I grew up thinking that the word “pet” meant dog, cat or a combination thereof. To me, “exotic” pet owners were those with a tank full of something other than goldfish or a cage with a furry little creature such as a rabbit or hamster. Yes, I had a sheltered life. Imagine my shock when I learned that people keep snakes, iguanas and mice as pets! My point is that there are MANY types of pets out there, so how do you know which one is right for you?
Here are some common questions to ask not only yourself and your spouse, but your WHOLE family. Take EXTRA consideration into the preference of the primary pet caregiver (*cough* the military spouse *cough*). We all know that kids will argue with the oh so famous: “I’ll take care of him! I promise! I will walk him every day, clean out the tank/cage, feed him and play with him! Everything! I promise, promise, promise! Pretty, pretty, pretty pleeeeeaaaaasssseee!!” Then there is the service member that begs and pleads the same. Then deployment orders come in. I think we all know how this story ends. So again, I emphasize, take the primary pet caregiver’s desires into consideration.
1.) Activity level: How much physical activity does your pet need per day? This can range from a 3 mile run twice a day for an active sporting dog down to absolutely nothing for fish. Be honest with yourself. If you do not run that much now, you will not run that much when you get your pet.
2.) Age: Do you SERIOUSLY have the patience for a baby animal? I am the one driving the “puppies are cute and kittens are cuddly” train, but I do not want either one as a pet. We prefer the “old souls” that have already been potty trained and are past the chewing phase.
3.) Commitment: How long are you willing to have a pet? I remember the day my husband told me that cats can live up to 20 years. I looked at my cat and told her she had better get used to me (she still hasn’t for all the inquiring minds). Is your family ready to commit to an animal for that long, or is your family more in the zone for a goldfish that may live a few weeks?
4.) Lifestyle: Along with commitment, does your lifestyle lead to a pet-friendly home? Are you guys jetting off every weekend for hours on end? Will having a dog cramp your style because you will be bound to a potty schedule? Maybe everyone in your home works long hours and can’t give a pet the attention it deserves. This could be a sign that you need a less interactive pet. Think iguana or turtle (again…*shudder*).
So you think you have it figured out? Have you factored being a military family into your pet decision yet? Did you just pause and wonder what being a military family has to do with getting a pet? Well I am here to tell you that it has EVERYTHING to do with making a pet choice. I get it, being a military family is hard. Sometimes it feels like we are never truly in charge of our lives with PCSs, deployments and the like. So I understand the frustration when it can feel like a gross overstep by Uncle Sam when we have to take our military status into account for pet ownership. In addition to the normal “Is this pet right for our family questions” you must ask yourself:
1.) Can this pet live in base housing? I know you may not live in base housing now or plan to in the future. I never did either (as I sit here typing from my base housing home), but plan like it could happen. That means taking a look at the restricted breeds. I know it’s not fair, but a few bad apples spoil the bunch. I don’t see the breed restriction policy changing anytime soon.
2.) Can this pet live in most rental properties? Same as base housing. See above.
3.) Can this pet live in extreme climate (hello Southwest desert or Alaska)? It’s probably not wise to take a lizard to the tundra or a Bernese Mountain dog to tropical Guam. I am not saying you can’t take your beloved pet friend; I am just saying think about your pet’s comfort.
4.) Can this pet move overseas? Look at your branch of service and the different possibilities for locations of future assignments overseas. Then take into account any restrictions those countries have on types of animals. Maybe birds can’t fly or ferrets aren’t allowed in. Do your research. And don’t say, “We will never move overseas.” I said the same thing. Again, as I sit here typing from our base housing overseas. The military has a funny way of turning “never” into “oh yes you are.” Don’t make your pet suffer.
5.) Stick to two pets of any variety. Two seems to be the magic number for maximum pets allowed in rentals, base housing, overseas, on Noah’s Ark, etc. I know it is hard to turn away pets, and that two is not set in stone everywhere (and yes I agree, cat’s shouldn’t count because they aren’t really pets; they are more mini-melodramatic humans, but they do count). So save yourself a broken heart and extra pet deposits and stick with two pets maximum. No matter what the variety.
It is definitely possible to have pets while moving all around the country and globe as a military family. We are living proof. We have had our “kids” for almost nine years and they have seen more of the world than most people. Ask them if they are impressed and the answer will be no. The key to being a successful pet owner AND military family is to plan ahead and choose wisely so that everyone wins.