It’s no secret that one of the secrets to healthy living might involve pet ownership.
There is lots of information available - researched (just search 'effects of pet ownership' or 'benefits of pet ownership' for scads of information) or simply what we just know to be true. Some of the benefits of having a Fido or a Miss Mew include companionship, exercise (after all, those doggos will be waiting at the door for their daily walk with their leash in hand – or mouth), calmer mental health and subsequent less stress, a sense of purpose, responsibility and accountability (for instance, what happens if you are a minute late feeding that four legged friend?), enhanced physical health, a great time-passer, security for people living alone, and maybe even new friendships at the park or comfort for that loneliness when your youngest teenager walks out of the door for the last time. And there is that feeling of love, pure unconditional love. Pets don’t care what you look like or what you have, or have not, achieved.
I know the power of a pet. Years ago, we had a big fluffy orange tabby cat. I remember with bittersweet fondness the night my mother-in-law passed away. The phone call came about midnight. We were asleep. My husband answered and then hung up the phone and said four words, “Bring me the cat”. He didn’t want me. He wanted the cat to cuddle with for just a few minutes before he had to make the call to his sister.
Another proof perfect of the therapeutic value of pets comes from my career in human services. Many of the people who were struggling to survive on the street had dogs who they would care for far better than they cared for themselves. Their dog was their main source of love and security. This is another topic altogether, with lots of viewpoints, but not for here.
Yes, pets might truly be lifesavers.
And pets can come in all shapes and sizes. It fascinates me just what type of pet and what type within that type a person chooses. Are pets like their owners? Take cats and dogs, for instance. They say there are dog people and there are cat people. Some suggestions are that dog people might be more energetic, extroverted, and calm while cat people might be more introverted, more independent, and a little less energetic. I like to say that if there was a house fire, a dog will jump up and say, “I need to save my humans because I love them” while a cat would wake up, stretch, and say, “Oh, there’s a fire. I better save the humans because if I don’t, who will feed me?”. (This may or may not be true.) Some say there’s no difference at all between dog people and cat people. I know some people who have both cats and dogs. (An interesting website is pets.webmd.com, 'Slideshow: The Truth About Pets and Personality' , and there are many others if you want to search.) But the importance is what that particular pet means to that particular person – and who cares about the rest?
I don’t have a pet. As you will see, it is way too much responsibility at this point in life. But I am unabashedly what I call a 'vicarious pet owner' – let the other people do all the work, and I get to enjoy their four-legged friends.
My favourite doggo in the neighbourhood is smart, kind, and funny. He brightens my day several mornings a week when he returns from his morning walk, and he also buys me Christmas presents - well, the present always says it is from him. I’m also in touch with a beautiful big girl dog who I just know is going to save her human brothers from certain calamity some day. And I like to view the Instagram page of a certain handsome doggo who is a real momma’s boy. And then there is the guy who is an odd mixture of four different, rather strong, breeds but who turned out to be gorgeous and docile and always ready for a good belly rub.
I could go on and on about the four legged creatures I know. Regardless of the breed or the size, I can guarantee they are all very good dogs – to someone.
But pet ownership takes responsibility. Many people found this out during COVID shutdowns. It is estimated that over 3.5 million Canadians adopted, bought, or fostered a cat or dog during the pandemic. Unfortunately, humane shelters are reporting that they are being stressed to manage the number of pets that have been returned now that families are back to work and school and extra-curricular activities. Refer to global news.ca, 'More pandemic pets are ending up in shelters. Is there a fix?' for a good article.
One of the issues is cost. Gone are the days when you picked up a cat or dog from the neighbouring farmer and fed it table scraps and let nature take its course if it became ill. Total cost: nothing. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
There is lots of information available about the estimated costs of pet ownership today as pets have become legitimate family members, and it is eye-opening. A good site is kobo.ca, 'What is the cost of owning a dog in Canada in 2022?'. Start with the dog purchase. That can range anywhere from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars. Then there is the start-up cost of vet bills, supplies, dog food, treats and maybe even a microchip. You can be putting out several thousands of dollars right up front for your Fido. Then the annual maintenance cost could be a few thousand dollars just for food and such. Add in doggy daycare, grooming, pet insurance, special diets if needed . . . . . and the annual cost could be way more than you anticipated when you were looking at those big brown eyes and silky ears at the shelter or the breeding agency. A well-cared-for cat might cost a bit less.
Then there is the time factor. I watch the neighbours with their beloved Fidos. Dogs require walking, often a few times a day. They require training, an eating schedule, bathroom breaks, stimulation, socialization. You have to share your schedule with them. Cats need maybe a bit less but suffice it to say that they also require and deserve attention.
So, cost and commitment combined, pet ownership comes with a lot of responsibility and should be strongly considered before adding Fido or Miss Mew to the family.
There are ways, though, to receive the benefits of a pet without actual pet ownership. You can be like me, a vicarious dog owner, and make it a point to pet at least one dog a day. You could volunteer at the local humane shelter. You can babysit your neighbours’ pets. You can get a part-time job at a pet store. You can read feel-good pet stories and look at pictures and videos on line. You could attend the local dog park and watch the fun and frolicking. You could become a dog walker.
So, whether you are a pet owner with no regrets or resentments for the financial or commitment cost involved or whether you are a lazy vicarious owner like me stealing visits with your favourite canine or feline, one look and a little snuggle from your four-legged friend can help wipe out the sadness, weariness, or loneliness of a bad day with unconditional and non-judgemental love. And that might translate into better physical and emotional health for you. Because Fido and Miss Mew just might be a life saver.
(all photos are from Wix)