Plenty to consider when choosing a family pet
by Mark Ledbetter
Pets come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Whether a dog, a cat or the exotic, including lizards, parrots, gold fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, spiders and potbellied pigs, selecting the right pet is important. Researching before making a decision is also important.

“I wish people would call me first,” Coosa Valley Animal Clinic veterinarian Dr. Mike Ivey said. “Almost every day I see people who have a dog they are afraid of or are chewers.

“You need to consider the adult size of a dog and the age and size of the child. You could make a big mistake. If you buy a puppy that outgrows the child in six months, a 50-pound dog is not good for a 25-pound child. (The) Child gets knocked down and rolled over (and) could become afraid.

“As much as I like cats and dogs, I like kids a whole lot more.”

Ivey recommended researching the breed for personality, especially for children.

“You don’t need a hyper or aggressive dog,” he said.

Ivey also recommended not buying a puppy for Christmas.

“Christmas is not a good time to introduce a puppy into the household,” Ivey said. “It is like bringing a baby home, needing attention and introduced into a new environment. So much going on, cooking, Santa coming, it is just not a good time.”

An individual’s lifestyle is also an important factor.

“Get a pet that fits your lifestyle; get a pet that doesn’t dictate a lifestyle change,” Ivey said. “If you travel, you will need to make arrangements to get a sitter or someone to keep it.”

Not taking time to choose the right pet can have serious consequences, Ivey said. A common problem he sees is neglect.

“It falls back to giving no thought into a puppy or kitten selection,” he said. “Six months later they may decide they don’t like the pet or things didn’t turn out like they thought. Call a vet and tell him your desires and they can help you avoid the pitfalls.”

Ivey said pets bring a lot into our lives. He especially likes dogs.

“Dogs don’t fuss and are always happy to see you,” he said.

Ivey pointed out that at one time nursing homes and extended care facilities wouldn’t allow pets in their facilities.

“Now they’ve learned they are psychologically beneficial,” he said. “I have some of my owners take their dogs to the nursing home and they are thrilled.”

Kim Yates, owner of Sugar Cookie Boutique in Sylacauga, offers grooming and accessories for dog owners. She agrees that pets can be a source of comfort and companionship. Yates said one of her clients was told by her doctor to get a pet.

“They can lower your blood pressure and offer companionship for someone whose child has moved out or has recently lost a loved one,” she said.

Yates said many of her clients treat their pets like one of their kids. She said she owns four dogs and three cats and they are very important to her. “My kids say I pay more attention to my dogs than them and I tell them, ‘Dogs don’t talk back.’”

While Yates said they groom some larger dogs like Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and St. Bernards, her clients favor the toy variety, especially Yorkies, Maltese and Shih Tzu.

Yates said her clients continued to care for their pets even during the recent recession. “They’re part of the family,” she said.

One of Yates’ clients is Linda Hardy, owner of Magnolias in Sylacauga.

Hardy said she owns three Yorkies – Callaway, 7; Addison, 5; and Gracie, 3.

“We always had Labs,” Hardy said, “but when the last one died 10 years ago, I looked for a smaller dog that could travel.”

Hardy said her Yorkies offer more than just a traveling companion.

“They are loving and devoted,” she said. “You may get it as a pet, but immediately it becomes part of the family; I fell in love with them.”

Ivey said often pets serve as surrogates.

“They are some people’s baby,” he said. “They replace the child that moved out, or the spouse they have lost.”

One of the more difficult things about owning pets is caring for them in their last days. Average life expectancy for dogs is 10-12 years and cats 10-14 years. With aging comes health issues, including cancer, arthritis, dental disease, renal failure and heart disease. This can be traumatic for the pet owner.

“There are some things that can’t be fixed,” Ivey said. “We need to think about Fluffy and what she’s going through.”

He said the best way to address a pet’s last days is to tell their owners the truth.

“We treat pets with terminal problems and they get to a point where they have no reasonable quality of life,” Ivey said. “If we can’t improve that, they don’t need to lay and linger on until they pass away. If suffering kidney failure, keeping it alive? I don’t think that’s humane.”

Ivey said pet owners do ask him if he thinks they need to put the pet to sleep?

“We sit down and talk through things,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is back me into a corner to make the decision. That is the owner’s decision.

“I tell them they will know,” Ivey said. “They aren’t a dog or a cat, but a family member, have been in the family for years and for some they mean as much as the kids.”

Whether your dog chases a stick in the woods, your cat hides behind a door ready to pounce, your fish swims aimlessly for hours, or you spend time talking with your parrots, pets can be fun and entertaining. Choosing the right one should not be taken lightly.

Contact Mark Ledbetter at

© 2012