independent

Monday 22 September 2014

A new animal requires a commitment of your time

Published 24/12/2013 | 05:38

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The Boxer: a lively, active breed of dog that's very popular, but also quite demanding in terms of time and energy from the owner.

Every year people continue to buy puppies and other pets as presents for others. And it's not just at Christmas: all year round, people take on pets for family members or for themselves without stopping to think about the long term implications.

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A new animal is a new responsibility, and before taking on a pet, you need to be sure that you can give a predictable amount of your time and money to that animal's care. Not just for the next few weeks, but for the next ten to fifteen years. It's a big "ask" but it's what you need to do.

The financial cost of pets is something that people can easily forget when reaching an emotional decision to get a new pet, but the money side of life is something which cannot be ignored: sooner or later, it catches up with you.

When I recently looked at estimated budgets, I was surprised at how much money was involved with owning an animal. To get set up with a new dog, including purchase price, equipment and veterinary costs such as vaccines, spay/neuter, microchip and parasite control, the total initial cost can be around €1000. If you choose a rescue dog rather than a pedigree animal, the cost may come down to around €350, but it's still a substantial amount of cash.

Ongoing costs are the same whether you get a pedigree dog or a rescue animal. The cost varies considerably (e.g. a small dog eats much less food than a big dog), but when you include aspects such as worm control, boarding kennels, and unexpected accidents or illness, they soon add up. The typical annual cost is probably between €500 and €2000 per year.

If you combine the set up costs with the annual budget for keeping a pet over 10 - 15 years, the total lifetime amount of money for one animal comes out at a minimum of around €5000, and you don't want to think about the maximum (it's over €20000).

These figures are not just theoretical - they represent the "real life" cost of owning an animal. It's far better to realise this before the animal is in your home. Owning a pet is a luxury, and if you are not in the right financial place to afford one, it's better not to start, rather than digging a deep financial hole for yourself.

The commitment to a pet does not just have financial implications: pet ownership also impacts on your time. You need to spend at least half an hour, twice daily, exercising a dog. And you can't head off for a night out or a weekend away without pausing to think about who will care for the animal.

Unfortunately, many people take on animals without thinking about the lifestyle changes that are needed to adapt their lives to the needs of their animals. In the UK, a major survey is run every year to assess how people care for their pets. The results are interesting, and I'm confident that if a similar survey was run in Ireland, the conclusions would be similar.

The most significant finding is the fact that although 91% of people agree that it's important to care for pets properly, there's a mismatch between this aspiration and the reality. When people are asked specific questions about how they care for their pets, there are a number of areas where animals lose out badly.

For example, one in three dogs (35%) do not get any daily off the lead exercise. Dogs need to be taken for a walk every day: it's their stress relief and entertainment. Too many people try to wriggle out of this commitment, telling themselves that their dog has access to exercise in the back garden. In fact, as any dog owner knows if they are honest with themselves, all dogs gain immense joy from a proper walk on a beach, in a park or through woods. Dogs get bored from being stuck inside the same four walls of their living area, just as we humans do.

There's also a problem with dogs being left on their own, along, for long stretches. Around one in four dogs are left alone for five hours or more on a regular basis. Excessive barking and destructive behaviour are the direct consequences of this. Don't blame the dogs: it's the humans' fault.

Poor training is another reason why dogs behave badly: six out of ten young dogs don't go to any dog training classes. It's no wonder that so many dogs are badly behaved, and again, it's not their fault: blame their owners. Yes, it takes time and money to go to dog training classes, but if you don't do it, your dog is going to cause you more problems, and the animal will suffer himself too, when he's blamed for his "misdemeanours".

Irish families will be spending time relaxing together over this Christmas break, and I'm sure many will be thinking "Wouldn't it be lovely to have a pet to share in our family life". I agree: pets can add a special quality to human lives. But before getting one, do take time to think carefully about the financial and lifestyle implications. For your own sake, and not least, for the sake of the animal.

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