Who has the right to own a pet?

Something we debate on an almost daily basis is whether people should have pets when they can't, or worse, won't, afford care that their pets require. This is a concept that I have struggled to write about for awhile, now. Who has the right to own a pet? Does everyone? Is it truly a right, or in fact a privilege to own an animal?

I'm not referring to people who have extenuating circumstances that are out of their control, like a lost job or sudden disability. I'm talking about people who already don't have a job who then decide to go out and 'rescue' an animal. Or the people that are raising multiple children on low income and get their kids a puppy. Which they don't vaccinate. And then it gets parvo. Which costs a lot more money to fix than the vaccine would have.

I'm not talking about thousands of dollars in expensive surgeries or hospitalization, here, although that is a potential need that may arise in any animal. Certainly even people that can and do afford basic medical care for their pets may be thrown off guard by an emergency. I get that, and I'll work with them, even though I do think its important to plan ahead and 'self-insure', or get pet insurance. I'm just referring to basic needs. Annual exams. Flea and heartworm control. Vaccines. Taking care of ear infections before they reach a critical mass. Radiographing a possible broken or diseased bone. Yes, these things cost money. Maybe if people stopped spending so much money on "premium foods" (by the way, who told you it was premium? the same company that makes it?) which are only making their dogs fat and at greater risk for problems, they would have extra cash on hand to buy flea control that is safe and effective.

There was an article I read a long time ago which I wish I had saved. It talked about a subset of the population that just does not have the ability to plan ahead. Where some can see down the road and adjust their current trajectory to avoid potholes, others simply cannot. At the time, I found this really hard to believe, but the more I work with people, the truer it appears. What I really want to know is: can those people learn to plan better? Do they have the ability to change? Or will they continue on in life not ever able to understand that if they just put flea control on monthly, the hotspots/infestations won't happen?

We always support adoptions and shelters, but is it fair to the animal to be adopted by someone who can't or won't give it basic medical care? Especially since that is how many animals end up at the shelter to begin with?

Is it fair to well meaning people who don't have a lot of disposable income to deny them the love and companionship a pet brings? There is no denying that pets bring happiness, stress relief, even lower blood pressure to their owners.

I don't know the right answer.

Certainly this man doesn't deserve to own a pet. (That is a great blog post by the way, about the worst part of being a veterinarian. Some of the comments are pretty interesting as well). Even though the entire situation was his fault, he chose to try to place the blame and responsibility on his veterinarian, something that is far too common. I would say if he had only planned better, things may have turned out differently, but he clearly never had any intention of caring for his own animals.

As one commenter points out, this is a gray area. If people should save money for their pets, how much should they save? How much is enough? What may be plenty to care for one pet may not even meet the tip of the iceberg to care for another. Life is unpredictable. That's what makes this subject so difficult.

I am no clearer now than I was before.


  1. My former boss had a great rant about the PRIVILEGE of pet ownership; I wish I had memorized it because he made some great points...
    I am always willing to work w/those who seem sincere (as I cast my eyes back at the mink coat hanging in the back corner of my office - collateral on one of THOSE parvo cases: a 6-mon old Chihuahua who required 2 wks hosp & a couple of transfusions. This reminds me to go ahead & let her owner "charge" her OHE since she's been making small but regular payments & I certainly don't want to be treating her for pyometra in a few yrs!)

  2. Mink coat, huh? I don't think I've ever actually seen one in real life.

  3. Maybe I can charge people to stroke it & put out a "tip jar" to help pay down this little old lady's bill ;-)

    I treat quite a few chinchillas & can ALMOST understand why one would wear their pelts - but I'll stick w/my good ol' "polyester", thank you very much!!!


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