Am I Ready to Adopt a Pet? - Part I

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Now that the drum roll is done and the tumblers have turned into the year 2018, we may be asking ourselves what we’ll do differently this year.

If we are good and honest stewards of ourselves, we may find a treasure trove of intangible trinkets that need tweaking. For some, attitudes may require a shift in latitude. Others may choose to check their reactivity at the door. In the end, some of us may choose to speak less and listen more.

Among the items on the personal-transformation wish list may be the desire to adopt a pet. While this is a noble aspiration, the reasons one may want to adopt may not be completely appreciated or understood. The consequences of absent-minded pet adoption can be dire for both adopter and adoptee; after all, a pet cannot be treated like a six-CD get-rich-in-real-estate tutorial one can blithely return after a 30-day, “risk-free” trial.

In the coming months, Rescue Legacy will explore different aspects of the pet-adoption question: “Am I ready?” in detail (click here for the Reader’s Digest version). The first question to ask ourselves is:

Why do I want a pet?

This fundamental query may evoke some eye rolls and a chorus of “Duh,” but its implications rank right up there with Why do I want to get married?, or Why do I want that job?

The simplicity and power of this question can be disarming. Thoughtful answers may not come easily. “Because I want to!” is not a compelling answer. Especially in the new year, too many of us want to give up smoking or lose weight only to find that our resolve fades as weeks pass and cravings creep up on us. Plus, when we’re talking adoption, our “resolution” does not just involve us.

Here are some motivations for pet adoption that are shaky at best and unfounded at worst:

  • We feel entitled to unconditional love. We may believe that life has given us a raw deal and that getting a companion animal is our way to cash in. But, unless we know how to give love, we will never get it. Entitlement breeds expectations which are antithetical to unconditional love. We could never grow as people by feeding like a parasite off of an innocent animal’s trust.
  • The neighbors down the street just got a pet. They do it, so we should do it. Our neighbor also has the bigger house and the newer-model car and that time-share in Tahiti. We can’t let them get too far “ahead” of us on any front! We may even end up comparing our pet’s breed/stature/behavior to that of our neighbor’s (isn’t it enough that we do that with our children?).
  • It will be good to teach our kid(s) responsibility. Unless our kid(s) have some modicum of responsibility to begin with, this arrangement could leave our pet undertrained, undernourished and under-loved. In this case, we, the undersigned, would need to step in and fill the void - perhaps not without some degree of resentment. The lesson in responsibility could culminate in pet surrender.
  • That dog/cat at the shelter looks so lonely. Pity is one of the poorest motivators for pet adoption. It is excruciating to witness the product of other people’s neglect - and natural to want to fill the void. But animals don’t need our pity; they need every ounce of our patience, presence and love. A good pet-to-person match based on energy level and temperament stacks the deck for success.
  • Our pet just died. Losing a pet-member of the family is a gut-wrenching experience. We need time to mourn our loss and honor the special place our pet occupied in our home - and will occupy in our hearts forever. By adopting another pet too soon, we risk comparing our new pet with the old and may never fully accept and love our new pet for his or her unique qualities.

Can you think of any more?

The best - and only - reason for wanting a pet is the desire to expand our circle of love to include a being who is different from us on many levels. This demands nothing less than the commitment to meet the inevitable challenges and frustrations that arise with patience, persistence and understanding. Only by giving of ourselves completely for our pet’s sake will we revel in the joys of pet parenting - and ensure that one less pet enters a shelter in 2018.

Happy New Year!