Watch Tip: First-time Pet Owners

Posted on November 13th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoFirst-time pet owners, especially those who have not grown up with a pet in the family, may lack the knowledge needed to keep the pet safe and healthy.  They may not understand the physical and emotional needs of their a young puppy or kitten. If your neighbors or friends are first-time pet owners, watch and listen for signs of problems. Offer friendly advice, loans of pet-related items and even pet sitting to the new family. Be a voice for that pet; you could even save a life.

Puppy was dangerously neglected by an ignorant owner

A reader recently wrote to me about how her sister made a dramatic, life-saving rescue of a neglected puppy; the story is now posted on our stories page. I love hearing from readers with true-life rescues like this. Sometimes hearing a new story like this enriches my understanding of the root of neglect, which is ignorance. The short-haired puppy was chained continuously to a picnic table in a northern climate and winter was coming on. The chain was very short and it was deeply embedded in her growing neck. I won’t spoil the story by telling you more; read it. It does have a heart-warming ending.

I imagine that the puppy’s original owner made an impulsive decision to adopt a cute, free puppy offered at a yard sale or something like that. The owner was not prepared nor knowledgeable nor even thoughtful. The owner was flatly oblivious. If the kind-hearted rescuer had not been curious about source of the pitiful whining on the other side of the fence, that puppy would have certainly died of exposure within a few hours. This type of scenario is unfortunately all too common. And while I don’t recommend theft as a solution to neglect, certainly the owner violated state animal neglect laws. It was a tricky situation. I know I would not have turned my back on that suffering puppy either.

Does a first-time dog owner know that a picnic table is not safe shelter?

We all have learned one way or another that a picnic table is not shelter for pets. A deck is not a dog house, nor is a clothesline pole. A tree trunk is not a dog house. The side of a house is not shelter. A hole under a porch is not shelter either. A proper shelter in most climates is a dog house; it has a raised floor and a roof and walls and a doorway. (Read my Watch Tip about adequate shelter.)

But first-time pet owners might see dogs living in neglectful conditions and make the assumption that it is acceptable thereby perpetuating the practice. That’s one of the ways we learn, through observation. If that learning is not reinterpreted by someone more knowledgeable, we remain ignorant, sometimes dangerously so. And so puppies continued to be tied to picnic tables with chains that are too short. So first-time owners don’t understand that puppies need their collars expanded weekly while they are growing. They have not been taught so.

First-time owners might not know how to house-train their puppies

I wonder if the puppy in the story above was banished from the house for peeing on the carpet. It happens so often! Many dogs end up in pounds and shelters because their owners didn’t learn how to house-train them, or for intact male dogs, they didn’t learn that neutering prevents territorial marking (if house-trained). In the shelter where I volunteer, we have had three recent toy dog strays, all intact male dogs, all extremely cute. Today I photographed two of them and they both marked spots within seconds of entering the room. Nothing more need be said.

First-time owners might not understand the importance of spaying and neutering

Our nation is experiencing a crisis in feral cat overpopulation. Cats, both feral and domesticated, are more likely to be euthanized in pounds and shelters than dogs. Inexperienced cat owners likely don’t understand how quickly young cats can reproduce. Even experienced dog owners might not provide sterilization surgery to cats, who are second-class pet citizens in some families. First-time owners might not understand that kitten shots and parasite treatments are absolutely necessary as well.

I’m so grateful that kittens raised with litter boxes nearby easily train themselves! That instinct alone has saved millions of lives I think.

Share your knowledge of pet care, house-training, and your love of companion animals with neighbors and friends, especially first-time owners. You’ll be bringing so much good into the world!

    4 Responses to “Watch Tip: First-time Pet Owners”

    1. Jerry Dunham says:

      Training for first-time pet owners is available in some locales, and new owners should be encouraged to utilize it. Here in Austin, several rescue groups and our municipal shelter offer counseling and classes for pet owners, including new pet owners. Our shelter even has classes on recognizing and responding to animal cruelty.

      Unfortunately, such assistance is far from universal in Texas, and, best I can tell, in much of the rest of the country. Anyone who wants to be a good neighbor to pets in their area should investigate what resources are available, particularly through the local shelter, and push for improvements where they are needed. Most government entities won’t make improvements unless they know citizens are pushing for them.

    2. Ace Attura says:

      1) Re: ” we remain ignorant, sometimes dangerously so. ………. (and) First- time owners might not know how to house-train their puppies

      My thoughts on the above: Many time the Animal Shelter DOES have FREE TRAINING classes for First Time Pet Owners — if not, please suggest this to your local shelter
      and step up to help make this a REALITY — you WILL be saving lives and educating pet owners this way!”

      2) And, Re: grateful that kittens raised with litter boxes nearby easily train themselves! That instinct alone has saved millions of lives I think.”

      Sorry — I disagree with #2 above. Why? Because not all kittens or cats know how to use the litter box. Here’s my suggestion:

      “Many kittens raised with litter boxes nearby easily train themselves! That instinct alone has saved millions of lives. BUT if they pee outside the box, YOU as the owner need to patiently work with them—put kitty in the box, hold a little paw and make kitty scratch the litter, praise them when they use the litter box—take them to the VET if they keep going outside the box – it may be a sign of an infection or blockage, either of which can kill the kitten or cat.”

      3) And as someone astutely pointed out , re: “And it goes without saying that first-time owners might not understand that kitten shots and parasite treatments are absolutely necessary as well.”

      First time owners need to be made aware from the very start (maybe even before the shelter hands over that pet to the new adopter) that kitten (and puppy) shots and treatments are absolutely VITAL — and when these pets are adults, yearly Veterinary care at a minimum, is also vital.

    3. Anna Nirva says:

      Thank you Ace for adding so much to the discussion and providing information about training kittens to use the litter box if they are not doing so on their own. The plight of the “free kitten” troubles me. My friend who works in a vet clinic tells of receiving calls weekly from the public who seek “free kittens.” She tries to explain about shots and tests and spay/neuter surgery, but hears that the caller doesn’t want any information. It’s very troubling. These callers have no idea about the needs of a healthy house cat.

    4. Anna Nirva says:

      I’m glad to hear of first-time pet owner classes in your region, Jerry. The responsible first-time pet owners will take advantage of classes but the ones who really need the information are often not at all interested. They know it all already.

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