Why get a pet if you don't want a pet in your life? I have often wondered this as I walk my dogs down streets lined with fences behind which lonely outdoor dogs bark as we go by.
I don't know what they look like, and can only guess their size by the deepness of their voices. But I know what the lives of these dogs are too often like. They are animals born to be part of a social structure, a pack or a family, yet this is denied them. They spend their lives on the outside, looking in.
The experts say many of these dogs will never really bond with owners who interact with them so little. When the puppy is no longer cute and the children grow tired of the care they promised to provide, when the destructiveness escalates or the neighbors complain about the noise, it's often just easier to dump the dog than solve the problem.
I have always had difficulty understanding why people want to keep dogs outside. If keeping a beautiful house and yard are of the utmost importance to you, then don't get a dog. If you know someone in your family can't abide a dog in the house, for whatever reason, then don't get a dog. If you can't let a dog be part of your family, then don't get a dog.
You don't get the benefits of companionship from a dog you see so little. You don't even get much in the way of protection from the pet who has no access to the house. And don't count on outdoor dogs as an early-warning system. These animals often become such indiscriminate barkers that you couldn't tell from their sound whether the dogs are barking at a prowler or at a toddler riding a tricycle down the street. Besides, people who keep outdoor dogs seem to become quite good at ignoring the noise they make, as any angry neighbor can vouch.
Outdoor dogs often become a problem to their owners. Bored and lonely, these animals develop any number of bad habits. They dig craters in the yard. They bark endlessly day and night. They become chewers of outdoor furniture, sprinkler heads and siding. And sometimes, without the socialization all dogs need, they become aggressive, ready to bite anyone who comes into their territory.
If you're considering getting a puppy or dog with the intent of keeping him exclusively outside, please reconsider -- for the animal's sake as well as your own and your neighbors'. A pristine home is nothing compared to the pleasures of living with an animal who's really bonded to you. If you don't think so, you shouldn't get a dog.
If you have a dog who has been banished because of behavior problems, find someone to help you turn the situation around. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist or trainer who can show you how to overcome the things that are driving you crazy, whether it's house-soiling, uncontrolled chewing or just the ill-mannered exuberance of a dog who doesn't know any better.
Allergies are a tad trickier, but an allergist may be able to help, along with attention to keeping the house and pets cleaner, using air cleaners and turning bedrooms into no-pet zones for allergy-free sleep.
It's worth the effort. Once you have a dog you can welcome into your home and your heart, you'll start to reap the benefits of a relationship that's finally being realized to its fullest potential. And that's good news for you both.
PETS ON THE WEB
Sally Blanchard has strong opinions about parrots -- and she doesn't seem to care who disagrees with her. In both her public appearances and in her magazine, The Companion Parrot Quarterly, she offers strongly worded advice on how these clever pets should be raised, handled and cared for.
With some pet publications caring more about offending advertisers than offering information that puts pets first, Blanchard's views are a breath of fresh air. Her magazine is worth subscribing to for anyone who has, or is thinking of getting a parrot. You can also find a wide variety of articles for free on Blanchard's Web site (www.companionparrot.com). Call it a public service from a person for whom healthy, happy parrots are a life's work.
A cat can purr, but a lion can't, nor can any of the other big felines. A tiger can rumble a friendly greeting, but only on the exhale. No big cat can get his motor running the way our household kitties can, purring constantly as effortlessly as breathing, both in and out.
To even things out, however, big cats possess the ability to roar. On the whole, the little cat got the better part of that deal, at least so far as human fans of the cat are concerned.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I applaud your recent column in which you advocated ID tags for all pets. My cat Violet was losing her collar every few days, each a nice one with a tag and bells. I decided I couldn't afford this endless supply of replacement collars, and I hypothesized that the tag was the reason for the losses.
As an experiment, I equipped a collar with a tag made from a Brother P-touch label-maker. I wrote her name, our street address and phone number, then peeled off the backing, slipped the strip through the D-ring on the collar and pressed the two sides together. The combination has a jaunty look, and many months later neither the collar nor the label have disappeared. Would you pass this tip along? –- C.S., via e-mail
A: Your ingenuity reminds me of another suggestion for putting identification on cats, which a friend gave to me many years ago. She would order cloth labels, the kind you put in children's clothing, with her name and phone number. Then, she would get elastic from the fabric store, and cut it into strips for a snug, but not tight, fit around her cats' necks.
She'd put the ends together, add the cloth tag and slip the new collars on her cats. The collars are easy to make up several at a time, and cheap enough to replace frequently if lost. Because they are made of elastic, they'll slip off if a cat gets hung up on something.
Whatever method you choose, do be sure to get an ID on your pet. Even better, add a microchip for permanent ID that cannot be removed or slipped off.
Sometimes people think they don't need ID for their cats because the animals never roam. Indoor cats need tags just as much, maybe even more. Should they slip outside they're going to have an even more difficult finding their way home, because they'll be afraid and in unfamiliar surroundings.
ID is a cheap ticket home, for all pets. Even my parrot, who never goes outside, is equipped with a microchip ID, just in case.
Q: We just got a new puppy for Christmas, and I wasn't part of the decision. If I had been, I would have disagreed because I know how much attention puppies need, having raised one before. I have a toddler and giving the puppy attention is not going to be easy. I feel a little resentful leaving it in a crate pretty much the entire day. But I am not sure what else to do, because I have other things to attend to than trying to take care of a puppy. Please try to help me not feel resentful. -- P.H., via e-mail
A: This is a sad situation all around, and one that's almost certain to end sadly for you and badly for the puppy.
If you cannot get the family member who wanted the puppy to assume responsibility for the animal's care, then I recommend that you start looking for another home for the young dog. If you don't, I can almost guarantee you'll be finding a home for the animal later, when he is unsocialized, untrained and no longer cute.
Half-grown dogs with behavior problems are prime candidates for euthanasia at the shelters. It's not their fault they are not wanted, but still ... they are not wanted. Please do what's right for this youngster and remove him from a bad situation now, while he's cute enough to attract interest, and before you've allowed him to develop bad habits that will be a challenge to change.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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