National Pet Memorial Day is the second Sunday in September, which this year happened to fall on September 11. As in 9/11. I decided to delay posting a couple of days so as not to seem insensitive to the horrific losses of that day in 2001. But I have been waxing nostalgic over all of the companion animals who’ve made their way into my life over the years.
Early in our relationship, Bob asked me once to name all of the pets I’d had in my life. He jokes that it took at least an hour. But it actually probably did!
I had some time on my hands today (well, I should have been studying, but this project was more fun), so I made a chart of them all. I’ll pretend I was studying the organizatonal system of companion animals.
Some lived longer than others. The lives of some were cut short way too young (e.g., kittens Aloysius, Henry Aldrich, Dagwood, and Smokey).
Tripp: She joined the family before I did so I am not sure what year she starts on the chart.
Cassius: I barely remember him. He wasn’t named for Muhammed Ali/Cassius Clay but for the Roman senator “of the lean and hungry look”, according to my mother. I think me dressing him in doll clothes was too much for him; he ran away.
1972: A very bad year in many ways. When my mother remarried my evil stepfather and they were planning on splitting up the family and moving from Georgia to California, I came home from school one day to find that all of the animals except for Tripp had been taken to the pound. Even he wasn’t despicable enough to take Tripp away from us. That was also the year that the cat Christy had the ill-fated and oddly named kittens. (Note: Please spay/neuter your pets!)
Molly McGee: A beautiful Irish Setter who was meant to be my companion, but I came home from school one day to be told “she’d gone to live on a farm.”
Brandy: He was a really dumb Siamese cat (and I don’t say that lightly; I love cats and find most of them to be as clever as all get out) who escaped and ran away. I hope he was found by a friendly person and not hit in Sacramento traffic.
Coffee: Brandy’s brother, died of feline leukemia. (Note: Please keep your pets’ vaccinations up to date.) (Second note: I did not name Brandy and Coffee. That was my stepfather, who liked to put booze in his coffee and thought he was being funny with the names.)
Goldfish: They were cute but…
Parakeets: Sadly, one (Woody) got out a window, one (Albert) we gave to a friend before a move, and one (Arlo, the one we actually taught to talk), just keeled over. After that we gave up on parakeets.
Sam the parrot: I mislabeled Sam. For all I know he is still alive. He was awesome in many ways but he drove me crazy flinging food all over the living room. And Pofuduk was taking too much interest. A friend with a shop took him to be the shop bird.
Halo: After another move, our beloved Angora cat Pofuduk got out. We put up “Lost cat” signs. The doorbell rang, and a kid was outside holding a portly, odd-eyed Angora that was not Pofuduk and asked if she was our cat as he’d found her on a busy street (well, as busy as they get in Chico). Pofuduk had already returned home, but Halo stayed for a bit. The nicest landlord ever asked if he could take her home when we were moving out of our rental. Pofuduk hated her, so we let her go.
TicTac: Hamsters and cats are a bad combination. I’d just been through a divorce and wasn’t thinking clearly about that one. Never again.
I don’t have digital images of most of the early pets, but here is a sampling:
Disclosure: I am writing this to fulfill an assignment for Introduction to Humane Education, a wonderful course in my first semester as a Humane Education PhD student at Saybrook University in conjunction with Valparaiso University and the Institute for Humane Eduction. I am reading The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird (awesome names). The assignment is to bring these elements to others through my teaching. Since I am not a teacher in a clssroom, I am applying the elements to how I might approach pet adoptions during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. The views expressed are solely those of the author, not of any organization. I am paraphrasing the 5 elements, not quoting the authors.
So, you want to adopt a shelter pet?
Element 1: Examine your understanding of the basics.
Why do you want a pet? Ask yourself why you want a pet. You might be surprised at the real reason and it might be that a pet is not right for you or it is not the right time. The following are responses I’ve heard and my reaction to them:
“My kids keep asking for a dog/cat.” Not the best reason if it’s the only reason. Knowing as the parent that unless your kids are extraordinary you will be doing a lot of the pet care (and paying the expenses), do you want a pet? And why does your kid want a pet? If it’s because of a cute movie like 101 Dalmatians, chances are the pet will end up back at the shelter. Celebrities with pets are often not good role models either.
