Pets can tie us down

At this time of year the true cost of pets is obvious.

  • The Australian

They were one of the greatest joys of my life and still are. It was spiritually uplifting watching them — their moods, individual personalities, needs. And snuggling with them.

To this day when they are with me I calm down about 80 per cent and feel lovely inside (that is of course when they aren’t vomiting up fur balls, nagging to be fed or turning up with a dead rat). Research has borne this out. Nursing homes and hospitals are now routinely using pets to help patients heal. A Mayo Clinic study found that seniors with pets have 21 per cent fewer doctor visits. Thirty American airports now have calming dogs and a few miniature horses (called therapy pets) to reduce stress. San Francisco International Airport has just brought in a small, spotted Juliana pig named LiLou who runs around playfully to help passengers destress.

However there is a problematic side of pet ownership that can increase stress at this time of year. One of my close friends said it the other day: “If it weren’t for Sandy (her dog), I’d have so much more freedom in my life. When I got her I never realised the degree to which she’d tie me down.” I had asked my friend to visit me in Sydney for a week, but given that her family and friends are all going away and she doesn’t have the money for a dog “hotel”, she can’t come. When she got the dog she had kids at home and a partner. Now her kids are gone (and so is the partner), she’s an empty nester — and her old, beloved Sandy is a bit of a handful for her alone.

In fact a couple I know recently had to cancel a two-week holiday because their pet/house minder got sick at the last minute and had to pull out, too late to find a quick fix for their two dogs.

Myself, I’m in a similar situation now with my gorgeous furry-parries. I was unexpectedly given the chance to travel, but with my daughter overseas and closest friends going away for the Christmas-new year break, it was impossible to accept. My family lives in Melbourne so I can’t borrow a sister. At this time of year the true cost of pets is obvious. Playful and gorgeous fun, but for empty nesters, or single people, or those with no family around, there is the burden of care.

Using strangers is risky. One friend’s beloved cat died of a tick bite while being cat-sat. She will never know if it was because of neglect or bad luck, but spent the whole time away feeling devastated and powerless.

There is no solution except long-term planning, and when this isn’t possible or things fall through it can be alarming to realise the rearing of pets is sometimes as demanding as having children — and pet boarding is so costly. Certainly, longer trips are a challenge.

But perhaps for those prevented from travelling, there is solace in knowing you are not alone. There are many of us who can’t leave easily over the break reading this now and nodding. We are a community of pet parents, as caring and devoted to our four-legged children as any parents. We love them to pieces and would do anything for them, and never, never regret having them. But at this time of year they can … well, metaphoric­ally speaking …. bite you on the bum.

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