How important are pets?

Los Alamos Aug 2014 (83)

Happy Dogs

A storm is brewing in our neighborhood about a Proposition that is meant to provide a larger and newer animal shelter in our county. Some commentators on the listserv are irate about an increase of about $5 in property taxes. It’s ironic, as the most elite of dog owners can be seen parading their pets within our square mile and in our park where, against citywide rules, people let their fancy pets off leash to exercise.

It occurs to me that, though I’ve already voted on an early ballot in favor of the shelter improvements, we should have had a forum on this hot topic. Education of pet owners has been promised, but I don’t think that goes far enough. Why not require would-be pet owners to pass a certificate course in animal care before the pet can be licensed? Of course it would mean fewer people would bother to get licenses for their dogs, but it also would give dogcatchers a clear go-ahead to pick up neglected (i.e., unlicensed) pets. No license, no dog ownership allowed. It might also flush out some puppy mills in the process.

All I have to do to confirm my suspicion pet ownership needs more forethought is look at my own family members who thought they needed a canine companion. My parents bought a farm-bred Golden Retriever when my father retired and they moved to their house on a lake. Matt had a wonderful time running free, and he seldom got into trouble. When they moved to a smaller home in a town, my folks had a challenge. The free spirit still thought he could poop anywhere. When Dad was alive, he could control that by well-timed walks on an empty lot. When he died, and my mother had trouble walking that far, the next-door neighbor learned where to look for the daily pile – and she understood. However, Mom’s inability to walk Matt led to the darling dog’s growing girth, and Mom made up for her pet’s deprivation of exercise by feeding him treats, sometimes under the dinner table.

Mom and MattEventually, when Mom came to live with us her last few years of life, the dog couldn’t walk very far. We had witnessed her pain as she tried to ignore his stiffening up and struggles to get on his feet. It was recommended we have Matt put to sleep. Mother had a stroke that night. It was easy to understand why; Matt had served as her main connection to her husband of 60 years. When the dog died, Dad died all over again, and it wasn’t long before Mother died.

Then there is a grandchild who, when five, wanted to keep a doggie that came to sit on her dad’s back porch just outside the town limits. Dad couldn’t refuse, as he and the mom were going through a divorce. It was the least he could do to give the little girl comfort. The dog was a great companion for her for about a year until he was run over by a fast-moving vehicle. Another dog showed up, and it seemed a godsend, but when father and child moved to another town where the dog was alone during the day, she became a barker, and also a nipper. For the sake of peace with neighbors, she had to go.

Pets can be a wonderful source of fun, but they are more difficult to care for than one realizes – and more expensive. A free or almost-free shelter dog becomes an emotional bargaining chip, and not only in the family. There is nothing more loathsome about the pet business than the veterinarian who advertises that it is time for your pet’s flu shots, that it needs a professional tooth-brushing; or recommends a costly surgery to save its life. These so-called professionals prey on the guilt of parents and the loneliness of elderly owners.

How about levying a shelter tax on them? Then maybe the shelter personnel won’t have to add to the guilt we feel for not adopting another homeless animal.

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