Having a pet can be a wonderful experience, for everyone in the family. But it can impose many of the same logistical difficulties as raising a child: whether to adopt or not, and if so, how to go about it; purchasing the right food and toys; locating appropriate accommodations for travel; finding the best health care providers in your area; and meeting other people who are facing the same challenges, especially if you are going it alone.
As with possibly every other area of modern living, the Internet can be a gold mine of valuable information — most of it free. In this article, I will consider some of the more promising and popular websites for pet owners, current and prospective.
To the person who does not yet have a furry, feathered, or finned companion, the initial question might be, what are some tried and true methods of finding and adopting pet-worthy animals? The consensus among pet owners is that Petfinder.com is the first website that you would want to visit. Simply by entering in your ZIP code and desired animal type, you can browse through their database of over 150,000 adoptable pets. In addition, you can find animal shelters and rescue groups that are currently caring for some of those animals. Their website allows you to post classified ads for pets wanted, pets needing homes (to put it nicely), and lost or found pets. Their website also has various resources, such as information on pet care.
Another fine website is that of the Friends of Cats and Dogs Foundation, which is one of many pet rescue organizations throughout the United States. The Foundation exists to "help stray animals, pets, and their owners through various programs including community education". In many ways, their mission is similar to that of the Humane Society, which operates internationally. Both websites offer links to find the adoptable pets in your area, as well as ways to get more involved as a volunteer.
For a multitude of links to other websites, try Yahoo Pets. However, in typical Yahoo fashion, many of the pages are so crowded with ads that it's not always easy finding Fido hidden in the "FREE!" banner ads and sidebars. Yet some useful resources for the pet novice are the sections on how to "Choose a Breed" and the "Breed Recommender". If only dating services had that feature.
Have Bone, Will Travel
If your efforts to adopt a pet have been successful, or if you have a pet who is a longtime member of the family, then you can use the Internet to research and even directly purchase pet supplies. The two biggest firms in this market are PETsMART and PETCO. Both companies operate hundreds of pet stores throughout North America, in addition to selling products on their websites. Of the two websites, you may find PETCO's less appealing. It is not as pleasant to navigate, with much of the important home page content pushed down off the screen by poor design. In addition, there is more commercialization, such as the links to PETCO Park.
PETsMART's website has separate pages for the most common pets: dogs, cats, birds, fish, and reptiles. The dog page, for example, is like a complete website unto itself, with 22 separate categories of products, plus articles and featured items. However, advice such as "serve top-of-the-line dog food" makes one question the impartiality of the articles.
Interestingly, unlike the dog page, the bird page consists almost entirely of food products, which likely reflects what constitutes the bulk of some owners' interaction with their birds. But not all owners, as suggested by the title of one well-meaning article, "Don't Kiss Your Bird…". The section preferred by mischievous boys would have to be the one on reptiles, featuring pictures of hermit crabs, and a snake curled around someone's neck. One product, Can O' Krickets, "can be used to feed lizards, snakes and amphibians". There's no mention of corporate potluck surprises.
If you do spring for the can of crickets, then at least some of the profit will be used for charitable purposes, because PETsMART Charities has donated over $30 million to various animal care programs, and funds in-store adoptions, which have saved the lives of more than 1.8 million animals. Their website also describes their pet grooming services, in addition to dog training.
When you and Rover would like to do some roving, unless you plan on camping out, you will want to find hotel accommodations that welcome your pet as much as they welcome your credit card. Check out Petswelcome.com, a major pet travel website, with listings for over 25,000 lodgings for you and your furry companion (the non-matrimonial one). Their website also lists campgrounds, beaches, and ski resorts that are accommodating to animals. Similar websites are Pets on the Go and Pawsitive Pets. The former also lists pet-friendly restaurants and shops, while the latter features a handy pet travel checklist.
This area of business opportunity has not been neglected by PETsMART, the business's 800-pound gorilla (probably not a good pet choice). They are currently testing PETsHOTEL, a pet boarding and day camp, staffed 24x7 by certified caregivers.
Health and Love
Finding websites with free information on pet health care is more difficult than finding websites that promise a wealth of resources, but mostly focus on obtaining your wealth resourcefully. But there are exceptions; it just takes a bit more digging to find them.
One well-respected website is the Online Ask the Vet Service, which allows you to ask an experienced veterinarian questions about your dog or cat's health and (mis)behavior. For cat owners in particular, CatFancy.com has a large number of articles on health and nutrition. They also have an active online community, where you can meet people who have already encountered just about every cat issue imaginable.
That last website, amazingly enough, has no obvious way to locate veterinarians in one's area! Perhaps that won't be a problem, since finding a competent vet is often easiest by simply asking one's nearby pet-owning friends, as they are undoubtedly experienced with vets in the area. Like human health care, the quality of the vets themselves is probably the most significant factor of all, and not the organizations for which they work.
Is the unconditional love from your pooch not enough? Want to try a shot at the not-so-unconditional love of humans? Check out Animal People Personals or KissyKat. The former has received a fair amount of publicity (presumably good), while the latter has a more relaxed and genuine feel.
So if your family could use more excitement, energy, and the occasional "adventure", you need only start exploring these websites to see if a new pet is just what the vet ordered.