Rita Silvan, CIM™, is personal finance and investment writer and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of ELLE Canada magazine and is an award-winning journalist and tv media personality. Rita is the editor-in-chief of
Golden Girl Finance, an online magazine focusing on women’s financial success. When not writing about all things financial, Rita explores Toronto’s parks with her standard poodle.
Right out of the gate, let me say: I love dogs. Actually, I’m pretty fond of animals in general and have had the pleasure of knowing more than a few, including a clever Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, a couple of charming, if somewhat skittish ponies, one very beguiling black cat with emerald-coloured eyes, and various unnamed furred and feathered critters going about their business in my neighborhood. But, with only a few lonely intermissions, dogs have been a mainstay in my life since childhood.
And, I’m a richer person because of those relationships.
Judging by the news headlines, I’m not alone in my devotion to canines. I think the CEO of Salesforce said it best when he appointed his dog Koa to the board of directors with the job title of Chief Love Officer. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, and his wife Priscilla Chan adopted a wooly dog named Beast and, when their daughter Max was born, her first word was “dog”.1,2
Cats may rule the internet but canines, in addition to being very companionable, invite us to play, exercise and meet others on our daily walks. This is no small feat during a time when our relationship with nature has become so unbalanced. In our current era of whiz-bang technological revolution, most of us have voluntarily traded down from experiencing the world in vivid 3D to a pixelated one in 2D, and often compressed onto a 4-by-6-inch handheld screen.
One negative outcome of our growing dependence on technology for work, socializing, and entertainment, is increasing feelings of alienation (despite the “likes” and “follows” on social media), as well as the chronic stress of feeling time pressured.
Global researchers have identified an alarming trend in “play gaps” among children. Creative play facilitates a child’s cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development. Yet, studies show that in many parts of the world, children’s outdoor play has decreased by half within only one generation, while 10 per cent of children do not play outside at all. In one survey, one in five children said they “were too busy to play”.3 If children are too over-scheduled to play, where does that leave the adults? We also need to time to decompress and let our creativity flourish. That’s where our pets come in.
Fortunately, dogs and cats still live in real time and are rarely too busy to play. They invite us, actually demand from us, that we put down the smartphone, lace up our shoes, step outside, and play. Or, at the very least, just go for a walk. (Well, maybe not with the cats…)
Adopting an animal companion can be immensely rewarding but, like any successful relationship, there are some practical guidelines to follow because, if things go awry, they’re won’t go in your pet’s favour.
1. Be pragmatic. Before rolling out the welcome mat, ask yourself whether this a good time in your life to take on the added responsibility. Sometimes your job, health, or other relationships are just too volatile or demanding and you really shouldn’t stretch yourself any further.
2. Do the math. Part 1. Animal companions cost money. Period. Do some research on the type of breed or size of dog or other pet you’d like and what the typical vet, food, boarding, and insurance costs would be, as well as an average lifespan. Are these costs realistic for you? If not, consider another, less financially demanding animal companion—or hit the pause button until your circumstances or priorities change.
3. Do the math. Part 2. Having a pet also involves an investment of time. Even the most independent creature still requires companionship on a regular basis. Dogs, in particular, are highly social and solitary confinement is a great hardship for them.
4. Do the math. Part 3. A friend once called dogs “ticking heart bombs”. The average lifespan of a dog is anywhere from 10 to 13 years—and that goes by in a flash. Accept that heartbreak is the price to pay for the experience of bonding with your pet.
5. Respect. Your animal companion is not a miniature person. It sees the world differently than you do and it comes equipped with abilities that both superior and inferior to your own. Appreciate this “otherness” and enjoy the opportunity to experience the diversity. Work with a reputable trainer to create a reliable common language with your animal. Expect to learn as much, or even more, from your pet as he or she does from you!
6. Team Effort. Decide what kind of support services you need and who can provide them. Referrals are often the best source for finding reputable vets, dog walkers, groomers, trainers, etc. It may take more than the first try to find a good match.
7. After Effects. Part 1. Life doesn’t always work out the way we expect. Sometimes relationships dissolve which involves dividing up property. Animal companions are deemed “property” so, if your pet is important to you, consider a pre- or post-nuptial agreement that addresses pet custody.
8. After Effects. Part 2. Often an older pet needs a home because its elderly caregiver has moved to a retirement home or long-term care facility that does not allow pets. Think ahead about who would care for your pet should you be unable to do so and how you will compensate this person. A growing number of people are including pets in their estate planning. Because pets are considered “property” they cannot directly inherit assets from an estate, so you must choose a guardian to do so on their behalf.4