So you think you're ready to own a pet? Or maybe you already do own a pet? But you're worried about screwing it up? This is totally natural. It is completely normal to fear fucking this up because it's really easy to do. Having a pet is a commitment akin to—although really, really not the same thing as— having a child. But much in the same way that seeing parents with their charming little offspring can make you want to have a child of your own (just kidding, generally seeing parents with their children makes most people want to get sterilized), seeing someone walking their waddling bulldog can make you want to go straight to the nearest animal shelter and get your own. But before you do that, think very carefully, because you don't want to fuck this up. So, here's a little guide on how not to be a shitty pet owner.
Do Not Get Your Pet From a Breeder
This is the most basic of first steps to being a good pet owner. There are so many dogs and cats who need homes that you should never even consider getting an animal from a breeder. Before you get your pet, spend a night perusing the photo galleries on the Sean Casey Animal Rescue website. If your heart doesn't completely break at all those perfect, furry faces, then maybe you are not ready to own a pet. If all you want is some trendy breed who will be a good accessory, it is time to really reassess what you are doing with your life and why you are such a terrible person. One bonus of getting a rescue dog is that they're frequently already housebroken, so, yay! Less work for you. On the other hand, if you think having a pet in any way means "less work" you should slowly back away from those photo galleries. It's a lot of work. Like, it's a fucking lot of work. But you're not afraid of a little work are you? Good. You'll be a solid pet owner.
Sean Casey Animal Rescue; nyanimalrescue.org
Be Prepared to Call In Favors
Are you the kind of person who never likes to ask for help? You might need to get over that. It's really hard to properly care for a cat or dog and still, you know, live your life, without occasionally getting help. Maybe paying for a cat-sitter or dog-walker is not a big deal for you, in which case, congratulations. You are more financially stable than a lot of people. But, tons of pet owners rely on roommates or friends or family to help them out if they need to go on vacation, or if they work weird hours. So it is important to have strong and positive relationships with people who can help you. And even if you can't pay them back with money, you can do nice things for them in other ways. What ways? I don't know! Be creative. But in my experience, a bottle of rye is always appreciated.
Don't Take Advantage of the People Who Help You
This is so, so important. Not just because you don't want to ruin your relationships with humans, but because it is potentially unfair to your pet. For example, if you have someone cat-sit for you because you are going vacation, don't forget to get your cat back when you come home. And, yes, this is a thing that people do. Virginia Smith related to me the story of one, Mr. Bones, and while it is ultimately heartwarming, it is also full of a lot of fucking pathos. Basically, Mr. Bones was a cat, a female cat. Yes, she was called "Mr." Bones, but, you know, a rose by any other name, and all that. Anyway, Virginia was asked to watch Mr. Bones by friends of hers for a couple of months. This stretched into six months and then a year. A YEAR. Assholes. Virginia loved Mr. Bones, but couldn't keep her forever, but the original owners wouldn't take Mr. Bones back. Assholes. Eventually, Virginia gave Mr. Bones to her parents, who took care of her until her death. Luckily, Mr. Bones lived out her final years under loving care, but she could have just as easily been abandoned by her original asshole owners. Don't be like those assholes. Not everyone has a Virginia around to do the right thing.
Possess Common Sense, Don't Be a Psycho
It is important to have pragmatism when you are a pet owner. Dramatic stuff might go down and you need to know that you'll be able to keep your head on straight. You need to know that if you are out walking your dog and another dog with a shitty owner lunges at yours, that the best thing to do is remove yourself and your pet from the situation. The worst thing to do would be to throw the bag of dog shit you have in your hand at the other owner's face. You'll be tempted, sure, you're only human, but don't do it. Just walk away.
Another thing you might need to consider is whether or not, if your dog bit off your child's finger, the appropriate response would be to shoot your dog and cut open its stomach to retrieve that finger, which was not even the thumb or pointer, but was instead only the pinky. Oh, you don't think that could happen? Well, it happened in Florida. Obviously, it was in Florida. Anyway, the man who shot his dog and SLICED ITS STOMACH OPEN, now regrets doing it, but it's too late, isn't it? And what was the kid doing in order to get a beloved family pet so worked up in the first place? If you are the kind of person whose motto is "Shoot first, ask questions later," probably—definitely—you shouldn't own a pet. Or maybe have children. But that's a different story.
Honor the Commitment You Made to Another Living Thing
So, the New York Times had an article this past weekend about how difficult it is for pet owners to find apartments in New York City. Basically, pet ownership makes you a very undesirable tenant or co-op owner. If you are the kind of person who values your apartment more than your pet, then you shouldn't own a pet. If you could consider giving up a living thing who only wants to play with you and make you happy, for an apartment that features a dishwasher, then you shouldn't own a pet. When you decide to take a pet into your home, you are making a commitment to another living thing. And unlike leaving a marriage, which involves two consenting adults and thus can be dissolved at any time, your pet never asked for you to take it in. You chose to do that, and by choosing to do that, you have an obligation. And that obligation is not to be a shitty owner. So, if a laundry room in the basement is more important to you than being loved unconditionally, then don't own a pet. It doesn't mean you're a shitty person, just that you'd be a shitty pet owner.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen