So you want to get a pet

For starters, I did not intend to go radio silent for months, and apologize for the inconsistency of posts! I’d like to get back to a more regular schedule, but am still figuring out what that looks like as my time commitments shift. Thanks for bearing with. Now, on to the good stuff.

Like a lot of people in the last year, I used the time in lockdown to do something I’d been wanting to do for a long time, but hadn’t been ready for: get a pet!

In January, my spouse and I adopted two cats, a brother and sister named Odin and Athena. We’ve had them just over 3 months, and they’re about 6.5 months old. Having them join the family has been the best part of this year so far, and they’ve made the loneliness of the pandemic much more bearable.

They’re the first pets I’ve had as an adult, though I have a fair amount of experience with dogs and some with cats. We had waited until now to get a pet since pre-pandemic we both worked long hour that meant the house was empty for about 10 hours most days. But now that I’m mostly working from home, it was the perfect time.

Honestly, originally I wanted a dog, but once work and travel get a bit more back to normal and given that we only live in an apartment, we felt it wouldn’t be fair for a dog to be alone that much. Knowing we wanted kittens, we opted to adopt a bonded pair so that they had someone to socialize and play with.

Though I am by no means an expert, some things I’ve learned so far:

Make sure you’re ready. Not just emotionally, but make sure you’re in a place in life where you could give the pet the care and energy that they both need and deserve. Sometimes people fall in love with the idea of a pet and don’t properly consider what’s best for the animal. This is both in terms of lifestyle and longevity, as a lot of animals live for years (cats and dogs usually live well over a decade). Adopting, then rehoming an animal is often traumatic for them — if you welcome them into the family, it should be forever.

Consider adopting rather than shopping. This isn’t always possible, but there are so many animals that already need homes, and they can often be adopted at a fraction of the cost compared to a breeder. If you do use a breeder, make sure that they’re ethical and properly caring for the animals. Puppy mills and similar setups put profit over the animals’ wellbeing, and shouldn’t be supported.

Do your research before you commit. What supplies will you need to welcome them home? What kind of routine care will they need? What is their temperament like? Can you provide the amount of attention, care, and stimulation that they’ll need? Who will the vet be, and how far away are they if an emergency comes up? Beyond purely the practical, I think it’s really smart to meet the pet if you can before committing to adopting them. For our kittens, we applied with the shelter, had a few conversations, and got to meet them before deciding to bring them home (though immediately falling in love when we held them made it a very easy decision).

Make sure you can afford it. Pets are expensive, some more than others. In addition to initial costs (adoption fees, buying beds and food/water bowls, toys, etc.), there are a number of ongoing costs. We added a line item to our monthly  budget for the cats that covers food, litter, vet visits, and whatever else might come up.

Compromise schedules. You shouldn’t have to change every detail of your day for a pet (and if so, that probably isn’t the right pet for you), but they’re a living creature and their needs have to be met. This means I feed the kits first thing when I wake up and last thing before I go to bed so they don’t have too long between meals, but it may mean getting up early to walk a dog or one of many other things.

Think about how they’ll occupy themselves. We adopted two kittens in part because it’s better for them — cats are actually very social creatures, and tend to grow up with fewer temperament and behavior issues if they have a buddy. It was also in part because when they run around the apartment at top speed or wrestle multiple times a day, they’re spending all that energy with each other, and not on destroying our stuff. We also give them lots of toys and outlets for their energy, and take time to play with them as well.

On that note, proof your living space. Before we got the kits, we of course made sure we had all the supplies needed for them, but also removed things that could hurt them like toxic houseplants. We’ve since discovered that they’ll work together to get into spaces they shouldn’t be, and have added child locks to a number of our cabinets.

Have a plan for training. Cats are not as straightforward to train as dogs, but all pets respond to training. Positive reinforcement (rewards, not punishments) works best. We’ve been training our cats to better tolerate being picked up and held by giving them food after. However, a direct response to bad behavior can also be effective as long as it isn’t delayed and doesn’t hurt them or significantly scare them. For example, if our cats do something they shouldn’t (get on the kitchen table, paw at my crocheting, etc.) we’ll immediately tell them “no” in a stern voice. If they don’t stop, we’ll sometimes give them a quick spray with a water bottle or clap loudly. The important thing is that they associate the unpleasantness with the behavior and not you. If they get in trouble, I’ll typically give them a moment afterward and then pet them so they know that they’re safe/loved.

Plan for messes. I cannot emphasize this enough: Get. Good. Cleaning. Supplies. Depending on your floor type, a good wood or tile cleaner and a good carpet cleaning spray are crucial. I favor enzyme-based cleaners that break down the scent and prevent staining. We also spend time each day cleaning up pet hair, litterboxes, food and water bowls, etc. You will have to clean up after them because they quite literally can’t do it for themselves. (Be sure to also think about their grooming needs!) Pets deserve clean just as much as people do.

Learn to speak their language. Okay, maybe not literally. But like people, pets have ways they prefer to communicate. A lot of them are consistent for the type of animal (dogs wagging their tail vs. cats purring), but some are specific to the individual. For example, Odin is the whiniest cat I have ever met. Sometimes he whines because he’s hungry, sometimes he’s feeling restless, and sometimes I swear he just wants to talk. But each whine is different, and paying attention to them helps me know what he needs right then.

Show them that you love them as much as they love you. The best part about having pets is the bond developed between person and pet. Most animals are full of love and are eager to express it. As you get to know your pet, you’ll learn what makes them feel most loved. For example, Odin prefers to be petted on the top of his head and to snuggle at my side, while Athena prefers scratches along her jaw and likes to nestle into a blanket pocket on the couch. Pets, like people, just want to feel loved.

What else would you like to see on the blog? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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