Plan­ning for (pet) par­ent­hood

Think be­yond the ini­tial at­trac­tion of an adorable puppy or kitty. Keep­ing a pet is a life-time com­mit­ment that re­quires care­ful thought and plan­ning, a reader writes.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Pets - By JOYCE LEE

THEY are ev­ery­where – cow­er­ing un­der parked cars, star­ring out of di­lap­i­dated aban­doned build­ings, slink­ing through weeds at derelict sites or curled up in some in­con­spic­u­ous places, too weak to move.

They are the home­less strays on our streets. Their ema­ci­ated bod­ies, with ribs pro­trud­ing, bear the scars and raw wounds from past and re­cent at­tacks, signs of their suf­fer­ing.

Only a few are for­tu­nate enough to have self­less ded­i­cated feed­ers who keep an eye on them, and pro­vide them with food, wa­ter, spay­ing/neu­ter­ing and emer­gency med­i­cal care. The rest are left to fend for them­selves.

If they don’t starve to death, get hit by cars or die from dis­eases or in­juries, they could be poi­soned, tor­tured, mu­ti­lated, scalded with boil­ing wa­ter, tor­mented by ju­ve­niles, at­tacked by other an­i­mals, or killed in other cruel ways.

So­ci­ety at large ei­ther barely takes no­tice of them or re­gards them as a nui­sance and eye­sore that should be re­moved.

Why are there so many home­less dogs and cats? Con­sider com­mer­cial breed­ers who sup­ply an­i­mals to pet stores, and puppy/kit­ten mills that churn out lit­ter af­ter lit­ter. Many of these dogs and cats would be­come home­less when their own­ers turn their backs on them. Or they could be dumped in an­i­mal shel­ters, tak­ing up space that’s meant for res­cued strays.

Puppy mills

Puppy mills are places of con­tin­u­ous suf­fer­ing, where pure breeds are bred solely for money, with no re­gard for the dog’s wel­fare. They are kept in over­crowded and un­san­i­tary con­di­tions.

These dogs do not re­ceive any af­fec­tion, ex­er­cise, ba­sic groom­ing, proper ve­teri­nary care or ad­e­quate food and wa­ter. If any at all, wa­ter is con­tam­i­nated with al­gae, urine and fae­ces while food is in­fested with mould and bugs.

To max­imise prof­its, fe­males are bred at every op­por­tu­nity, with lit­tle to no re­cov­ery time be­tween lit­ters. When they are phys­i­cally de­pleted to the point that they can no longer re­pro­duce, they are dis­carded. Par­ents of the adorable pup­pies in the pet shops are un­likely to make it out of the mills alive – and nei­ther will those born with overt phys­i­cal de­fects. Pup­pies born with ge­netic dis­eases and ab­nor­mal­i­ties are com­mon due to in-breed­ing, which is preva­lent.

Dogs in puppy mills suf­fer from ex­treme phys­i­cal and emo­tional trauma, as do their pup­pies, in ways we can­not see. Pup­pies are fre­quently sep­a­rated from their moth­ers be­fore be­ing weaned. As a re­sult, some do not know how to feed them­selves, so they die of star­va­tion.

So when you are think­ing of wel­com­ing a dog or cat into your home, please al­ways con­sider adopt­ing one or two from your lo­cal res­cue shel­ter or res­cu­ing and sav­ing one from the streets.

Aban­don­ment

An­other ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to stray over-pop­u­la­tion is aban­doned pets and un­wanted pup­pies. Pet aban­don­ment is a form of an­i­mal cru­elty. What could be more dam­ag­ing than to be re­moved from the only fam­ily they have ever known – the fam­ily they love and rely on for pro­tec­tion, af­fec­tion and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

Sci­en­tific stud­ies show that an­i­mals do suf­fer emo­tional pain. Anx­i­ety, fright, con­fu­sion, grief and lone­li­ness are more dif­fi­cult to see than scars and ema­ci­ated bod­ies. Emo­tional harm may ul­ti­mately cause more suf­fer­ing and do more last­ing dam­age than phys­i­cal abuse.

Be­side the emo­tional toll, phys­i­cal im­pact is just as dev­as­tat­ing. Af­ter years of be­ing pro­vided for, they have be­come highly in­ex­pe­ri­enced in sourc­ing their own food. Many will starve and die from ad­verse health ef­fects re­sult­ing from mal­nu­tri­tion.

An­i­mal shel­ters

Many own­ers have the mis­con­cep­tion that sur­ren­der­ing their pets to shel­ters is a more hu­mane op­tion. Lo­cal coun­cils have no pol­icy to keep these an­i­mals alive. Other shel­ters, ex­cept for “no kill” ones, sur­ren­der an­i­mals and those brought in are eu­thanised af­ter a short grace pe­riod, to make room for oth­ers. Euthanis­ing refers to ter­mi­nat­ing the suf­fer­ing of ter­mi­nally ill or fa­tally in­jured an­i­mals, yet of­ten these an­i­mals are per­fectly healthy.

