Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Makes A "Responsible" Pet Owner?

Before I start in on this post I want to clarify that this train of thought comes about as I try to examine my own level of responsibility, and what I can do to raise my own awareness of what is right and what is wrong. I also accept that the terms "right" and "wrong" are subject to personal perspective, and there is no black and white answer, in most cases.  I will be bringing up specific cases I have seen for reference, but I am not standing on a soapbox today to point fingers, or to even say that I know more than anyone else. This is personal reflection, while asking to hear the opinions of others.  Also this is a really long one today which kind of jumps around in thought process. Sorry that is just how my brain works.

So here we go....

Naturally a person who abuses animals, starves them, neglects their basic needs for survival, those types of people are in the wrong. I think that is pretty much black and white. But for most of us there is so much more to being a pet owner than just making sure our pets (dogs, cats, horses, or what ever) have food and water.

I think that partially this post comes about after a discussion I had about why I have three intact male dogs at my house.  These dogs are not of breeding quality and from responsible breeders point of view, they should be neutered. I find myself trying to examine if I an irresponsible owner for not getting them cut?  The answer is a definitive yes...and no.

Clear as mud, right?

Here is my train of thought.  Yes, these dogs should be fixed. I totally agree with that statement.  But I have not had it done yet.  Yes it is on my "things to do" list, but it is low on my list. Because it is so low, I am being less than responsible with my dogs. I agree with that statement.  The main reason it has fallen so low is due to the many other emergency vet bills, and farrier bills, wrecked trucks, teenagers, and my own personal hospital bills, that keep coming up.  But still, there are things I could have done with out in the past which would have afforded to have the procedures done. But because it has never been an issue for me (more importantly, anyone else) it gets forgotten.

On the other hand, because I absolutely do not want my dogs out tying on to every (or any) bitch in the neighborhood, I go to great lengths to make sure that it never happens.  I used some left over materials from my horses hot fence to put up a hot fence for my dogs. I make sure all gates remained chained and locked, and my fence is 6 ft tall. My dogs do not go out off lead. EVER!  So in that respect I am a very responsible owner. My dogs are well cared for and as healthy as any dogs I have ever known. They either have manners or are learning them, through obedience lessons.   So I feel like I am being responsible, even though I have not had them fixed yet.

Moving on...What about my horses?

Another reason I question my level of responsibility is the nail left in Sassy's hoof which was folded over into her sole.  Luckily it did no damage, but it never even occurred to me to look. I feel like I should have known to look, but I didn't. I could have easily allowed for serious damaged and not even realized it because she was already limping.  With that in mind I have to question, "If I don't know what to look for in those situations, why do I have 4 horses?"  Hey, it is a valid question.  I guess I am learning as I go.  In reality isn't that what we all do?  None of us come into the wonderful world of equine ownership knowing it all.  It is constantly an on going process.

My thoughts turn to my post a while back about Rosie who ended up dying from complications of a leg wound.  She was impossible to treat, due to lack of handling or training, the infection spread through her body and she finally just laid down and died. Although the gal did try to have her treated. She spent a ton of money on vet bills trying to save this horse. She just was not able to get the consistent care needed because she could not be trailered, she could not be given regular antibiotics, and even getting pain meds into her was almost impossible.   Rose was, in every other way, well cared for, and the poor gal loved her dearly.  She really thought that she was being a responsible owner, she just didn't know any better. She learned a hard lesson. Whether or not she is doing better with her other horse, I do not know.  I suspect not, because the mutual friend mentioned to me recently that the gal still has not sought out a trainer for help. Although I recall them saying that the other horse would stand quietly for shots, or worming or Bute or what ever, so perhaps she is working with her on her own. I don't know.  Would she be classified as being irresponsible?

Remember the Stud Pony?  Well that lady never came and got any fencing to give him a bigger pen. She did move him to where his pen is next to a shed so he had some wind break, but I do not think that is why she moved him. I suspect she moved him so he would be out of sight from passers by.  He stays in his little tiny pen which is half the size of the pen she has for her 2 dogs who also live out there. It bothers me, but he has food and he has water and by law that is all she is required to give him.  Then of course there are the mares that roam the rest of the "pasture". One of them just foaled about a month ago. There was no one keeping vigil to make sure the mare foaled without complications, there is no one out there handling the foal to make sure it grows up knowing and trusting humans.  About once a week, I see that the lady has thrown a bale of hay out there,  It usually runs out a day or 2 before the next bale arrives. But these mares are not starving my any means, and I believe that she checks their water daily. But I don't know it for a fact.  My point here is this; I feel like this lady is being less responsible than she should be. I feel like she is failing that stud pony and that foal.  If she isn't using him for breeding then she needs to have him gelded.

Oops, wait a minute.

Crap, I just became a hypocrite.

Or did I?

My dogs live in a yard that is at least 3/4 of an acre. They have a ton of human interaction and go for walks and car rides and stuff.

 That pony lives in a 5x8 jail cell and never comes out. So I guess there is a huge difference in quality of life there.

As far as the foal, its quality of life is as good as any wild mustangs, minus the major predators, so perhaps even a tad better. So is she failing it really?  When I go over to Ride A Good Horse and read about what Shirley does with her foals, and I know that her horses grow up into trusting well socialized adult horses, then I have to say, "Yes, the lady has failed that foal."  Doesn't mean it can't still be a good horse, but it would have an easier time of it if she was around more to work with it.  What I do know about this lady is that she is doing the best she can with what she has to work with right now. Perhaps she is hanging on to the hope that eventually she will be back on her feet and able to go back to being "more responsible".  For her horses sake's I hope that day comes soon.

