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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Joys, Responsibilities of Pet Ownership | 07-04-2013
Santa Clarita CA
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August 19
1879 - Newhall civic leader Charles Henry Kingsburry born in Missouri [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Jul 4, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugThere are many advantages to owning a pet, but I’ll bet you didn’t think it involves lots of research and becoming an expert on multiple topics.

I have found it necessary to do so, as part of many of my “adoption” projects.  For example, I wanted a natural-looking pond, using goldfish to avoid clouds of pesky mosquitoes invading my garden. I also knew I have raccoons as regular night time visitors in my back yard. The goldfish would be nice snacks for them, but that would defeat my purpose. Somewhere, there must be an answer to my problem.

I read all of the books about natural ponds and became an expert on the different plants I should use, and eventually I found my answer. The pond should be a specific depth, deep enough so the raccoons could not catch the fish, but shallow enough so it was not considered a “pool” with all of the related safety regulations. That was a close call.

evelyne_bird070213 I wanted an aviary in my back yard, and I found one that somebody wanted to get rid of. I was left with one dilemma. It had only one door, and I knew that would spell disaster. A blast of wind could push the door wide open while I was carefully entering with dishes of food, water and lettuce. I collect only small birds (after my “parrot phase”), and they are even quicker to escape. Professional aviaries have a sash with two doors; you open one with your dishes on a tray, close the door behind you, and only then do you open the second door.

Again after much research, I found an article about somebody who used a curtain made of metal mesh like you sometimes find in front of a fireplace. Too expensive for me, but I bought a heavy fabric and made a curtain with many weights sewn into the bottom seam. The strongest wind does not make it move, and I have developed a swift way to glide to the side to open it up.

I was quite pleased with myself when a professional falconer was interested in doing the same thing at his home. He had lost one of his favorite birds. The door of its cage suddenly opened up with a blast of wind, and the bird was gone.

evelyne_fish070213We all know the wonderful advantages of being a pet owner: We have less depression, lower blood pressure, elevated levels of serotonin and dopamine to help us relax, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels so we have less heart disease. Even watching a fish in an aquarium can reduce muscle tension and pulse rate.

Pet ownership increases your exercise level, provides companionship, helps you meet new people, adds structure and routine to your daily life, and it also helps to find meaning and joy in life and boost your vitality. Quite a list.

Recently it became apparent that children who live with dogs and cats are less likely to develop allergies or asthma.

We have had every pet possible in my household; my father was a dog and a bird breeder, so it was a natural evolution for me. Every time my children wanted a new pet, we did extensive research to make sure we could meet its requirements: Did it need daily interaction? Was the food easy to buy? How long was the life expectancy? What should we be prepared for?

evelyne_rat070213I asked my daughter – who became a veterinarian – what pets are not good for children. The list was appalling, because we have had every one of those pets.  Amphibians and reptiles can carry salmonella. Guinea pigs can have scurvy and teeth problems. Rabbits have GI tract problems. Ferrets have tumors (and they’re not allowed in California); hamsters tend to bite, birds are delicate, and fish get worms – but rats are excellent pets!

I must agree that rats make very smart pets. They are clean, affectionate creatures. The only problem is that many of the rats for sale have been inbred, and their life span is not much more than three years. They usually have cancerous tumors, and ours “passed away” after three years. Sometimes, it is a good length for the short attention span of a child.

Now we have gone full circle. All of my careful research did not prevent me from adopting those pets, but I knew, and my children knew, what to expect and what their responsibility was.

Antoine Saint Exupery said it so well: “You are responsible for what you tame.” Pets are the responsibility of the humans who adopt them. Their health is in your hands.

If we are talking about larger animals like cats, dogs and horses, you must be sure you can take care of their mental well being, too.

evelyne_cat070213Deciding what breed of cat or dog is also a matter of research. You cannot just be looking at the size of the dog; each breed has a specific character and behavior. If it is a mutt, it is important to find what mix of breeds it is, to better understand the likely behavior in advance so you can be prepared. A shepherd does not act like a hunting dog. It makes the anticipation and understanding of the dog reaction fascinating to watch.

The same idea can be applied to cats: a Siamese is a totally different cat from a Himalayan, and you cannot expect the same behavior. It is good to do some reading before adopting one. You will find that your expectation is totally fulfilled by one more than another, and you will have a blissful relationship for many years.

We had a cat that lived 21 years; cats’ life span is often longer than dogs’, so you have to make certain the relationship will be one of love, trust and friendship.

Animals seldom disappoint, and they bring much joy to your day – and plenty of work, too. But they are so grateful, and you will feel so proud to give them a good life. It will make your life healthier and happier, too.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.


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  1. Nikki says:

    Great article! Always enjoy whatever you write, Evelyne!

  2. Helen says:

    I love your article. Some of the pet stores try to inform the public the responsibility of ownership and I can see this article being reprinted many times over. Perfect!

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