What Makes a Responsible Pet Owner?

What makes a responsible pet owner?

My friend and I got on the subject the other day. She volunteers at an animal shelter. We were having coffee.

“I gotta tell you what happened.”

“Right before closing, I had this lady at my counter with a small black dog.

‘It’s not my fault,’ the lady told me. ‘This dog is obviously over-bred. I was promised that he wouldn’t shed, but he does – everywhere. And he pees everywhere too.

‘The kids begged and begged for a dog. I gave in but I told them, you’ll have to take care of him yourselves. And of course they agreed. But did they? Of course not! It all got dumped on me. As usual. Never wanted the stupid thing in the first place.

‘Last night I got up to get a drink of water and stepped straight into a big pile of dog poop. That was the final straw.

‘I’m sure you understand I did all I could. The dog is obviously over-bred. It’s not my fault!’

My friend gave a deep sigh. “The woman so floored me, I couldn’t think of what to say. I came through the counter, took the dog’s leash and led him away. He’s a sweet little boy and no trouble at all. I took a long walk afterward.

“How can people get it so wrong?”

I shook my head. “No one ever tells people how to be a responsible pet owner. Instead they get their ears and eyeballs filled up with stories of Evil Breeders. Victimhood is so much simpler than to stand up and take responsibility.

“It’s way too easy to put a solitary bulls-eye on all breeders as the blanket cause of shelters full of abandoned animals. A good dog breeder is definitely part of the solution, but so is a responsible pet owner.

“The popular press is curiously silent about this. It is loud on the subject of titillatingly horrific videos of stomach-turning breeding facilities, and we hear a lot these days about “over-bred” problem dogs.

“But what about the other side of the coin?”

I thought about our conversation over the next several days. What makes a responsible pet owner?

I figured there were ten things to watch out for.

1. A responsible pet owner is not in a rush to get a dog. She knows that she is purchasing a companion who will be with her for the next 15 years. She does not try to get a dog for under the Christmas tree or for a birthday.

2. A responsible pet owner never gets a dog just “for the kids”. She knows that at least one adult household member must be willing to be fully responsible for the animal.

3. Unless she is a responsible breeder, a responsible pet owner does not breed and spays her dog or neuters him. She never wants to “just have one litter” so the kids can see “the miracle of birth”.

4. A responsible pet owner realizes that even with busy modern lifestyles, dogs need exercise. This is includes regular walks. She knows that many canine behavior problems can be eliminated or at least mitigated with sufficient exercise.

5. Whenever possible, she takes her dog with her. She knows that a happy dog is one with lots of stimulation and interaction.

6. A responsible pet owner microchips her dog and has him registered with one of the lost and found organizations. She also has him licensed with her county.

7. A responsible pet owner keeps up with her dog’s health. She checks him weekly for possible health issues and makes sure her dog gets regular wellness exams.

8. A responsible pet owner trains her dog. This can be in formal classes or from a book, but dogs love to learn; they become more sociable and excellent companions through training. If her dog has behavior problems, she is persistent in looking for help and answers and keeps going until she finds workable answers. She also realizes that if there is a persistent problem, most likely there is something that she is doing that is perpetuating the problem.

9. A responsible pet owner continues to educate herself. She keeps on learning about her breed, possible health issues and the latest in training protocols.

10. A responsible pet owner knows that once she has made the original commitment, her dog is her responsibility for life. Like a child or a marriage, there are no give backs because the dog is no longer convenient or entertaining. It's in sickness or in health, 'til death do us part.

I gave my friend my friend the list. “What do you think?”

“I’m framing this and putting this on the wall behind the counter.”

“That would be great; if it helps just one dog have a better, more responsible owner, it'll be worth it."

I've heard about the excellent responsible pet ownership program they have in Calgary, Canada. Maybe that's why that city has the lowest kill rate (how many pets are put to sleep) in North America?

Maybe this is the missing puzzle piece in the problem of pets in shelters?

Just maybe.

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