Fancy a feline friend? Pining after a pooch? Got a hankering for a hedgehog? Charlotte Muru-Lanning talks to four experts about what you should keep in mind if you’re thinking of welcoming a pet.
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Aotearoa is a country of pet lovers – in fact there are almost as many pets as there are humans living here. And even those of us who don’t have pets love ’em, with a 2020 Companion Animals in New Zealand report finding that 59% of people who didn’t have a pet fancied one. That’s around 375,000 households longing after a furry, or not so furry, friend.
For those of us considering diving into pet ownership, there are a bunch of things to chew over before you make the decision, says Rachel Haakma from Pound Hounds Rescue, a charity that works with animal control teams to rehome unclaimed or surrendered dogs. “The right pet in the right home brings so much love and joy into your life,” she says. The wrong one, on the other hand, “not only brings unhappiness, it risks ruining pet ownership for your family and risks messing up that animal for the rest of its life”.
Craig Williams is manager at pet store PETstock, which is running its annual national pet adoption month – an initiative run by stores to help find homes for rescue animals. Gone are the days of kittens and puppies being wrapped in bows and given as out-of-the-blue Christmas presents, he says. “It’s not a decision that you can or should make on a whim,” he says. “Animals in this equation certainly deserve for us to all do our due diligence when we go through this process so their lives aren’t messed around too much.” Here’s what you need to consider.
Ask yourself if you and your household have time to spend with a new pet to acclimatise them to you and your home for the period after they move in. “You need time to build that bond,” says Haakma. Beyond that, some animals will take even more time for training. “Nobody gets a perfect dog without putting in the work,” says rescue dog owner Rachael Brady. It takes regular hours and patience.
And with some of us still working from home, Williams reckons this could be an ideal time to adopt. Even if that doesn’t last forever, he says “it’s a significant amount of time that you can spend building a bond with an animal while you’re working from home”.
Sometimes it’s just about timing, says Adeline Le Cocq, adoption manager at cat rescue organisation Lonely Miaow. You should ask yourself “is this the right time to adopt?”. Animals like cats can easily live around 15 years, so if you’re planning on moving countries, homes or relationships – consider how having an animal will play into your long-term vision.
The initial cost of buying and desexing an animal is really just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, with the rising cost of living, pet ownership will be financially unrealistic for many. For example, general care (meaning food, flea and worm treatments and vaccinations) for a cat costs more than $600 a year, and a dog is about three times that. On top of that are the unexpected vet bills that crop up from time to time, and grooming costs if need be. “You have to be aware and confident that you’ll have the financial means to look after your pet,” says Le Cocq.
Is the animal you’re looking at a good fit for your whānau? Do they match your energy levels? Your family’s personality? Will they be OK around your kids? Are you prepared to teach your kids how to behave around a pet? Will they fit in your car or on the couch or on your lap?
You don’t want to adopt a border collie if you live in town and aren’t going to take it for long walks every day, explains Haakma, “It’s a highly intelligent, working breed dog that needs a job to do and if it doesn’t have the right stimulation, you may end up with a dog that is a neurotic mess who barks all the time, potentially chases cars and herds everything in sight,” she says.
If you’re looking to get an animal because your kids have been nagging you for one, make sure you’re ready to commit to taking care of it if they happen to get bored.
Take stock of your living situation when choosing what type of animal to bring into your home. Most animals will need a smaller room to settle into new environments at the start. Some animals will need outdoor spaces with secure fencing. If you’re planning a house move soon and thinking of adopting a pet, consider waiting so your pet has more stability.
The 2020 Companion Animal report found living in rented accommodation was one of the biggest barriers to getting a pet in New Zealand, as renters still don’t have an automatic right to pet ownership. So, if you’re a renter, it’s important to ensure your landlord is OK with pets before taking one on.
A pet may be cute, but it also might make you wheeze and sneeze, so it’s important to figure that out before you take them home. Le Cocq says their shelter has regular instances of cats being returned because people didn’t realise they – or someone else in their household – was allergic. She recommends getting exposure to animals before adopting. Hanging out at a cat cafe or letting kids spend time at the house of a friend who has a pet is a good way to test the waters.
Consider rescue animals
While Le Cocq says there’s high demand for rescue cats, Williams reckons most dogs that people bring into their family come through breeders. “There are so many adoptable dogs out there,” he says.Williams would like to see people take a slightly different approach to shopping for a pet, even if they are set on a breed. “Go and see some adoptable animals as part of their process and just see whether there’s one in there”.
Adopting any dog is a huge decision and deciding between rescue or bred is also a huge decision. “Rescue dogs aren’t broken, they’ve just been through some hard times,” says Haakma. “Haven’t we all?” Rescue pups come in all shapes, sizes and personalities and there’s a right fit for most people, as long as you’re committed to being a good owner. While a rescue dog may take more work, she reckons it’s worth the effort. Love breeds love and rescue dogs “love their people stronger”.
Haakma believes there’s a place for both rescue and bred dogs. “It comes down to the best fit for your family and for that dog,” she says. Brady wishes there was better legislation around breeding and more transparency around ethical breeding in New Zealand but, in the meantime, she says you should ask breeders questions like “how old are the mother and father?” or “how many litters has this dog had?” Looking at the conditions of the breeder’s place can also be a helpful way to ensure your animal has been bred ethically.
Think outside the box
“Keep an open mind,” says Williams. Atypical rescue pets like hedgehogs and rats can make for excellent animal companions, he says. “We’ve had people that hate rats completely turn around and now they love a pet rat,” he says.
Oftentimes mature animals are overlooked in favour of their supposedly cuter whipper-snapper counterparts. Le Cocq says it’s worth thinking about whether an older pet might be a better fit for you. For slightly macabre reasons, they’re less of a long-term commitment. They’ve also likely developed a full personality, so you can see how snuggly, independent and playful they are. Those that are less friendly or confident tend to struggle a bit more to find forever homes, but they’re worth the effort to build trust.
When choosing an animal, look beyond cuteness, says Haakma. “You wouldn’t knowingly get into a long-term unhealthy relationship with someone just because they were ridiculously good looking when you have nothing else in common,” she says. Brady points out that breed-specific legislation in New Zealand has created a stigma against “bully breeds” of dogs like pitbulls and staffies which are considered dangerous, and are often put down when impounded. But don’t dismiss them, she says, as they can be gentle and loving dogs..
If you love animals, but it’s not the right time to adopt
So you’re not ready to adopt yet, or want to see if long-term pet ownership is right for you without the long-term commitment? Become an animal foster. “Rescues are always crying out for good foster homes,” says Haakma. Beyond that, many shelters operate almost entirely on a volunteer workforce. You could volunteer to help walk or train dogs, clean enclosures, trap cats to get them to foster care or healthcare and drive animals to the vet. “Puppy or kitten cuddles are often included,” adds Haakma.
Most animal rescues rely solely on donations and fundraising to survive and so helping to fundraise or donating money, time or items (like bedding, quality food, flea and worm treatments, leashes and toys) is always helpful. Even just sharing a post from rescue shelters is helpful. “The bigger reach we get, the more people see our posts, the more likely we are to find that dog the right home or get the money for that vet bill we need to pay,” says Haakma.
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