First comes love, then comes … Mr. Whiskers? As younger adults put off major milestones such as marriage, more and more are adopting animals — at 35 percent, millennials now make up the largest segment of pet owners in the U.S. Should you and your partner jump on the fur baby bandwagon? Dr. Diarra Blue, a Houston veterinarian co-starring on season four of Animal Planet’s “The Vet Life,” spoke with AskMen and shared six ways to tell if a pet is right for your relationship.
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1. You Both Actually Want a Pet
What could be sweeter than a golden retriever puppy jumping out of gift box? Answer: Having a real conversation about pet ownership first. “Surprising each other with animals is cute — it’s very storybook — but it’s not the best idea,” Blue says. “Because you never know: [Your partner] may be like, ‘Hey, I don’t feel like waking up every four hours to take the dog to the bathroom. It wasn’t in my morning plan to step out of bed into a pile of poop and pee.’ You have to have the support of everybody. Everybody’s got to be involved in that decision.”
2. Your Calendar Game Is on Lock
Pets are like cars: To function at their best, they require routine maintenance. “Something that’s often overlooked is the care that a pet takes,” Blue says. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh you just give them a rabies shot and that’s it.’ No; there are other vaccines. There’s dental cleaning. There’s neutering. There’s training.” If you haven’t already, create a couple’s calendar that tracks commitments big and small — everything from your bae’s work trips to the date your Nissan needs an oil change. That way, once you bring home your four-legged pal, you can easily incorporate pet care on your shared master schedule.
3. You’re on the Same Page About Money
If you and your significant other tend to bicker over the cable bill, iron out your financial differences before taking in a pet — because the costs of an animal are considerable, Blue says. At his practice, for instance, a package for preventive vaccines, screenings and blood work costs up to $285 annually. Foodwise, a midsize dog can easily gobble up $70 a month, and dental cleaning runs about $400 annually. “We’re talking $1,500 to $2,000 a year — and that’s for a healthy animal,” Blue says. So start by making sure your budget can accommodate Fido’s overhead, then hash out a payment system with your partner. For instance, maybe you decide to divvy all costs equally, or maybe one person pays for preventive care while the other covers kibble.
4. You Don’t Mind Redecorating
A pet-friendly home environment is critical to an animal’s safety, Blue says — and that may require switching up your decor. In addition to pet-proofing measures like tossing toxic houseplants (adios, pothos) and anchoring tippy bookcases to walls, Blue says it’s important for cat and dog owners to corral stray objects in drawers and cabinets. “If you have a dog like mine that likes to eat everything, be aware: I can’t tell you how many dogs I get in my hospital that literally have baby binkies in [their digestive tracts]. Dogs that have have women’s underwear in them. They have small toys from a child’s room, like Nerf bullets. These are things that dogs tend to eat because they learn the world through their mouths.”
5. You’re Great at Dividing Duties (or Delegating)
Blue and his wife, along with the couple’s two sons, own a Yorkie-chihuahua mix and a South African mastiff that require tons of attention no matter how hectic everyone’s schedule gets. “I wake up at about five o’clock every morning; depending on traffic, I live 45 minutes to an hour away from my hospital,” Blue says. “So you have to have that conversation: Who’s taking care of the dogs in the morning and who’s taking care of the dogs at night?” Otherwise, if owners drop the ball, pets can suffer. “Am I at work for eight hours and not able to come home for lunch breaks?” Blue asks rhetorically. “Is the dog bored and tearing up the house? Is it developing other bad habits?” If you and your partner hit a patch where your time and attention are limited, be sure to enlist a backup person — like a sitter or walker — who can shower your pet with TLC.
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6. You’re Cool With a Bit of Weird Behavior
Unless you’re adopting a newborn puppy, chances are your pet will come into your home with some built-in behavioral quirks — and maybe even some bad habits. “These are things that I think [prospective owners] really don’t investigate enough because they see this animal sitting in a cage or kennel — the animal’s got the eyes going — and people just fall in love,” Blue says. “As admirable as that is, you have to remember to that this is an animal that you should not be taking for granted.” Try to find out as much as you can about the animal’s personality before signing those adoption papers — say, by coming back for an extra visit and asking about the animal’s behavioral history at the shop or shelter. Then evaluate whether you really have the time and skills to help the animal acclimate to your family. “You don’t want to adopt a pet for a week and then be like, ‘Oh, it didn’t work out,’” Blue says. “That can do more damage to the animal psychologically. I truly think we need to take the time to figure out what kind of pet we’re really getting.”
When You’re Ready, Here’s What to Do Next
If you and your S.O. decide you’re ready to take the pet plunge, try searching for adorable animals in need of homes near you by entering your zip code in a database such as Petfinder, which aggregates listings from more than 14,000 organizations nationwide. Then, once you spot a potential match, reach out to the organization directly and ask about adoption requirements. Many shelters and rescue groups ask that prospective pet parents submit personal references, fill out detailed questionnaires about the home environment, and provide documentation such as rental leases and proof of employment. The better your paperwork, the more quickly your cute companion comes home with you.
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