2020 was the “Year Our Pets Saved Us.” While we sequestered at home, cut off from the world we once knew, our pets were there to comfort, distract and appreciate us. Lots of folks felt the need to add a pet to their life during the shutdown. How do we repay our furry friends?
While searching my “Pets” New Year’s Eve archives, I found the 2015 end of the year column, urging owners to give pets more of our time—advice worth repeating.
Tempus Fugit! About 15 years is the best we can expect a dog or cat to be with us. If we live until 75, we’ve spent one-fifth of our life with that pet; and if we survive to 90, the fraction drops to one-sixth of our lifetime. Each day we spend with our precious pets is a gift.
That’s why the only regret many have about owning pets is they do not live long enough. Our time is the best present we can give back to our furry friends in gratitude for their unconditional love. As the year draws to a close, let’s resolve to devote more quality time to our own dogs and cats in the New Year. Here’s how:
More time to decide which type of pet fits your lifestyle. Research breeds to find out traits and exercise/grooming needs. Go to dog shows, speak to breeders, contact the breed’s rescue and see if this dog is right for you. Visit shelters (by appointment now), ask to see the pet out of the cage and find out what the shelter staff knows about the pet. Ask questions: What medical has been done? Has the dog been temperament-tested? How does the dog interact with other dogs, kids or cats?
Impulse purchases, especially from pet stores, often cause problems later. Genetic screening has not been done for conditions common to the breed. Worse, you are perpetuating the horrors of puppy mill breeding.
More time for a pet to settle into a new home. Some people return a new pet after the first transgression. (By the way, pet stores do not give refunds, just credits.) Some odd behaviors at the beginning are never seen again. When I first adopted my Afghan Halle at 16 months old, she stood up on the windowsill in a frantic way. She stopped after a day or two. It takes time for a new pet to relax, learn what is expected of her and adapt to the household routine. It also takes time for owners to read a pet’s signals. This period of uncertainty can last six months or more. Patience and consistency will remain the keys to bonding and to shaping your new pet’s behavior.
More time for dog walks. My first Afghan’s trainer said, “There are two types of dog walks—a quick walk where you and your dog have to get somewhere fast, and a leisurely walk where you stop to let your dog sniff the roses.” Sniffing is a dog’s Facebook. They know which dogs left their calling card and can determine what previous dogs had for breakfast. New and familiar trails are interesting. Their noses take in status updates from their canine friends.
More time for your pet’s learning. Despite the adage “You can’t teach old dog new tricks,” dogs as well as cats are lifelong learners. They are enriched when they understand more
“people speak” and can interpret our requests. If your pet is having trouble grasping your rules, take the time to consult a trainer. Some pets have the potential to go beyond the basics. If your dog steals people’s belongings and runs away or leaps over the hedges, turn his shenanigans into obedience or agility titles. Cats can learn tricks too, as long as you supply treats for tasks well done.
More time for grooming. Even while watching TV together, brush, comb or gently de-mat your pet with your fingers. Grooming is a way of bonding too. Coat kept in good condition protects your pet’s skin. If you start early, your pet will tolerate tooth brushing and ear cleaning. Check for fleas while combing. If you groom, pet or brush your pet’s teeth regularly, you are more likely to find a new lump or bump right away. Early detection of a malignancy may save or prolong your pet’s life.
More time checking your pet’s ID. Are your dog’s tags on his collar? Are the tags still legible? Is your dog or cat’s microchip registered and up to date? Tags and microchips can be your pet’s ticket home if lost or stolen.
More time for vet care. Going to the vet for wellness visits can nip health problems as they emerge. (Alas, many hospitals are still having owners wait in the car.) Staying current on heartworm preventive and blood tests can save your dog from an insidious disease.
More time reserved for monitoring your aging pet. Walks are slower; grooming sessions more gentle; meals specially prepared. Perhaps arthritis, CBD oil or other meds are part of the recipe. Orthopedic beds and ramps become part of your décor. Acupuncture may ease pain. Have your vet on speed dial.
As much time as you need holding your senior pet at the end of her life. If possible, arrange for a vet to come to your home for euthanasia. Otherwise, go to an animal hospital where you are permitted to stay with your pet during your last moments together on earth. Finding such a hospital is more difficult because of pandemic precautions, so you may have to pre-plan to find a clinic where you are allowed to be with your pet.
Available at Babylon Animal Shelter (631-643-9270) 80 New Highway, N. Amityville: Pepsi, a five-year-old Pit mix is the longest resident at the shelter. He is waiting there almost two years. Pepsi got his name because he was a stray captured on the Pepsi property near the shelter. Pepsi needs a home without kids or other pets. Koga is a 10+ -year-old, male Siberian Husky who is best in a home without children.