Getting a family pet: 6 facts to note

If junior bugs you to get them a paw-pal or a Dory, heed our expert advice BEFORE you buy any pet.

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A loving and adorable family pet can teach your little a lot about compassion, patience and caring for another creature.

In addition, Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of Save Our Street Dogs (SoSD), points out that studies show that babies suffer fewer allergy-related conditions like rhinitis and asthma later in life when they grow up with furry friends. This is because the bodies of kids who interact with pets from young have time to adapt to the allergens

The downside? Your kids might soon tire of this furry (or finned) family member. Dr Siew says that as many as 2,000 dogs are in shelters in Singapore. More than 2,000 dogs are also put to sleep every year.

Notes Ricky Yeo of Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), which looks into the welfare of dogs in Singapore, “Of these, 70 per cent are stray dogs and at least 30 per cent are abandoned dogs which are young — between six months and two years old — mostly because they are deemed to be ‘of value’ to be given away, without due consideration, or surrendered to the SPCA.

“The reality is most kids get bored within two to three weeks and the onus of menial chores like cleaning up and walking the dog lie with the parents.”

Experts list six facts to consider before you give in and buy that pet your kiddo is begging for.

1) Get advice from a pro

Talk to a professional like a vet or an animal-shelter volunteer for more info about owning a pet. Dr Siew says that before a dog is resettled into a new home, an SoSD volunteer can guide the family on caring for their adopted dog. You should also visit an SoSD with your little one to experience first-hand how to take care of an animal.

Get details from the vet on the different vaccinations your pet would need. Such jabs can protect your furry friend from diseases like canine distemper and parvovirus in dogs, feline panleukopenia virus in cats, as well as respiratory diseases in both cats and dogs. Dogs require the first round of vaccinations when they are about six weeks old, followed by a booster shot every year.

It will be much kinder to adopt a homeless dog than buy one from a breeder.

2) Set ground rules

Yeo asserts that just like a new baby, pets require lots of time, effort, responsibility and commitment. Dr Siew adds, “Remind your children that a pet is for life and the onus of caring for the pet is shared between you and your little one, so both parties need to commit to taking care of it until it dies.”

Before you bring home the animal, draw up a schedule that details who, how and when to care for it. This includes whom should clean the tanks or cages, when are it should be fed or brought out to play.

3) Consider fostering or adopting

Dr Siew points out, “It will be much kinder to adopt a homeless dog than buy one from a breeder, who is churning out MORE dogs, to add to the pool of homeless dogs, for commercial gain.”

You pay $300 to adopt a dog from an SoSD shelter, which includes vaccination, sterilisation and toilet training. To compare, a pooch from a breeder can cost thousands of dollars without vaccination or sterilisation. Once you adopt a dog, you’ll free up space in the shelter to rehabilitate another dog — so, you’re paying it forward!

If adopting a dog seems like a heavy commitment, foster one instead. Yeo says ASD’s fostering program — where families care for a dog for at least a month — sees some 30 to 40 per cent of foster families adopting the canine eventually. Again, this makes way for another dog.

Click on find out what type of pet is most suitable for your household…

4) Pick the “right” animal

Picking an animal companion to be compatible with your family’s lifestyle is your best bet against abandoning it later on. Whether it’s a bird, terrapin or a fish, each pet has different needs and requires varying levels of attention. Cost is also a vital issue — food aside, you’ll also need to factor in toys, treats, vet visits, as well as regular grooming sessions (which can be quite costly).

If you’re into dogs, Dr Siew recommends golden retrievers and labradors as these breeds are very good with people and children (though they require outdoor time). By the way, large dogs (who have huge amounts of energy) are a no-no for households with elderly people or small children, so choose a calmer, older dog instead.

Incidentally, it is against the rules for HDB flat dwellers to keep cats! Cats shed fur and also tend to defecate or urinate in public areas. Felines are also in the habit of howling or wailing well into the wee hours of the morning. Dr Siew also notes that cats can also carry the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, which can have adverse effects on an unborn child.

“Help your furry one find a good home. Never abandon the dog as it’s cruel and only means suffering and eventual death for it!”

5) Know the law

Abandoning your pet is a form of animal cruelty for which you can be fined $10,000 or be jailed up to a year. Owners are also required to ensure that their pets have adequate food, water and shelter. If not, you could face a $15,000 fine or be jailed up to 18 months or both.

By the way, you may be with slapped with a fine of up to $50,000 or get six months’ jail if you release your pet bird, fish or insect crickets, for instance — in the park.

6) Have a plan B

Giving up your pet should be a last resort. Yeo notes, “Family members should focus on working out the medical or behavioural problems first. There is always a solution.”

The family should only consider euthanising their dog if it is suffering or in pain, Dr Siew advises. Always consult a vet first and if it is being put to sleep, stay with your pet, so that it is surrounded by loved ones.

If keeping your pet is really not an option, ask if a relative, a close friend or a no-kill animal welfare group can take it in. Dr Siew urges, “Help your furry one find a good home. Never abandon the dog as it’s cruel and only means suffering and eventual death for it!”

Photos: iStock

Dr Siew Tuck Wah is president at Save Our Street Dogs. Ricky Yeo is an Action for Singapore Dogs representative.

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