“‘Men have forgotten this truth,’ said the fox. ‘But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.’ ”
―— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”
I grew up in a family that has always had pets.
Family legend tells about the time my father, as a young child, removed the muzzle of a neighborhood dog that had a vicious reputation, scaring the heck out of my grandmother ... but befriending the dog. Families on both sides had dogs or cats throughout my parents’ childhood, and continue now.
A cousin often rescues cats and kittens that are abandoned at the campground near her home, getting them spayed or neutered and finding them homes. An aunt has shared her home with a steady stream of rescue dogs ... including one beloved critter that started life as a tiny puppy by being tossed in a sack from the window of a moving vehicle. (They smuggled that pup in to see my other grandmother during her last days in the hospital, breaking all manner of rules and making my grandma’s day. That should tell you a lot about how many family feels about its pets.)
I myself adopted a skittish, needy shelter cat who was scared to death of men and kids ... who grew into a loving creature who particularly adores my father and sons. (And I count that as one of the great accomplishments of my life.)
We love our pets, in my family. So please understand that these next words are not coming from any hatred of animals or pet-owners. Far from it.
If you can’t or won’t take care of your animals, you shouldn’t have them.
In a recent press release in part due to recent cat hoarding case at a home in Somerset, Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton reminded residents “that taking care of a pet is a considerable responsibility.”
That should, of course, be a “well, duh” sort of statement. Unfortunately, it often seems to escape people. Stapleton listed the following things to consider before getting a pet:
• Resources and time to fulfill this long-term commitment
• Space that is adequate and free of hazards for your animal’s healthy development
• Ability to provide for routine and preventive medical care including vaccinations and regular check-ups
• Compassionate attention to the daily needs of your pet including nutrition, companionship, exercise and rest
• Mindfulness of your animal’s reproductive potential; considering spaying and neutering pets
I’d like to add to that list “Mindfulness of your animals’ impact on the others around you and adequate control of those animals” ... as in, keeping an aggressive (or rambunctious) dog restrained, a wandering dog contained and a barker indoors and/or trained.
I’m normally not fond of pet-versus-kids analogies, but they work here. A decent parent doesn’t let their kids rule the household. A decent pet-owner doesn’t let their pet do so, either. A decent parent doesn’t just throw up her hands and say, “I can’t do anything with them!” A decent pet-owner doesn’t either.
Accidents happen. (Who hasn’t known a canine escape artist?) But those who won’t or can’t follow that last rule just give all pet owners a bad name, making things more difficult for those who do stand up to their responsibility and respect others.
Ultimately, if you can’t take care of your pets ... and that includes controlling them ... then you shouldn’t have pets. It’s not fair to the animals, and it’s not fair to the people around you.
Those who aren’t able or willing to do so might be better off with a pet rock.
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.