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How To: Choose a Pet Responsibly

By Sophie Pettit 6 June 2016
Having an animal in the home can bring many benefits - helping to build a child's confidence and teaching them how to care for living things, getting more exercise with those daily dog walks, not to mention the joy of coming home to a wagging tail and friendly face. However, if you are considering welcoming a pet into your home, doing your research first is the vital step in ensuring you make the right choice for you and your furry new companion. To help you make an informed decision, we speak to experts from animal organisations across Hong Kong. Founder of Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR), Sally Andersen, and education & training manager Cactus Mok, address the practicalities of taking on a pet: Anyone thinking about getting a pet must consider all aspects carefully, especially if they are an expat and Hong Kong will not always be their home. Too many pets are abandoned when their owners move to another country and that should never be an option. The major mistakes people often make when choosing a pet is not thinking ahead, or being too impulsive and not doing their research about the needs of the breed types. Some people get a puppy for a young child and think they'll take responsibility for it when they won't - and shouldn't. Other times, people don't consider the time involved in taking care of an animal that is totally reliant on you for everything, or the fact that a small puppy can grow into a large adult with greater needs.

What pet to choose?

Decide what sort of time you have to devote to taking proper care of an animal and base your decision on that to start with. Dogs are the most work-intensive as they require not only your companionship and good exercise, but also training and grooming. If you don't have the time to train a dog, get an adult. Short-haired dogs are obviously easier to keep neat and tidy than long-haired ones. Even cats shouldn't be left without human companionship for very long periods, but at least they don't need exercising. If you have considered all of the above and want a friend that is loyal, loving, completely trustworthy, and will lay down its life for you, then you need a dog.

Have you got the time for a dog?

If you work and don't have a helper, or at the very least a dog walker, then don't have a dog. They are social animals who don't handle being alone well, and it can lead to all sort of problems. It's also just not fair or kind to have a dog that you will leave on its own all day.

Can you give a dog adequate exercise?

Many people think one 30-minute walk a day is all that's required, and it's not enough, no matter the size of the dog. Taking a dog out is great physical exercise, but it also gives a dog a chance to meet dog and human friends, play, and socialise. Dogs that aren't socialised develop the same sort of issues that people do when kept isolated.

Do you want a trained dog or a young puppy?

If you choose the latter, then do you have the time, patience, and knowledge to train a puppy? If you have children, remember that all puppies bite with sharp teeth, and that children must never be expected to be responsible for the care or exercising of a dog, no matter how much they promise to do so.

What breed or breed mix should I get?

Most people will have a mental image of the ideal family dog and usually that means a preference for a certain breed. What some don't realise is that each dog breed has specific character traits; dogs are not all the same. Some people are aware that breeds like Border Collies, Samoyeds, and Huskys need a lot of exercise. However, people tend to think smaller breeds are indoor breeds and lap dogs, but the reality is that many of them like the Poodle, Jack Russell, Corgi, and Shiba Inu, are actually more energetic than the larger breeds and also need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. It's important to do your research beforehand to understand the breed's typical behaviour pattern, exercise needs, and physical features, so you choose a dog that matches your lifestyle. This will save you from a lot of trouble later on. In short: don't fall in love with a breed, but focus on the dog's temperament and energy level when you first meet it. Be open to the idea that a mixed-breed dog could be your ideal companion.

[su_quote]Don’t fall in love with a breed, but focus on the dog’s temperament and energy level when you first meet it. Be open to the idea that a mixed-breed dog could be your ideal companion.[/su_quote]

Are all family members on board?

You are not the only person adopting the dog, it's your whole family and this includes your helper and any existing pets. You should make sure everyone in the family is on board with the decision, and confirm beforehand that no one has any severe pet allergies before bringing the dog home. It is wise to introduce the dog to all family members, especially your children, to see if the dog of your choice also likes your kids. And don't forget to involve the helper to see if the dog is also friendly with the household help. It's also important to understand that all family members should be involved in the training of the dog, not just the person that adopts - it's a team effort. Kirsten Mitchell, founder of volunteer-run animal rescue organisation, Kirsten's Zoo, points out the importance of making sure that pets are permitted in your home:

Does your building and/or landlord allow pets?

