Do you consider yourself a responsible pet owner?
Of course you do, but what do you think that even means?
Is it feeding them, making sure they have water and providing them with a comfortable place to sleep?
What about taking them for regular health check-ups and ensuring they get enough exercise?
Those are all crucial aspects of owning a pet, but there’s something else.
Something a lot of people don’t even consider.
We Need to Change the Way We View Animals
Pet ownership is nothing new. Evidence suggests humans have been domesticating animals for thousands of years.
For the large majority of us, pets are very much the norm. We’ve grown up around animals and in many ways, they are our best friends and truest companions.
Having a pet has even proven to offer health benefits. Yet, despite our close bond with them, there’s still a disconnect.
We see ourselves as ‘pet owners’ and we refer to certain species (goldfish, hamsters, etc.) as ‘starter pets’. It reveals itself in our actions, too. We’ll yank on a dog’s leash to get them to move, for example.
It’s not that there’s any intended malice on our part. If probed, those of us with pets will profess our love and adoration for our non-human companions.
But, the fact that we don’t intend harm doesn’t mean there isn’t a the problem. There is, and it’s something most of us don’t even think about.
I didn’t when I had pets.
It’s in the way we view animals. We may not be consciously aware of it, but most people see them as less important than humans.
How else do you explain things like factory farming, dog fighting, cockfighting, rodeos, bullfighting, steeplechasing, puppy mills, animal husbandry, hybrid cats, etc.?
We treat animals as a commodity instead of seeing them for what they are: sentient beings with rich emotional lives and consciousness.
Once we make that shift, being a responsible pet owner won’t matter. We’ll focus instead on being a kind and considerate human. Someone who sees animals as equal to us.
Should We Be Keeping Animals as Pets?
Some ethicists believe we should stop keeping pets. I can see where they’re coming from. In the last few years, Sporty and I have become more and more uncomfortable with the idea of pet ownership.
It is a little impractical, though. What would happen to the millions of animals who are currently in our care, for example? A better alternative —at least in the interim— is to change our mindset.
In his book The Emotional Lives of Animals, award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff blends the latest research with extraordinary stories of animals expressing a gamut of emotions (joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger, love, etc.).
Given the evidence, it’s clear humans have been underestimating animal intelligence since, well, forever.
What Does Being a Responsible Pet Owner Entail
To be clear, I’m still using the same wording so Google will put this article on page one where more people will see it.
What I mean I use that phrase is someone who (as I mentioned earlier) recognizes animals as sentient beings rather than commodities.
Approached from this angle, the guidelines for being a responsible pet owner take on a far more compassionate slant.
1. Education Is Key (And It Starts With Our Kids)
All animals deserve to be treated with equal respect. We need to teach our children that a pet comes with a lot more responsibility than a new toy.
In her book, Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets, author Jessica Pierce stresses that getting a pet an ethical commitment. It’s not something be taken lightly.
Explaining what it means to have a pet will instil a sense of responsibility in kids. This means waiting until they’re old enough to grasp the concept. It’ll also avoid parents taking care of the animal because the novelty has worn off.
2. The Devil Is in the Details, Make Sure You Talk Them Through
All too often, we adults are as likely as children are to get caught up in the idea of getting a puppy or kitten. We don’t stop to think about what that means, both on a day to day basis as well as in the long term.
Do you have the time, space and financial resources available to care for the animal? What will happen if you need to move home? Finding pet-friendly accommodation isn’t always that easy.
Do you travel a lot? If you’re often away you’ll have to hire a pet sitter or send your animal friend to stay elsewhere. Either way, it’s unsettling for them.
3. Spend Quality Time With Your Friend Everyday
Deciding to get a pet means being a hundred percent invested with what that entails. Having a dog, for example, requires daily walks regardless of how you’re feeling.
Cats may be independent by nature, but they also enjoy feeling loved and wanted. It’s important to take the time and space to bond with them.
I’m not a fan of keeping fish, hamsters, birds or any animal that requires caging. If you decide to go that route, at least make extra effort to spend quality time with them.
I had mice, fish, budgies and hamsters growing up. I hope one day someone invents a time machine so I can go back and talk to my younger self.
4. Cohabiting With Humans Should Be Fun for Everyone
We need to keep in mind that we’ve chosen to invite the animal into our lives. They don’t have any choice in the matter. As with humans, there must be boundaries, but we need to make sure they feel welcome and part of the family.
Sleeping and bathroom facilities should be comfortable and accessible. Fishbowl and cage inhabitants should enjoy a good view of their surroundings, etc.
Dogs and cats must have free access to the outside world. I have no idea who thought it would be a good idea to keep dogs crated in apartments or force cats to be indoor animals. It’s not. You wouldn’t lock your toddler in a cage all day, so why is it okay to do it to a dog?
5. There’s Another Reason Why Adopting Is Better Than Shopping
With so many animals living out their lives in cramped shelters, adopting a pet should be a no brainer. (You only have to look at these happy pets on their adoptiversaries to see why.)
Again, it starts with educating our kids. If we take them to the pet store to choose a pet, it gives them the idea that animals are something they own.
When we take them to a shelter and explain the concept of adopting a pet, children get that animals are not toys.
6. Playing Dress-Up With Animals Really Isn’t Cool
The pet industry is booming. Holistic pet food, pet health insurance and pet-friendly travel are the norm nowadays. On the downside, humans are also of the opinion that playing dress-up with animals is okay.
We need to identify our pets’ needs (toys, food, a place to sleep, etc.) and steer away from fashion accessories. Pets have very little autonomy as it is. Putting them in silly outfits for our amusement is only exacerbating the problem.
Animals are beautiful creatures, wholly unconditional in their love for us. We need to treat them with the respect they deserve. At least as an entry point, that means dropping the notion that we own them.