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The R Factor

We embrace a sacred Responsibility when taking an animal into our homes, one that is often not considered by new pet owners.

Kittens and puppies are darling--a person who could not find love within himself by looking into their trusting eyes is not a whole person. Yet, without a nutritious diet, grooming, regular veterinary care, training, and tons of love, those cute puppies and kittens can grow up to be unwanted nuisances. Where do they go then? Do you try to find another home for them, dump them in a park, hoping that some kind stranger will give them the care and love you are not capable of, or take them to the local animal shelter to be snuffed?

What happens to those excess kittens that you allowed to be bred, thinking it would be great for your kiddies to experience the "miracle of birth"? The other day when my husband and I were exiting the Safeway store, he mused that, "You seldom see kids with a box of kittens to give away, anymore." I hoped in my heart that the reason was that people are being more conscientious about spaying and neutering--but I have a sinking feeling that the true reason is this: we have such a population explosion of unwanted kittens that few people will take them. Therefore, they find their new "home" at the pound with a scant 72 hours at the most before joining the ten million or so animals that are killed at shelters every year.

I often receive mail from cat owners who have not yet discovered the "R Factor". They usually start with "My cat has such-and-such symptoms, which really worry me," and end with "We can't afford to take him to the vet. Please help me." These e-mails always leave me with a wide range of emotional reaction: sorrow and concern for this hapless kitty mixed with anger and frustration at a cat owner who refuses responsibility for veterinary care; and a generous sprinkling of frustration that this kitty's fate is out of my hands.

Owning a pet requires a lifetime commitment; a commitment to provide its basic needs; a commitment to *always* provide a home for it; a commitment to return the unconditional love you will receive. We all know that you will never own a cat, but you do own the Responsibilty for it. If you cannot make that lifetime commitment, you should settle for stuffed animals as companions. I have been accused of harshness for that stance, but consider this: would you consider giving birth to a baby with the thought "if it doesn't work out, we can give it away?"

The commitment of pet ownership carries other Responsibilities, also. A dear friend of mine lost her beloved cat, Lewis, last week when he was torn to pieces on her own front lawn by a pit bull that was allowed to run loose. The owner was given back his dog, along with a citation for "containment violation". The animal control officials said that since it was the dog's first "offense", they could not take it away from its owner.

Lewis was sleeping under a bush in his own yard, a favorite spot, where he was often petted by small children walking home from the nearby grammar school. Lewis died on a holiday; otherwise one of those children might have been the target. I have my own feelings about pit bulls and other dogs bred exclusively for their killing ability, which I won't voice here. However, I wonder how many other animals this dog will kill before its owner gets the message.

I truly pray that a small child will not be its final victim.

Finally, it must be said that Lewis's owner shared some Responsibility in this tragedy at the same time. Sadly to say, had Lewis been an indoor-only cat, he'd still be around today.

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