The Pet Prescription: Is It for You?
Owning a pet can reduce stress and improve many aspects of your health. But not everyone is cut out for pet ownership.
Lessons From the Pound
The two main reasons people take pets to the pound are 1) the
owners move, and 2) the pets' behavior is a problem, according to Mo Salman,
Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the Colorado State University College
of Veterinary Medicine. He led a study of why people relinquish pets. "One
thing that surprised me about the study was finding the short turnover of dogs
and cats relinquished to shelters," he said. "Average time was less
than a year. My interpretation is that people just didn't give it thought
before getting a pet."
The study also revealed people were more likely to give up a
pet if they received it from someone else as opposed to getting it on their
own. "I think well-meaning friends and family should recognize the person's
ability to accommodate the pet's needs," Salman says. "Some matchings
are perfect, but others are dangerous. Perfect matching is giving an elderly
person who mainly stays at home a sweet, older cat that's always been a house
cat. A risky match would be giving her a puppy. There's a balance. People need
to consider both the animal and human needs."
Enjoy Pets Without Responsibility
You can get all the pet companionship you want without the
responsibility of ownership. Just ask Jackie Ireland of Omaha, Neb. She and her
husband vowed never to own another animal after their beloved cat, Tinker,
became seriously ill and was euthanized at age 13. Eventually she found she
could indulge her love of felines by cat sitting for neighbors in her townhome
Other options to pet ownership carry varying degrees of
responsibility. Many animal shelters need "foster parents" for pets not
quite ready for adoption. If you don't want animals in your home, you can
volunteer to work at an animal shelter. Tasks may be as unglamorous as cleaning
cages or as rewarding as bottle-feeding kittens. Animal shelters also provide
educational outreach services that depend on volunteers to take animals to
schools or shopping malls. Animal-assisted therapy groups also need help taking
animals to visit nursing homes, children's hospital wards, and residential
Whether a part-time relationship with animals as a volunteer
carries the health benefits studies attribute to pet ownership isn't known. But
many people, like Ireland, say they derive immense satisfaction from the
interaction. "I get the best of all worlds," she says. "I'll never
have to face putting another cat to sleep, I don't have full-time
responsibility for a pet, but I still have cats in my life."