“I want a cat to catch mice.” or “I want a guard dog.” At shelters, we are looking to place companion animals as members of families, not working animals. And we can’t guarantee that a cat will be a mouser.
“I want a present for my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/child/children.” Are you sure the recipient wants a pet? Wouldn’t it be better for them to meet the pet, and make the choice themselves? Giving pets as surprise gifts is not encouraged. At the East Bay SPCA everyone in the household must be on board and present to meet potential adoptive pets.
“I have a cat/dog at home who is lonely and needs a friend.” Maybe. Maybe not. Do you know your pet gets along with other animals? Maybe your cat/dog is happy as an only pet. If you have a dog and want another, be prepared to bring your dog in to meet potential adoptees; it’s required at the East Bay SPCA.
“I love animals, grew up with them, can’t imagine life without them and have done my homework on adoption.” First, I will ask for permission to hug you. Then I will start introducing you to the animals. Gold star!
We will get to more questions in Element 3: Ask questions!
Element 2: Learn from your mistakes.
Meet several potential animals and find the temperament that is right for you. Take your time and find the right fit. If you meet an animal that you don’t connect with, figure out why and look for a pet with the characteristics that would facilitate a connection. Some people want lap cats, some want aloof cats, some want dogs that they can dress up, some want dogs that will go jogging with them. Are you a couch potato? A highly energetic pet won’t be the right one. There are couch potatoes waiting for you at the shelter, too! An older person might do well to consider an older pet. Senior pets are wonderful! Some animals might be shy at first; is that okay with you or do you want instant bonding? Don’t feel shy about having a conversation with the shelter staff or volunteer helping you; they generally know the animals and can make recommendations based on what you are looking for. And remember, it’s not all about looks. Personality is much more important!
Once you find the pet that you think is the one, it’s time for adoption counseling.
Element 3: Raise questions!
When adopting a pet, there are many issues to think about and at the East Bay SPCA, a volunteer adoption counselor or a staff associate will guide you through some questions and answer any you have. For example:
Where will the pet sleep at night? With you? In a crate? (Please don’t say outdoors.)
What behaviors can you tolerate and what not? Have you ever dealt with problem behaviors in pet before? There are ways to correct behaviors if you are willing to put in the effort.
Do you have the willingness to deal with litter boxes or picking up after your dog? Potty training a dog?
Have you considered the cost of toys, grooming, veterinary services? At the East Bay SPCA, you will be informed if they are aware of any pre-existing medical issues, but the cost of care will be yours.
Do you have time for keeping your pet from being bored? Dogs need walking, cats need activities.
Do you have your landlord’s permission?
Who will look after the pet if you go on vacation or have an emergency?
The list goes on!
Element 4: Add it all up (look at the “flow” of ideas).
After going through all the pluses and minuses, are you still on board? Have you met a pet that you can do everything in Element 3 for? Do you feel like all of your concerns have been addressed in the adoption counseling? You can change your mind and there won’t be any judgment. The shelter wants what is best for you and the animal. Don’t feel obligated!
Element 5: Embrace change!
If you adopted an animal companion, congratulations! Your life will change, for the better. The human-animal bond has mutual rewards. And if you have children, there will be lots of learning opportunities ahead. If you didn’t adopt, think about why not. Did you decide maybe the best pet for you isn’t a dog or a cat but some other small animal? There are plenty of private rescue groups for rabbits, birds, all kinds of creatures. Oakland Animal Services, not too far from the East Bay SPCA, has other small animals for adoption. Maybe a younger pet takes more time and energy than you have so you want to look into senior pets. Or if you realized it’s not the right time for you but you’d still like to be involved with animals, you could look into volunteering at a shelter. And start planning for the future when the time is right.
This week is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week; consider making a donation, becoming a volunteer, and/or adopting a pet in need!