What Makes a Responsible Pet Owner?

I heard a story the other day from a friend who volunteers at the local animal shelter. We were having a coffee, when she turned to me.

“I gotta tell you what happened yesterday.”

“Right before closing, I had this lady at my counter with a small black dog.

‘It’s not my fault,’ the lady told me. ‘This dog is obviously over-bred. I was promised that he wouldn’t shed, but he does – everywhere. And he pees everywhere too.

‘The kids begged and begged for a dog. I gave in but I told them, you’ll have to take care of him yourselves. And of course they agreed. But did they? Of course not! It all got dumped on me. As usual. Never wanted the stupid thing in the first place.

‘Last night I got up to get a drink of water and stepped straight into a big pile of dog poop. That was the final straw.

‘I’m sure you understand I did all I could. The dog is obviously over-bred. It’s not my fault!’

My friend gave a deep sigh. “The woman so floored me, I couldn’t think of what to say. I came through the counter, took the dog’s leash and led him away. He’s a sweet little boy and no trouble at all. I took a long walk afterwards.

“How can people get it so wrong?”

I shook my head. “No one ever tells people how to be a good dog owner. Instead they get their ears and eyeballs filled up with stories of Evil Breeders. Victimhood is so much simpler than to stand up and take responsibility.

“It’s way too easy to put a solitary bulls-eye on all breeders as the blanket cause of shelters full of abandoned animals.  A good, responsible dog breeder is definitely part of the solution, but so is a responsible dog owner.

“The popular press is curiously silent about what makes a good dog owner. It is loud on the subject of titillatingly horrific videos of stomach-turning breeding facilities, and we hear a lot these days about “over-bred” problem dogs.

“But what about the other side of the coin?”

I thought about our conversation over the next several days. It was easy for me to think of what makes a responsible breeder. But what exactly is a good dog owner?

Basically, I figured there were ten things to watch out for.

  1. A good owner is not in a rush to get a dog. She knows that she is purchasing a companion who will be with her for the next 15 years. She does not try to get a dog for under the Christmas tree or for a birthday.
  2. She never gets a dog only “for the kids”. She knows that at least one adult household member must be willing to be fully responsible for the animal.
  3. Unless she plans to be a responsible breeder, she does not breed her dog and spays her or neuters him. She never wants to “just have one litter” so the kids can see “the miracle of birth”.
  4. She realizes that even with busy modern lifestyles, dogs need exercise. This is includes regular walks. She knows that many canine behavior problems can be eliminated or at least mitigated with sufficient exercise.
  5. Whenever possible, she takes her dog with her. She knows that a happy dog is a dog with lots of stimulation and interaction.
  6. She microchips her dog and has him registered with one of the lost and found organizations. She also has him licensed with her county.
  7. She keeps up with her dog’s health. She checks him weekly for possible health issues and makes sure her dog gets regular wellness exams.
  8. She trains her dog. This can be in formal classes or from a book, but dogs love to learn; they become more sociable and excellent companions through training. If her dog has behavior problems, she is persistent in looking for help and answers and keeps going until she finds workable answers. She also realizes that if there is a persistent problem, most likely there is something that she is doing that is perpetuating the problem.
  9. She continues to educate herself as an owner for the life of her dog. She continues to learn about her breed, possible health issues and the latest in training protocols.
  10. A good owner knows that once she has made the original commitment, her dog is her responsibility for life. Like a child or a marriage, there are no give backs because the dog is no longer convenient or entertaining.

I gave my friend my friend the list. “What do you think?”

“I’m framing this and putting this on the wall behind the counter.”

“That would be great; if it just helps one person, it’ll be worth it.”

I’ve heard about the excellent responsible pet ownership program they have in Calgary, Canada. Maybe that’s why that city has the lowest kill rate (how many pets are put to sleep) in North America?

Maybe this is the missing puzzle piece in the problem of pets in shelters?

Just maybe.

3 Responses to “What Makes a Responsible Pet Owner?”

  1. Billie says:

    Do you know the email or website address for that shelter in Calgary?>

  2. Vicki says:

    Dogs deserve the same treatment as our most beloved family member. And we must always remember that they can’t read our minds and they can’t speak for themselves. We are their advocates. If they are not potty trained, we haven’t done our jobs. (They are not bad dogs.)

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