Before You Get a Pet…

Today’s Lesson: Pets are great companions but they come with the same challenges as taking care of a toddler or elder.


I love my one-eyed cat. She can turn a bad day good in about two heartbeats. She is my assistant, making sure I never wake up late and reminding me when to take a break. She is cute, attentive, and fuzzy.

She is also a terror. She barfs randomly and often, usually in the middle of the night. She insists on barfing anywhere there is carpet and avoiding the 85% of the apartment with easy-to-clean linoleum or hardwood floors. She sometimes misses the litter box and what I sometimes think is a hairball… isn’t.

She whines. A lot. She can wreak havoc on my ears and patience with a piercing “Mee-rrOWW!” when she demands attention.

She is fickle about her toys and food, and I have spent a frightening amount of money guessing what she might like. Not to mention, the cost of removing the tumor in one of her eyes, as well as follow-up vet visits, bills, and the obvious onset and cost of arthritis and other problems as she grows older. In fact, when the cost of removing her eye started edging over two grand, I began debating if I was doing the right thing. With two thousand dollars, obviously I could save my dear cat and extend her life… but I could also have simply given the money to a local shelter and saved many cats and dogs–which would perhaps be equally loved and valued by other families. It was tough but obviously I ponied up the money and kept Rainee around, despite her more annoying eccentricities.

When I see people trying desperately to give away their pets, I feel bad for both the pets and the people. I can relate. I have had so many late nights broken by poor sleep (thanks to Rainee’s puking or wanting to play or just generally announcing her presence to the quiet room) that it is more remarkable for me to count the nights I have slept more than three hours in a row.

The point is this: pets are wonderful but it is surprising how many families are unprepared to accept the responsibilities of ownership. Of course, some pets are easy just like some people–they do not seem to want to be fussed or have few needs. Most pets are also quirky, eccentric, and unpredictable…just like most people, and their needs change over time. It is surprising we do not have to pass a ownership test before buying a cat or dog. Most people, I would guess, are simply not prepared to be good pet parents.

If you are considering buying a pet–a commitment of nearly two decades of care and responsibility–I recommend considering these three questions ahead of time:


1. Am I ready to have a toddler in the house (again)? Are you prepared to never expect a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night for the next 20 years or so? Are you prepared to have things broken, clean up messes, and be at the beck and call of a poor communicator that never matures for two decades, no matter where you move? Are you prepared to never have an uninterrupted romantic moment and clean hair and other things from your clothes all the time?

2.  Am I willing to break the bank for medical expenses, if needed? Cats and dogs have accidents and grow old just like people, and they come with the same problems you may face in taking care of a toddler or elder. Pets may experience dementia, eventual blindness, brittle bones, cancer, or random accidents like falling and breaking a leg or having urinary tract issues or even just food poisoning. You are the parent, caretaker, friend, and prison ward all-in-one.

3. Am I able to take proper care of my pet? Pets need to have their teeth brushed. They expect clean and sanitary rest room areas just like you. It is not good for them to “hold it” for 8-10 hours a day any more than it would be good for you to do the same. They need attention and social time every day or they become a little crazy, just like a person would. They are part of the family when you bring them into the family. We buy toys for pets because pets are not toys, and they are not glorified footrests or outlets for frustration.


If you are not ready, willing, and able to be a pet parent (or have not given it thorough consideration), then you might not be ready to own a pet for now. Sure, they are cute and cuddly and charming but they are also needy and demanding and dumb by comparison to humans. If the idea of taking care of an older parent or grandparent until they die is not appealing to you, then consider you have the same responsibility to an aging pet. Rainee is basically a child trapped in the “Terrible Two’s” stage of development for her entire life. Two-year olds are adorable (to some people) but they are tough, especially when you did not give birth to them.

If I still have not dissuaded you from buying a pet, then enjoy spoiling your pet and be prepared to learn patience and kindness on a whole new level (meditation will help). Otherwise, maybe instead of a pet, use the money you would have spent on pet care each year to go on vacation, and be grateful for every good night’s rest! You can always volunteer at a shelter or dog-sit for your friends and have quality pet time without having to worry about being a bad pet parent.