If your building has a 'No Pet Policy', don't adopt and force the dog to live inside for the rest of his days. Dogs have needs too - they need to meet other dogs, to socialise, play, and interact - don't try to turn a dog into a person, they are animals! And don't take a young, energetic dog if you are out all day or can't do two to three walks a day. Aside from this, you also need to consider if you live in an area where you will be able to take your dog for exercise. They need daily exercise, regardless of the weather and whether or not you feel like it. Dr. Teresa Lee, welfare programme manager at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) raises the safety aspects of your home:

Is our home safe?

You need to consider if your home is animal friendly or if it needs some alterations to make it safe for your pet, such as making sure you install window screens if you are bringing a cat into your home. For example, we see a lot of cases of "flying cats" where they have fallen down from a high - or even low - rise building because their owner has failed to take the right precautions. This is actually one of our own criteria for adopting a cat, because we don't want to run the risk of animals becoming injured or paralysed from a nasty fall. Lee also raises the issue of financial implications:

Can you afford the medical bills?

One reason that people surrender their animals is that they can no longer afford to pay the medical bills, whether the animal is sick or old and requiring medical attention. A pet is like a child, you can't predict when they might get sick or have an accident, which can lead to financial expenditure. Aside from this, animals need to go through a series of preventative healthcare measures such as vaccines against the most common viral diseases, monthly de-worming to prevent from heart worm, which is endemic in Hong Kong, as well as monthly flea and tick control. As the animal gets older, we also strongly recommend annual health checks, such as blood work to make sure their internal organs are functioning normally, and dental cleanings to ensure they don't have dental disease which can occur in later life. It's far easier and cheaper to prevent diseases than to treat them, but the cost of doing this still adds up, so you need to consider your finances before you commit. [su_slider source="media: 58905,58901,58906,58903,58904,58902,58898,58900" width="660" height="440" title="no"] All photos taken at the SPCA Hong Kong According to Andersen, the number of abandoned dogs in Hong Kong is on the rise, partly due to the fact that many people continue to buy puppies from pet shops. She discusses the importance of considering adopting over buying:

Where to find your pet?

Sadly most Hong Kongers still buy puppies, although the concept of adoption is certainly growing. All rescue organisations are overflowing because of this, at HKDR we have reached capacity at 600 dogs and can now take in only as many as we can home. The number of unwanted pets include many who were bought and subsequently discarded. The number of small breeds being abandoned is decreasing, but not the number of large, mixed breeds. The more puppies that are bought and not desexed, the more they breed and the more end up being discarded.

Why adopt?

Every year, around 7,000 dogs are destroyed by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), and that doesn't include those animals who die after having been abandoned in the countryside or taken to organisations that are not No Kill. If you're considering buying, then don't. There are animals of every kind waiting to be adopted, and buying should simply never be an option. If you love animals and you are confident that you can be a responsible and loving pet owner, why not choose adoption and save a life? Rescued dogs are often mistaken as second-hand, broken goods, but the reality is that the majority of them are friendly and healthy dogs and make wonderful companions. If you adopt from a reputable organisation, then you should be given all the information you need, and at HKDR, that also includes free post-adoption training support.

[su_quote]Rescued dogs are often mistaken as second-hand, broken goods, but the reality is that the majority of them are friendly and healthy dogs and make wonderful companions. [/su_quote]

Mitchell suggests a trial stage or fostering is a good way to find out if you are suited to be a dog owner. "Charities are crying out for temporary foster homes where a dog or cat can learn to be in a home and around people," she explains. "Adoption is for life - if you can't adopt, or you don't think it will be permanent, then just foster." [su_note note_color="#eae9e8" radius="0"]

Want to help?

From dog walking to bathing and grooming animals, to adopting and fostering them, there are plenty of ways to lend some help. If you would like to know more about the different volunteer opportunities at the organisations featured above, click on the links below. [/su_note]
Read more! Explore the rest of our How To section.

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Sophie is always on the lookout for a great story and her next big adventure and loves nothing more than discovering the city’s hidden gems—and most delicious cocktails. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s off travelling and ticking countries off her bucket list.

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