Updated: May 20
I have had many animal companions in my life, from hamsters to birds to cats, dogs, and ferrets. I also had a very nice fish tank with a variety of creatures and also kept an iguana for my friend for about years (the longest babysitting job ever!). It is clear that I love animals. If I could have a horse in the Bronx apartment, I would have one, except my compassion and sensitivity to their needs would have slapped sense into me quickly! Part of the reason why I no longer have so many animals is because I feel bad about containing them.
Hamsters are kept in a "habitrail" or some sort of similar structure. We add tunnels and try to make it entertaining, but the fact remains it is a definitive size. This is not natural for most animals. While they become used to it and find comfort in their little nests, they do get bored. Cats are happiest as indoor-outdoor animals, but this is not safe for them. Fish and water turtles also get bored and grow to the size their tank allows. Rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs are kept in cages and let out occasionally. What a miserable existence. Even if they are given free roaming rights, it is not the outdoors. They feel floor or carpet instead of grass. They eat what is given to them, not what they want based on their outside adventures. They live but are not super happy or satisfied.
Horses are kept in a barn for shelter and turned out for exercise if they are with someone who cares. The ones that have a good life get used to the routine and are happy enough. But they are not free. The free horses run in groups and form strong bonds with the members of their families. While humans provide them with shelter and food, we have taken away their freedom. Much like deer, wild horses have certain places they know to rest and graze but spend most of their day on the move. I observe the deer in my neighborhood. I can see their pattern and the area they travel. Unfortunately, their area is getting smaller and smaller due to excessive building.
Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years they say. We call them "man's best friend". For their dedication and loyalty, humans have not been the kindest. Look at the number of dogs in shelters or homeless. For those lucky enough to find a good home, they are expected to relieve themselves twice a day; some three times a day. Dogs are the ONLY animals humans have taken possession of that are unable to relieve themselves whenever they want or need. Think about that. Take a moment now, and imagine yourself doing the same. Think about how you felt during the covid lockdown, "trapped" in your home. Dogs feel this every day. Are they so happy to see us when we come home because they love us or because they finally get company and get to go out?
I adopted another dog after almost 4 years of being without one. I wasn't ready emotionally but I also feel a great responsibility to make their lives as rich and natural as possible. I will never buy an animal. They are living beings, not items to own. Plus, there are so many animals that need rescue. I do struggle with doing what is best for Daisy. I want to keep her safe and healthy while still giving her experiences and exercise. I do not restrict her from relieving herself to only twice a day. She gets 4, sometimes 5 walks, all different lengths depending on my schedule; but always two long walks. I also got her a DoggieLawn for those times she can't wait.
Does this make my life harder? Yes. But that is a price I am willing to pay for her health and happiness. As a steward of the earth and animals, it is our responsibility to care for others in the best way we can. Animals are not for our entertainment; although they do bring us great joy. The basic requirements for having an animal are shelter, food, and a place to relieve themselves. Holding it in is not healthy; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this practice plus processed foods are the leading causes of cancer and kidney dysfunction and disease in our animal companions.
If you truly love your animals, find ways to make them more comfortable; offer plenty of stimulation and exercise. Don't let their lives be boxed in and limited to sleeping and eating. This is existing, not living. It is more work but the benefit is knowing you gave someone a great life and their happiness and health thrived.