Seemingly America has a love affair with our pets. The pet industry is a multi-billion dollar business. We see commercials showing us how much we love them and the extremes we go buying coats, toys and anything and everything. Animals are used in movies and books and greeting cards to convey a warm and fuzzy feeling.
But if we love our pets so much, why are an estimated 10 million animals (and that's what we know of) euthanized in the United States every year? Why are animals left outside in subzero weather? Why do people get dogs only to chain them outside or leave alone in small kennels? What is the point? How often do you see a greeting card with a chained dog on it?
I believe one of the problems is that many people think of their pets as humans with four legs, giving them human attributes and expecting them to act other than what they are. And when they act like a dog or a cat, the love affair often ends in the shelter. I am often stunned at what some people who have children expect their pets to put up with from those children. Being a child-friendly pet does not mean that little Billy can poke, hit, lay on, hug, pull ears and tails, take food and toys without ever having that pet protect itself with a growl or, worst case, a bite.
And when that bite or growl happens that pet ends up back at the shelter, labeled as aggressive.
Many people just don't understand dogs. They say they do. And on adoption forms they mark that they are a very experienced dog owner. Simply having dogs since you were a child does not make you experienced in dog psychology or in how to handle dogs with issues.
Some folks will try to overlook the issues when they are told simply because of how the animal looks. They seem to think they can just will the animal to behave how they want with very little effort. Those are the pets who come back to shelters.
We encourage the use of crates when people adopt dogs from us. Many people do not want to use them. They think they are cruel. They are only cruel if the dog spends most of his life in them. We explain that the crate makes the dog feel safe; and keeps that dog from destroying your house while you are gone. It prevents your dogs from getting into fights; injuring or killing each other, resulting in huge veterinarian bills. Time and time again people return adopted dogs when simply using a crate could have solved the problem.
Getting a pet should be like getting married: it is a lifetime commitment that is best not be embarked upon unless you are sure you are ready and in love, understanding there will be ups and downs, and willing to do what it takes to make it work.
Another problem is that often people do not get a pet that fits their lifestyle. You're rarely home? Get a goldfish, or if that is too much responsibility, get a stuffed toy. Or go volunteer at your local shelter to get your animal "fix." And don't get a pet until you have the time, money and are ready to commit. For better or worse.
Maleah Stringer is executive director of the Animal Protection League, 613 Dewey St., Anderson. She can be reached at 356-0900 or at email@example.com.