Cute. Energetic. Playful. Loving. Ah, the joys of bringing home a new pet.
Terrified. Pees in the house. Sickly. Hisses. Ah, the woes of bringing home a new pet.
Anyone who’s ever been a pet owner has experienced both the highs and lows of those first few months with a new pet. In this article, I share conversations with four pet owners about their experiences. I also offer tips for those of you who might be considering adding a pet to your household.
Why A New Pet?
All new pets start with a reason. Why get a pet? Or, if a person already has pets, why get another? Here are some reasons and benefits.
- Be your companion
- Add joy to your life
- Introduce you to new people, places, and activities
- Improve your overall health
- Build up your immune system
- Help you create a routine
- Foster responsibility in your family
- Teach compassion to your family
- Alert you to danger
The ladies whom I interviewed were all experienced pet owners and so they already knew the perks of having a pet. But there’s more to their stories.
LEONORA: I saw a puppy come over to our driveway, and saw how cute the puppy was, and I wanted one. I was so excited and still can’t believe I got Lexie as a present from my husband.
KIM: My children had been wanting a cat for a long time. Our current cat is 13-years-old and “my” cat. She tolerated my children but wasn’t interested in interacting with them. They wanted a cat that would play and snuggle with them.
CHRIS: When we first brought Archimedes to our home, he was a rescued kitten from the streets. His eyes had fused shut from a respiratory infection. The vet wasn’t sure if he would make it. As we nursed him back to health, we fell in love with him and he’s now a part of our family. He’s become a lively, playful, and snuggling lightning bolt of a kitten.
JANE: We weren’t specifically looking for a new pet. I volunteer weekly at a local rescue group’s shelter, and one night there was a whole bunch of new kittens. One little girl, Willow, was sitting in her litter box terrified. I was immediately drawn to her. She reminded me of my Azrielle, whom I lost at eighteen years old in December 2015. I had a hard time leaving her there, but we weren’t ready to foster.
The weekend before Christmas, I received a call from another woman in the rescue who asked me to post on our Facebook page that we needed a foster for Willow. She’d been hiding in the closet of the family who adopted her for three weeks. To top it off, Willow was now having explosive diarrhea, and they didn’t know what to do. I talked to my husband and he agreed we’d go get her.
How to Prepare
Before you bring home a new pet, you’ll need to take a shopping trip. Depending on the pet, you should buy any of the following items:
- Crate or cage
- Food and water bowls
- Collar and leash
- Litter box
- Scratching posts
The ladies whom I interviewed were all experienced pet owners. Yet even they had to prepare for the arrival of their new pet.
CHRIS: We didn’t know it was necessary to prepare for a new kitten. Our home has two other felines. What could possibly change with a third? Quite a bit! A kitten is very different from a mature cat.
KIM: We set up the laundry room as a place just for our new cat, we talked with the children about expectations, filled out the adoption forms, and went through the adoption interview. We went as a family to choose our new cat.
JANE: I went out and purchased a new litter box, litter, and some food. My friend let us borrow a baby gate so we could keep her in a small area of the house—that didn’t last more than 48 hours. She was quickly jumping over it. I also went through the house to “kitten proof” it, making sure there were no little things she might try to eat and that wires were secured, etc.
LEONORA: Lexie peed right away and so I had to keep an eye on her. I noticed when she was excited and wagging her tail she makes a mess and so every time she was awake I let her out to do her water and her other job too outside as soon as possible. That way I don’t need to clean the whole house.
Getting a new family member ranks 14th on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. Even if that family member is of a different species, your routines and habits will get disrupted. Here are some of your new pet’s needs that will disrupt your life:
- Proper diet
- Vet visits
- You’ll also need to teach your pet:
- Where to use the bathroom
- Basic manners
- Alternatives to chewing, scratching, and general destruction
- How to handle separation anxiety and developmental fears
Whether you’re a lifelong pet owner or a novice, there will be challenges with bringing a new pet into the home, as illustrated by the anecdotes from the ladies I interviewed.
CHRIS: Archimedes became ill again, and we had to put him on a new medication. His energy levels have not pleased our two tabbies. They’ll hop to the highest elevations every time our kitten catches their tails. Our eldest cat became so stressed by our new addition that we had to keep them in separate areas with only occasional contact. We’ll try full exposure again, once the kitten has been altered.
