I graduated from grade school as a member of a small class. There were just 21 of us all together, and most of us had been together since kindergarten. We grew up together. We shared a lot of the same experiences. We were influenced by the same teachers, learned lessons in the same classrooms, participated in the same sports teams, and survived the lunch room and playground together. As with all things, time passed, we grew up a little more each and every day. Eventually, we graduated and went on to different high schools and from there, college, or otherwise. As it is wont to do, life took us all in 21 separate directions. Then, last week, I got the horrible news that one of my classmates was the victim of a tragic accident and had died.
As with any tragedy, many people were brought together to comfort each other and pay respects to the one that we collectively loved and lost. I was moved to see the range of good people that her life had touched. I reconnected, at least briefly, with many people that I hadn’t heard of, or thought of, in a long time. Many of these people were influential in my upbringing.
If this week has taught me anything it is that, in the big scheme of things, life is short. As a veterinarian, I have seen the circle of life. I have seen pups and kittens enter the world and geriatric pets exit it. We humans may get upwards of a hundred years (give or take) to experience life, but our feline and canine friends, whom we bring into our lives on a regular basis, have a much shorter life expectancy. Our feline friends live an average of 12 to 15 years. In our canine companions, the average life expectancy varies according to size. Giant breeds may only live seven or eight years, whereas smaller breeds may surpass 15 or 16 years. There are always exceptions to the rules, and I’ve seen many a 20-year-old cat and toy breed dog.
As a part of our finite days on this planet, many of us choose to adopt pets. Pet adoption is overall a wonderful experience and can add immense joy to the life of both human and animal alike.
There are an estimated 6 to 8 million dogs and cats in American animal shelters each year. Many of these animals are found as strays roaming the streets while others come from downright horrendous environments including hoarders and puppy mills. Unfortunately, many pets are relinquished to shelters across the United States as owners can no longer afford to care for them, move to new homes, or the owner themselves dies without having made arrangements for their pets’ care.
I strongly encourage considering adopting a pet from an animal shelter. There are far too many good dogs and cats that end up meeting an early demise because there are not enough people willing to open their homes to a new pet addition. Owning a dog or cat can have countless benefits for a household. They can bring joy and unconditional love and companionship. A strong human-animal bond can be an incredibly moving and life-changing thing.
However, what many people forget is that owning a pet is a major responsibility. When we adopt a worthy animal companion we become their only means of resources and care. We take on that role of provider and steward for each animal we own. No amount of love or good intentions is going to provide food and veterinary care for our feline and canine companions.
If you are considering pet adoption, please take into account your financial situation and make a realistic budget for veterinary care. If you do not already have a regular veterinarian, start looking for a reputable one. Try to be objective as possible about if you and your family are able to accommodate a pet that is going to be a part of your family for many years. Research different breeds, and temperaments, and medical conditions associated with each breed. The more preparation you do, generally, the better the outcome for all involved.
I can’t help but think that my classmate would want to be associated with an article about shelter adoption. Her dogs were a big part of her adult life. Her family had requested that memorial donations be made to the local humane society. It was an honor to be a part of a donation from our grade school class in the name of our childhood friend.
Dr. Marisa L. Tong is a veterinarian at Delphos Animal Hospital. She is a ‘98 graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School, Toledo. She is the owner of a rescued dog, Marty McFly.