Two weeks ago, our neighbors announced they were moving and proceeded to list a leather couch, some knickknacks, and their adult cat on our neighborhood social networking site. They wanted money for the furniture. The cat? They’d give that away for free. In the fourteen days that have passed, they’ve everything is taken…except the twelve-year-old cat.
When I see people post on Facebook that they have “puppy fever” or will “just die” if they don’t get a kitten, I can’t help but cringe. It has nothing to do with a dislike for animals. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I love animals. I just can’t afford one – not because we don’t have the money, but because we don’t have the time.
Here’s the thing: there are lots of things that are peddled to people as part of the American Dream. A house, a nice car, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and Fido. If you’re going to call into question the American Dream, don’t forget the pets. No one has to have a pet. Wants are different than needs. And I know far too many people who get so caught up in the premise of what they’re told they want, want they’re told they need, that they don’t think through the decision for themselves.
Sure, adopting animals is a selfless thing to do — if you can actually give them a better life. Not everyone can. Finances are part of the equation, but I’d argue that time is an equally important consideration. In thirty years, I can tell you that I’ve never gone to a zoo or an aquarium with my dad. With my mom, yes. On school field trips, of course. But my dad firmly toes the line: “Animals don’t belong in cages.” While that may be extreme* — especially given the fact PETA activist he is not — there is some truth to that statement.
Virtually every homeowner in my neighborhood also owns at least one dog. Our next-door neighbors own three. On a typical day, they are away from home for twelve hours. Sometimes longer. They have no dog walker, but proudly joke that “the dogs don’t shit in the house too often”. When they are home, they don’t walk their dogs. Instead, they have a fenced-in yard, and they let the dogs out for twenty minutes or so each night. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. These fifty-plus pound retriever/shepherd dogs spend exactly 1.3% of their time outside. That’s it. The real issue is that these neighbors are not some weird anomaly. Many people in my neighborhood work 8-, 10-, or 12-hour days, and their dogs spend most of their time in houses, if not in crates in houses.
For every dog in my neighborhood that rarely sees the light of day, I am confident there are plenty of well-loved pets who enjoy long walks and fresh air every day. I’m confident that there are a handful of other people who employ dog walkers or doggie daycare services. I’m not saying no one should own animals. If you have the time, the money, and the heart, I’m all for pet ownership.
What I am saying is no one should feel obligated to get one. If the American dream of a home and white picket fence is might actually be an illusion, it is possible that Fido is as well. Not everyone needs to own a home. Not everyone needs to own a pet. The pressure can be ferocious. There are conversations when Mr. P and I listen to people imply that we would be unfit parents because we haven’t tried our hands at raising a dog first.
“You can’t have kids without a trial run first,” one friend joked recently. But you know what? We’re not caving. As an alternative, we donate regularly to shelters, visit and help with shelter pets occasionally*, and gladly volunteer to dogsit for friends and family. We get our puppy fix while still honoring what we can afford. Because when you pick out an animal, it isn’t just about how you spend your money, it’s how you spend your time.
*They know we’re not looking to adopt, just to give the animals some exercise.
So Tell Me…Do people you know anyone who has mistakenly given into pet ownership? Can you think of any other way for me to get my puppy fix without actually adopting one?