Considering A Family Pet? Think Long And Hard Before Making That Commitment

by Annie Reneau
Khomenko Maryna / Shutterstock

I like animals. Love them, in fact. I think kittens are freaking adorable, puppies make me all gushy inside, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything cuter than a hamster eating a Cheerio. I believe in taking good care of our furry friends.

But after several pet rats and a couple of cats during my mothering years, I realized that my adoration of animals doesn’t automatically make me a good pet parent.

Our kids begged us for pets from the time they were toddlers. One of our children in particular is an Animal Lover (capitalization intentional). She eats, breathes, and sleeps all things creepy, crawly, feathered, and fluffy. Every time our kids would visit friends with cats or dogs or bearded dragons, they’d ask us why we couldn’t get one too.

My husband and I always had a good excuse. We were renting places that didn’t allow pets, we traveled too much, etc. We told the children that if we ever bought a house, we’d consider getting a cat.

Finally, we bought a house. And we got a cat. And then another one.

And in many ways, we wish we hadn’t. The reality of pets is that no matter how sweet and adorable and cuddly they are, they’re more work than you think they’ll be.

We live on a busy street, so we keep our cats indoors. That means litter boxes, which means scooping litter boxes, which means kids who promised up and down that they’d never complain about scooping litter boxes complaining about scooping litter boxes.

We ended up with one cat who overeats unless you ration her food and one cat who scarfs and barfs his food if you wait too long to feed him, so just coordinating feeding them is a pain. And then come the battles over who has to clean up the cat barf. And then there’s me having to clean up the cat barf when the kids aren’t home.

Did I mention one of our cats occasionally randomly pees in places other than the cat box? $200 in vet bills later, there’s nothing physiologically wrong with him. He started out as a feral kitty for the first few months of life, and if anything smells like outside or like another animal or if he just happens to be in a pissy mood, he pees. If you aren’t familiar with cat urine, it’s the worst.

And then there’s the going-out-of-town thing. Our family likes to travel, which means always having to find someone to tend the cats if we’re gone longer than a weekend.

I’m glad we chose cats instead of a dog, because at least we can leave them for a couple days with an extra cat box, a big bowl of food, and several bowls of water. With dogs, you have to have someone who can take them out every day, several times a day, or pay a hefty fee to board them.

And frankly, I’ve had enough cleaning up other living things’ poop after having three kids. Why would I subject myself to daily dog doo duty for the entire life of a canine? In all kinds of weather, to boot. No thanks.

I know people love their dogs, and their cats, and whatever other pets they bring into their lives, and more power to you, pet people. I admire you. I really do. And I love your pets too. I love playing with other people’s dogs, petting other people’s cats, and checking out all manner of caged and penned creatures.

And I love our pets too. They are well cared for and highly doted upon. I just don’t love having them. I don’t like the mess, the clawed furniture and various things they’ve chewed, the constant care, the responsibility, the vet bills, the smelly boxes when the kids forget to scoop them, the finding people to take care of them when we’re on vacation, and the rolling of cat hair off my clothes.

As soft as they are, and as soothing as a cat purr can be, the cons outweigh the pros for me. We got pets for the kids’ sake, and we’ll enjoy them while we have them. But if my husband and I had our druthers, we’d still be living happily pet-free.

So if you aren’t sure whether you’re a pet person, think long and hard before you get an animal. Ask yourself if you really want to add another living creature with needs to your life — one whose needs don’t subside as they get older. If so, go for it. But if you are hesitant, don’t let your kids or anyone else guilt you into it. You can love animals, but not be a pet person. And if you’re not, save yourself by just saying no.