Is pet ownership worth the heartache?

by Markus Bachman

Author’s dog, Champagne, resting on the hardwood floor (photo courtesy of Markus Bachman).

There was one thing I did not expect amid the uncertainty and shortages caused by COVID-19. Mindlessly scrolling through news on my phone one day, I saw a story saying that humane societies across the country had a shortage of pets available for adoption. Initially I was stunned, not sure what to make of it. I first thought it was a joke, until I did some digging and realized that it was no joke.

Now, after a year of living in a pandemic, a persistent question has come to my mind. How many of these pandemic-adopted pets are going to be returned to the shelter because they are no longer a baby or young pet, and the owner does not want to deal with their aging as life begins to return to normal?

This question has gained increasing traction for me recently. As I type this, I am sitting on the floor with my dog, Champagne, who is 16 years old. She has been a huge part of my life for the last 12 years, but her time is running short.

Do not get me wrong, I love pets. I am not at all suggesting we should not have pets. But I do have to wonder how many owners are willing to keep their pet until their last breaths. Personally, all my pets have lived with me and my family until their last breath because I understood that having a pet meant it was here to stay until it passed away.

Sadly, I know there are people who do not make that part of the commitment that comes with having a pet. A quick search on petfinder.com implies this. In the Twin Cities, there are more adult dogs, two to eight years old, and senior dogs, eight years old and older, up for adoption than there are dogs under two years old.

Granted, there are situations where this is the only option if a new home for a pet cannot be found quickly. My older sister recently adopted Sammie, an eight-and-a-half-year-old Labrador and collie mix. If my sister had not adopted her, Sammie would have been sent to a shelter because her former owner passed away, and the heir could not take her because they were moving. Given Sammie’s age, she most likely would have been euthanized if my sister had not opened her home and heart to this senior dog.

Seeing our furry/scaly/feathered friends get old is hard. Seeing their physical and mental conditions worsen is heartbreaking. As much as one may hate it, it is unfortunately part of life on this earth. No matter what kind of pet it is, we have a duty to care for and love our pets from the moment we bring them home to the moment they pass away.

One may ask, “If we are left with broken hearts when our pets die, then why bother owning one in the first place?” It is a valid question to which I have no answer. In the end, it is a personal choice whether or not to have a pet. As for me, I will always have a heart for pets. Yes, the pain is great when we lose them. But their years of love, companionship and memories make it all worth it.

Having a pet is a fun experience, but the experience is not always fun. The common wedding vow, “Until death do we part,” also applies to our pets. No, it is not fun to deal with an older pet’s health issues and eventual death, but it is something that a person must be committed to if they desire to own a pet.

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