals who die every year because someone chose to have “just one litter”.
Ensuring appropriate interactions between our dogs and other dogs as well as our dogs and other people is our responsibility as pet owners. If your dog has aggressive tendencies or is reactionary, it is your responsibility to not set that dog up to fail. Consult a trainer to address their issues in the most appropriate manner and learn how to curb those behaviors. Removing your dog from situations where other dogs may not have appropriate social skills is important to keep things from escalating to the point where someone ends up hurt. The dog park is often a good example of this. Many dogs have never learned how to appropriately communicate with other dogs, and when put in a group of other dogs, can be socially awkward or even pushy. The inability for a dog to communicate appropriately to other dogs in dog language can cause “corrections” from other dogs or even all out fights. As a responsible pet person, it is our responsibility to remove them from those situations before they become explosive.
Intervening for your dog with other people who may not interact appropriately with your dog (this includes family and friends) is our responsibility as guardians of another life. I have been called names for intervening on my dog’s behalf, and I am ok with that. I need my dog to know that I am going to take care of things and that he can depend on me to handle things. I won’t let anyone hurt him if I can help it. By intervening on his behalf, I am removing a lot of potential for him to bite if he feels scared or uncomfortable. Remember, bites rarely “come out of nowhere.”
- A little story to illustrate this point: Years ago, I had a dalmation named Dot. Dot was raised with kids and was incredibly tolerant of little humans. We were at a PetSmart and while I was at the register paying, I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the small human behind me in line. She couldn’t have been more than 3. Her mother allowed her to come around and “pet” the doggie. (Without asking my permission.) The child proceeded to straddle poor Dot like she was a pony and hold on to her ears like reigns. Mom laughed and encouraged the bad behavior. I asked the child to please not ride the doggie and let go of her ears. She didn’t want to let go of poor Dot. I reached down and pryed her little hands off of Dot’s ears and said “don’t pull doggie’s ears. That hurts. You’re too big to try and sit on her, she’s not a horsie, she doesn’t like that. It hurts her.” At this point, poor Dot was trying to squeeze herself between me and the register. Mom, behind me, was outraged that I would dare to correct her child. “If she’s going to bite, you shouldn’t have brought her out in public.” To which I responded that my dog was very well behaved, the same couldn’t be said for her or her child, however. There were names hurled in my general direction. I’ve been called worse, by better, I’m sure.
Being a responsible dog owner isn’t just about making sure there is food and water available. Our pets count on us to step up. To teach, correct, provide boundaries, provide life necessities like food, water and shelter. They count on us to provide structure, medical care, mental stimulation and companionship. If you need resources to help you if some of these needs arise and you’re not quite sure what the next step is, please reach out to us. We will certainly be happy to provide information and direction.