Can You Really Care for a Pet?
By Awake! correspondent in Denmark
RESEARCH on human life expectancy after heart attacks indicates that individuals who had a pet fared better than those who had no pets. It seems that the company of noncritical animals has a calming effect. Animals also seem to have a favorable influence on the physically and mentally handicapped and on persons with nervous disorders.
Before you decide to have a pet, there are questions that need consideration—for your good, for the good of those around you, and for the good of the animal. Objective answers will help you avoid making a costly mistake.
Does your life-style allow for the proper care of an animal? Are you absent from home for long periods of time? Are your children old enough to understand what it means to have a pet? Do you have adequate space for the type of pet you have in mind, or would it have to be cooped up in close quarters most of the time? Think about these questions before you acquire a pet.
Should Johnny Have a Pet?
‘It is good for children to learn to deal with animals’ is a sentiment often expressed. The key is the word “learn”—the child must be old enough to learn.
Very young children do not realize that their pressing and squeezing may be painful to an animal and that it may result in permanent harm. Thus, the mother of a three-year-old boy who wanted to have a guinea pig was told by a veterinarian that the child was too young to have such a helpless animal. The vet recommended that the mother wait a few years before giving the child a pet.
Parents may think that they can easily supply guidelines for their child in dealing properly with a pet. This, however, takes more time and patience than they may have bargained for, and often the price for the experiment is paid by the pet!
As parents know, children can be persistent when they want something. Therefore, in many cases parents give up: “All right, you can have a pet, but you must look after it yourself.” Children are prone to forget, however, even as they often forget to wipe their feet on the doormat before coming into the house. It would be a risky venture to leave the welfare of a living creature in the hands of a small child without proper adult supervision.
What can happen was illustrated in one family when the children were allowed to keep rabbits. One day their grandfather passed by the cages and saw that the rabbits had not been fed and the cages had not been cleaned out for a long time. One rabbit had worn her teeth down trying to gnaw her way out of the cage in order to find food.
What is the lesson to be learned? That if you consider giving your child the responsibility of a pet, keep in mind that however charming a kitten or a puppy may be and however pleading the eyes of your child—it is still the adult who must be finally responsible for the pet. A youngster’s enthusiasm may swiftly wane.
Cats and Dogs—And You
Not all adults consider the consequences of accepting another “member” into the family. They do not always foresee the inconveniences and responsibilities that a pet can bring. This may especially be true of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who lead such busy lives in their Christian ministry and are often away attending meetings and Christian conventions. Then the problem of finding someone to care for the pet arises. Certainly, it would not be appropriate to miss Christian activities because of an overly sentimental attachment to animals.—Hebrews 10:24, 25.
Today, when many husbands and wives are out all day at their secular work, lonely cats and dogs in city apartments are a growing problem. For example, one woman went to a vet to have her cat put to sleep because it had been acting strangely. When the vet discovered that the cat had been shut up in an apartment many hours a day, he concluded that this was the probable cause of the behavior. Even though cats tend to lead placid lives, they still need contact with their human “family.” Other animals have suffered when locked in a vehicle without adequate ventilation.
Dogs also bring responsibility. They require exercise. It is not enough to take a dog for a walk once a day and then leave it alone in a dark basement (where it has already spent the night) or chain it on a short leash. One family in England had an active sheepdog but no sheep! That dog became neurotic and had to be given away to a farmer.
Hence, anyone who really wants a pet should consider whether he is willing to make the daily sacrifices necessary for a healthy pet. Does he have the facilities for proper care and attention? And remember, animals eat and big animals eat a lot! That can make quite a dent in your pocketbook—yet another factor to take into account. Animals do get sick, and medical costs may take you by surprise.
Another factor is hygiene. The tongue of many animals is also their washcloth, which they use for all parts of their body! While animals are equipped to handle the germs that they ingest, children may not be. So do not encourage your child to kiss an animal. Even allowing an animal to lick your child’s face and hands may expose the child to health problems, possibly including worms. When it happens, washing with soap and water at once may prevent infection. Pets should have their own feeding dishes and should not be allowed to lick plates used by humans. Animals can bring fleas and other “undesirables” into the home. Some owners of dogs wisely do not allow them in their houses.
Birds and Fish—And You
‘But then, what about a bird?’ you say. ‘That is much easier—you keep it in a cage and feed it now and then.’ Budgerigars or parakeets are very popular and can be trained to say some words and phrases. Canaries too are a delight with their joyful song. But birds also require considerable care.
One consultant wrote: “The budgerigar is a living creature and a happy one at that. . . . The moment you acquire a bird, you have taken on a responsibility for its well-being. Insufficient knowledge of feeding, space needs, etc., and lack of understanding of the nature and characteristics of the bird have over the years caused countless budgerigars to live miserable lives, being mishandled, leading to a much too early death. So think carefully before you go to the pet shop.”
What has been said about animal hygiene also applies to birds. Their beaks are their washcloth. Certainly it would not be wise to have a budgerigar walking around on a table pecking at the sugar and other foods; nor would it be prudent to have a bird feed from your mouth or your plate. And a bird on the loose in the house may leave its droppings in the most embarrassing places.
What about fish? Many families like to have an aquarium of tropical and exotic fish in the living room. They are relaxing to watch. But are they cause for less worry? On the contrary, one small error in water-temperature control, oxygenation of the water, lighting, cleaning, or feeding, and you may find yourself with a tank full of dead fish. Yes, fish also require intelligent care.
Common Sense and Balance
If you do consider having a pet or already have one, then obviously a basic knowledge of its food and health needs is essential. A few minutes’ instruction is not enough. Most public libraries contain literature on the care of domestic animals and pets, and pet stores usually have helpful publications about animal care.
Certainly, if we want to have pets, it is worth the extra effort to get to know what they need. Then the association can be gratifying—for the owner and for the pet.
[Picture on page 19]
A kitten is a delight, but kissing it is unhygienic