Today, our personal inventory about pet adoption is crossing the finish line. A finish that is hopefully only the beginning of a lifetime of shared health and happiness with your furry, feathered or otherwise non-human family member. Over the past year and a half, we’ve come to know our motivations to become a pet parent, honestly evaluated our life circumstances and charted the course of our lives for the foreseeable future. We’ve created a safe environment, determined what type of pet could be a good fit for us and have taken the “Berlitz course” in his or her language. We’re aware of our medical conditions and of the potential maladies in the pet of our choice and are willing to face the unexpected. We’ve narrowed our search for the ideal pet and our family members agree about the pet’s place in the family. Which brings us to the final, all-encompassing question:
Am I willing/able to commit to a lifetime of care (10-15 years, or longer)?
We’ve come this far in our prep work. But, how far will we go? The answer we give today may be different than the answer we give five months or five years from now. Life is not a static venture. The winds of change are always blowing; sometimes it’s a gentle breeze suggesting a new direction, other times it’s a whirlwind that can lift us out of Kansas and drop us (for better or worse) in the land of Oz. Will we bring our pet along for the ride?
You’re a tech wiz plodding along in a ho-hum job. Suddenly, you’re offered a plum position with an IT company in Iceland. The compensation package includes free corporate housing on the grounds, but pets are not allowed. Does Voldemort the cat pack his tuna and catnip and sit in the windowsill of your rented flat with a view of the northern lights? Or, does he go live with your sister, his loving memory of you fading over time. Want to flee the political climate here in the states? You and your partner want to join a clan of expats in southern Pacific Costa Rica, but Reggie, your black Chow-mix, won’t fare well in the heat and humidity. Do you move close to your Canadian friends, instead? Maybe you’re not moving at all, but expecting an unexpected child. Will Fluffy and Fido still be your children, too?
What it comes down to is whether or not we view pets as family. The polls answer with a resounding “Yes!” But it is also true that not all family members are created equal in the minds of every person — and under every circumstance.
None of us would hesitate to pay a sky-high insurance deductible to cover the cost of excising a brain tumor on a human child. However, the “ceiling” amount we are willing to fork over for a life-saving procedure on a pet is as varied as the number of pet parents (of course, age, prognosis and quality of life are also in play). A few pet parents have raided their retirement plans to squeeze out one more quality year with their best friend. Others decide to pull the financial and medical plug.
Sadly, behavioral issues in our fur children is one of the leading causes for pet surrender. A true pet parent would not relinquish their baby for peeing on the Persian carpet or using granny’s armoire as a scratching post. However, there are extreme cases of unwanted and dangerous behavior that challenge the best of us.
My wife’s and my first dog, Louie, a Boston terrier-Boxer mix, developed fear-biting behaviors within the first few months we adopted him. We tried everything from trainers to behaviorists, click-and-treat to rattling tin cans with coins, Thunder shirts to “calming” drops. His behaviors escalated. My wife came to dread walking him. I wanted to hang on, but she saw the handwriting on the wall. Louie needed to live in a wide open space, free from threats and surprises. Thanks to the agency from where we adopted him, Louie found his forever home on a horse ranch.
After years of struggle with this decision, I finally came to see that wanting the best for our “son” meant that his place was really with someone else. Rather than being Louie’s forever parents, we were his foster parents providing him with the the best possible nurture within our financial and emotional means. This in no way diminished the love of our boy we carry to this day.
Ultimately, none of us knows exactly how far we’ll go for our fur children until we reach a crossroads. We might best meet that event by sitting still to tap what is highest in our minds — and deepest in our hearts.
Thank you for joining us on this journey of self-searching. May you find fulfillment in whatever form your family takes.