Sur­ren­dered pets suf­fer the same emo­tional tur­moil as aban­doned ones. “No kill” shel­ters are ex­tremely over­crowded, short on funds and staff, and over­whelmed by the daunt­ing task of car­ing for these an­i­mals. De­spite the care­tak­ers do­ing their ut­most, an­i­mals in shel­ters ba­si­cally have to fight to sur­vive. The more sub­mis­sive ones suf­fer ter­ri­bly at the hands of the more ag­gres­sive ones.

So, be­fore bring­ing a pet home, un­der­stand the com­mit­ment you are mak­ing. Think be­yond the ini­tial at­trac­tion of an adorable puppy or kit­ten. Keep­ing a pet is a life-time com­mit­ment of pet par­ent­hood.

Life-time com­mit­ment

Dogs and cats can live up to 13 to 15 years, some even longer. They are your re­spon­si­bil­ity. You have to see to their well-be­ing and all their needs be­cause you are their pet par­ent. That means you can­not go on hol­i­day with­out mak­ing ad­e­quate pro­vi­sion for them, or ne­glect and leave them alone be­cause of work com­mit­ment, or move into a condo that bans dogs.

Plan­ning is cru­cial, es­pe­cially when get­ting a dog. Eval­u­ate your life­style and liv­ing cir­cum­stances. Should the dog have a quiet or lively de­meanour? Will they face very ac­tive or loud chil­dren, or need to get along with other pets? Are you away from home a lot?

How much space do you have? Are you will­ing to share your home with the dog or are you go­ing to shackle it or con­fine it to a crate? Long-term con­fine­ment and re­straint can dam­age their phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing. An oth­er­wise friendly and docile dog, when kept this way, can be­come neu­rotic, anx­ious and ag­gres­sive. Wel­come pets as fam­ily mem­bers, not as dis­pos­able toys.

Sad­dest of all aban­don­ments is when own­ers die with­out hav­ing made ar­range­ments for their furry com­pan­ions. Of­ten their next of kin are not will­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the pet that is left be­hind.

Trap, neuter, re­turn

Erad­i­cat­ing an­i­mal home­less­ness is com­plex. But one proven, hu­mane and ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to cur­tail the stray pop­u­la­tion, with­out re­sort­ing to killing, is the Trap-NeuterRe­turn (TNR) method: The strays are trapped, then spayed or neutered, and fi­nally sent back to the ex­act lo­ca­tion where they were trapped, which is im­por­tant be­cause here they are fa­mil­iar with food and wa­ter sources and avail­able shel­ter.

Spay­ing fe­males, apart from curb­ing un­wanted off­spring, also pre­vents can­cer of the re­pro­duc­tive tract, and re­duces the preva­lence of mam­mary can­cer re­sult­ing from go­ing through multi-heat cy­cles and life-threat­en­ing py­ome­tra (in­fected uterus).

For in­tact males, they have a higher risk of pro­stati­tis (in­flam­ma­tion of the prostate) as well as tes­tic­u­lar can­cer.

Neu­ter­ing also pre­vents males from ex­hibit­ing nui­sance be­hav­iours such as howl­ing, roam­ing and ag­gres­sion.

In six short years, an un­spayed dog – pro­duc­ing three lit­ters a year, with an av­er­age lit­ter size of four pup­pies – and her pups can add 67,000 dogs to the pop­u­la­tion. In seven years, one cat and her off­spring can pro­duce 370,000 kit­tens.

Sur­vival on the street is ex­tremely stress­ful and ex­haust­ing. For their very ex­is­tence, strays strug­gle on alone, thirsty, hun­gry, afraid, and vul­ner­a­ble; con­stantly scav­eng­ing for scraps and al­ways on the alert for the pos­si­bil­ity of dan­ger, with no safe and com­fort­able place to curl up in for the night.

So the next time you see a stray rum­mag­ing for rot­ting “throw­aways” out of a dust­bin, awake your con­science from “not my prob­lem” to “how can I help”. Don’t be in­dif­fer­ent or triv­i­alise their suf­fer­ing. Do good for these an­i­mals, so badly let down by mankind. The suf­fer­ing of stray an­i­mals is a shame on hu­mankind. In­stead of com­plaints and ex­pres­sions of dis­gust, com­mu­ni­ties should come to­gether to as­sist these un­for­tu­nate an­i­mals.

At an an­i­mal shel­ter in Shenyang, China, this for­mer stray dog is for­tu­nate to have re­ceived cus­tom­fit­ted wheels to en­able it to walk. Usu­ally, pup­pies with dis­abil­i­ties do not get adopted and those in puppy mills do not make it out alive.— AFP

Be­ing con­fined in over­crowded cages takes a toll on an­i­mals in shel­ters. — Filepic

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