KIM: Despite keeping the new cat confined in the laundry room and trying to give all the pets time to adjust, our cats hate each other. The old one always hisses at the new one and the new one tries to establish dominance and starts fights with the old one. We keep them separated.
LEONORA: I wondered about if Lexie would like us. I also didn’t know how she’d react to our two senior dogs. When we got her, she was shaking when she was on my arms, but then she was fine on our way home. When we got home, Jonesy and Mickey didn’t know what to do with Lexie. They were both jealous. Lexie was excited when she came into the house. She tried to play with Jonesy and Mickey but they didn’t like to play with her. Mickey even growled at her.
I’ve asked to be covered on my shifts on one of my jobs too because I’ve been up with Lexie a few times during the night. I think she and I are coming along regarding her training outside, but sometimes she’ll trick me when she’s inside by doing something.
JANE: I had conflicting thoughts about bringing a new pet into our home. It had just been a year since losing my Azrielle, whom I had for 18 years, and I was hesitant to give my heart to another kitty. In some ways, I felt like I was betraying Azrielle.
One of the biggest challenges with Willow has been getting her to feel more comfortable. She’s so very skittish. Just as we get close, the slightest noise will startle her, and off she’ll run. It takes a lot of patience to work with a kitten and have them learn to trust that you aren’t going to hurt them.
Another challenge for me is that Willow doesn’t really like to be held. She’s good for a few seconds, but then she wants to get down. That’s been hard for me to accept, as my Azrielle would let me hold her for days if I could.
Life is a journey and so are relationships, including those we have with our pets. Here are some milestones you might experience with your new pet:
- Recognize name
- Successful housebreaking
- Play with toys
- Show affection with kisses and snuggles
- Welcome visitors and playmates
- Respond to “No!”
- Come when called
KIM: Both cats get along well with our dog! Our children love our new cat and she’s become part of the family, despite the stress of having to keep the cats separated.
CHRIS: It is very important to teach the word ‘No’. With kittens, they tend to come back, but another reaffirming ‘No’ helps. Archimedes has learned what the word means and will stop whatever he is doing and focus attention on something else.
LEONORA: She sleeps most of her time right now because she is only a puppy. But when she gets up, she’s also very energetic. I think Lexie is enjoying our home. She seems content and happy. And I notice Mickey and Jonesy are adapting to her too.
JANE: I’ve gotten Willow to slowly become more comfortable. The bedroom used to be the only place she felt safe to eat. She now no longer needs to eat there. Instead she eats her food in our dining room. Now she also loves cuddle time on my lap when I’m watching TV or when sleeping in bed. She snuggles her body ever so close.
Just this past weekend, I was out almost all day and my husband was home alone with Willow. When I got home, she kept coming over and rubbing up against my legs. If I bent down to pet her, she’d “bounce” away, but then come right back. It was her way of letting me know she missed me.
The Bottom Line
With almost 80 million households in the United States owning a pet as of 2015, and consumers spending over $43 billion per year on pets, the challenges of raising a pet must be worth it to most people. Indeed, just a few minutes of browsing pet lovers’ posts online or eavesdropping on conversations between pet owners will reveal that pets often become family members and best friends. In these cases, the highs far outweigh the lows, and love will always be the tie that will forever bind our pets to us. When I asked my four interviewees why they’d recommend pet ownership, they offered these testimonies:
KIM: Pets expand your family and bring great joy. They’ve helped my children learn love, compassion, and responsibility.
CHRIS: They bring these little joys, especially when they catch you off guard. They can be hilarious, mischievous, and most important loving. No matter your mood, they hope to see you and they lend a vibrating snuggle when you need to relax.
LEONORA: When she gets up early in the morning, she gives me kisses all over my face. She like to be with the rest of the family too. I hope my taking her out will continue to progress and before long she’ll be the one who will ask to be out to do her own. She’s a cute and lovable puppy, and she’s mine. I thank my husband for giving me Lexie as a gift.
JANE: A pet is a little being that has nothing but unconditional love to offer. A pet offers comfort when you are not well or are simply having a bad day. They bring warmth to your heart that can’t adequately describe. They make you smile just by being there.