I often talk to you about sharing this Earth with our friends furry, feathered and even creepy-crawly because-- if you take the time to look-- they are just as lovely as the best of us. But wonderful as it is to share the planet, our best and biggest home, it is important to keep in mind that it is harder to share your brick-and-mortar home with a companion animal like a cat or a dog.
Let's face it, dogs and cats are work. Lots of it. They need to be fed-- sometimes like children (Freddie actually needs to be hand-fed most days because he rarely will eat out of his bowl. It can be cute, but it takes time). They need to be groomed because all that gorgeous fur can get matted and knotted and whatnot. They need occasional medical checkups, and you might see expenses add up if the animal gets sick. And they need to be walked come rain, shine or snow (at least dogs do, although it's a great idea to have an indoor cat that you walk on a leash-- best of both worlds).
Then there are the other side effects, like having to more frequently clean your home of all that hair they shed and all the dirt they track in, and learning to explain to guests why your couch is in tatters because the cat adopted it as her scratching post.
Of course, for true animal lovers, none of these is a deterrent. Because all of it is forgotten the moment you walk in through the door after a frustrating, long day at work and you're met by a welcoming committee of slobbery kisses, bright eyes and furiously wagging tails.
Which brings me to the point of this post. There are many, many good reasons why you should be really, positively, 100 percent ready when you bring an animal home. But on the flip side, there are also some really wrong notions people have about why they shouldn't bring home a dog or a cat.
I got to thinking about this when a dear friend, let's call her S, found a destitute puppy that had fallen into a gutter near her Bombay home.
Now S is one of the most compassionate people I've ever known. In days long ago, when we worked together at a newspaper, I was always awestruck by how easily and effortlessly she offered a ear and a helping hand to the many, many desperately poor people most Bombayites encounter several times each day, and usually ignore.
So it didn't surprise me at all when S got down and dirty and lifted out this pup. Because she was shivering and shaking and didn't look too well, she brought her home and tended to her until the next morning when she seemed to be doing much better.
Then, S put her right back on the street. All the time telling herself that she would keep an eye on her.
In S's defense, you have to know how dire the homeless animal situation is in Bombay, if you don't already. Hundreds of dogs -- and cats-- roam the streets with no medical care, no regular source of food, and no love. India does not euthanize stray animals, which I think is a great thing, but programs to spay and neuter the animals have not kept pace. Many animals are hit by cars, stoned by kids and even adults.
Even those who don't actually hurt the animals grow a thick skin to their suffering.
S is not one of these people. Yet, when she picked up this pup -- sudden as it was -- she just didn't think she wanted to have an animal sharing her home. But I could tell when she wrote to me that she had already fallen in love with her find. She had named her Pixie and she was showing a sure symptom of animal parenthood-- she couldn't stop raving how her pup looked cuter than all the other dogs out there :)
But S also had reasons that she thought were valid for why she couldn't bring Pixie indoors. So I thought I would use her reasons, and add others I've heard over the years, to debunk common myths about why NOT to bring home an animal.
Here you go, in reverse order:
5. They will chew every day through everything I own.
There is some truth to the fact that a little pup, and sometimes even a grown dog, will chew through stuff within reach when they are in a new home and understandably stressed. I mean, wouldn't you want to do something drastic if people you barely knew brought you home, then locked you up and disappeared for a whole day, without giving you a reason?
But with all my dogs chewing has been a very, very temporary problem that has ended within days, once they got used to their new home-- a little longer, perhaps, for teething pups. And you can always avert a situation where you come home to find that little replica of the Eiffel Tower that you bought on your Paris honeymoon covered in bite marks if you just buy a teething toy for your pup instead. And by keeping any precious objets d'art out of their reach. Simple.
4.Who will look after them when I'm at work? They'll be terribly lonely.
Dogs are just fine when left by themselves at home for 8-9 hours, although smaller pups who are being potty-trained do need to have someone around to walk them or send them out every couple of hours. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if most dogs are just waiting for their people to take off for a few hours so they can have some quality alone time and a good, long nap.:) That way they can be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when you get back and offer you all those sticky kisses. If you plan on being out for more than 9 hours, though, I'd definitely suggest hiring a dog walker.
3. I can't pick up a dog's poo. I mean, are you serious?
This might not even be an issue in some countries-- including India-- and everyone knows the sidewalks of Paris are coated in dog poo. But here in the United States the best way to get your neighbors to hate you-- not to mention incur the wrath of the law-- is to not pick up after your doggie. And while it may never become your most favorite activity in the world, honestly, there's nothing to it as you'll find out once you've waddled smack dab into the situation and taken control. They are your kids, after all, and how can you let some poo get between you?
2. They will pee and poop all over the house all day
Continuing on this glorious theme, this is a big one for most first-time wannabe pet parents. But believe me, potty training your dog is one of the easiest things to do. Pups and even newly adopted adult dogs might have a few accidents at home in the beginning, so you have to be prepared for that. But dogs are innately clean animals-- they do not want to soil their home just as much as you don't want them to. Every pup I ever brought home was successfully potty trained within weeks, if not days. It is the only thing I've ever managed to train them in-- beautifully-- so you get the picture? You can find on the Web numerous tutorials on potty-training your dogs or litter-training your cats.
1. They will die on me
This is the most common excuse I encounter and quite easily the worst.
Yes, dogs will die on you, as will cats, because unfortunately their life spans tend to be much shorter than ours. But so will people, even some who you don't think would die in your lifetime. Is that any reason to shun the wonderfulness they bring into your world when they are around?
I have had dogs I've loved die on me, and I've cried buckets each time. I've fostered dogs who I've fallen in love with, then handed over to their new forever homes, and I've cried buckets again. But I wouldn't for a moment give up all those lovely memories we made together, just because I am afraid my heart will break when they move out of my life. Being open to life-- and the possibility and even certainty of death-- is crucial for any well-rounded human being. Loving an animal teaches you never to take a moment for granted.
My friend S's story has a happy ending: she did finally decide to bring Pixie indoors. And she took her to the vet to get her vaccinated.
I am sure they're going to be really happy together for a long, long time to come. :)