Speaking of foals, there are the folks who live on my street. Really nice people, they have about 5 or 6 horses.  I have never counted, but there are quite a few.  He hunts and likes to ride his horses in the mountains.  He also works at the mines and is gone for 2 weeks at a time before he gets 5 days off.  These horses are very well cared for in the sense that they are well fed, regular trims or shoes, when needed. They have good shelter, and some access to pasture when the owners decide they should have it. But not 24/7 as he does worry about founder. These are the people who called me at 6 am to tell me that my horses might be out. They are also the people who helped me catch Sassy and Gambler the one time they got out. Like I said, really nice people. When their mare was ready to foal, he was out of town and she was unsure of what to do if there was trouble and asked if I would be available for help if needed. Of course I gave her my number. I am not sure how much help I would have been, but was sure willing to lend a hand if needed.

But...(you knew it was coming, didn't you?) on the other hand most of their horses are only half broke. His favorite horse has put him face down in the dirt many times, and continue's to do so because he does not get ridden near enough. Okay, well he is the one who has to deal with that, not me, so I shall not point fingers over that, but there is a point behind this. His wife barely rides, he has more horses than he can ride, and yet they chose to go ahead and breed their mare and bring a sweet little filly into the world. (she is cute cute cute too)  That was about a year ago.  I have yet to see them ever do anything with that filly. Doesn't mean they don't, it just means that if they do, it isn't much, which means they now have one more hard to handle horse in their pasture.

Does that make them irresponsible? Again I come with the Yes and the No.  I know these people well enough to know that eventually they will send her to a trainer, or try to train her themselves. If they do it themselves they will get about as far as they have with the rest of their horses. Ridable but not really safe. I do question whether or not breeding their mare was the best plan for them, but it is not my cross to bear so I shall not sit here and say those folks are wrong. They are doing the best they can with what they have to work with, and the quality of life for their herd is very good.

Lets talk about my next door neighbor. She has 2 Arabian geldings. She hired Mark Keil to train them both, and at one time they were both very nice horses, safe for an intermediate rider.  She has since broken her back and has not ridden except for maybe 5 minutes in 2 years. After that it was shingles and then something else, she is in pain all of the time, so not much gets done with these horses.  In fact one could not even really consider them to be broke any more, and they are no longer willing to load in a trailer.  I know this, because I spent 3 hours one day trying help her get them to load. We tried everything, made them move their feet, round penned them for an hour, we tried bribing, we finally gave up.. They won and they know they won and it is going to take Mark coming back out and working with them to get them to load again.  These boys are over fed and under worked. Other than that they are very well cared for, the best vet care, regular trims, etc. But before they will be safe to ride they are going to have to have a serious tune up (and a serious weight loss plan- you seriously could not even get a saddle on these boys).

Does this make her irresponsible?  My first reaction is to say, no, because I know her situation.  But how is her situation different than the folks down the street?  It really isn't.  What I do know is that folks, who do not know her personally, speak poorly of her for having horses that she can't, or won't, do anything with.  The truth is, she sees what is going on and has just recently told me that the time has come to examine what she is going to do with these horses.  She has been holding on to the hope that she could get better and start riding again. But now she doesn't feel like it is ever going to happen.  I believe she is recognizing that it might be time to let them go.  She is torn though, because she will want them to go together, and not many people are going to be willing to do that. (these 2 are the most herd bound horses I have ever seen)  Also she is afraid that they may end up in homes where they are not cared for, on the other hand it is getting hard for her to care for them herself.  Because she sees the reality of things, I personally think she is a responsible owner. I suspect that as hard as it is for her, before too long she will have Mark take them both and tune them up and then she will put them up for sale hoping to send them to the same home.

So how does one know if they are being a responsible owner?  Is it enough to do the best you can with what you have to work with?   Is it having the ability to look at your animals and judge their quality of life and make changes accordingly?  Is it hanging on to the hope that things are going to get better and soon you will be able to give them a better quality of life? Is it seeking constantly seeking out information about better care? (What if the info you get is wrong?  It happens all the time)  Is it being prepared to deal with emergencies, and making sure that your animal can be handled in case of an emergency?  Is it putting the task of fixing your male dogs at the top of your priority list?  Is it making your kids go without so you can sink a ton of money into your horses to get them trained for the next big event?  What is the definition of being responsible?

For the most part I feel as though I am as responsible as I can be. I know I am more now than I was back in the days when I had Sunshine. The quality of life my horses enjoy now is 10 times better than she had.   I know that I do learn from my mistakes, and I do all I can to make sure that in the event my horses had to be sold due to finances, they would be safe for others to handle.   On the other hand, sometimes I miss things health wise, sometimes I let them get away with bad habits (like being hard to catch), or procrastinate on replacing the barbed wire on the back fence with un-barbed, or forget to latch the gate and let Danny get in and help himself to the grain, or occasionally have things around the barn that are less than safe (and not even realize it), or let my dogs go without being fixed.  I don't know near enough about what to do in case of colic (as I have not had to deal with it yet). I cannot tell the difference between a truly healthy hoof and not so healthy hoof, unless it is obvious.  So I know I still have a long ways to go in being the most responsible owner I can be, but I take comfort in my ability to seek out information and to keep an open mind about what the right answers are.

There are some blogs around that spend a good amount of time perusing horse sale ads and then pointing out everything that is wrong with them.  I'll be honest, I am bothered quite a bit by that sort of stuff.  Sometimes those blogs have some really valid points, in respects to horses listed for stud that shouldn't be, or mares that shouldn't be bred. But on the other hand, some of it is just plain mean, and comes off as making fun of people who just flat out do not have the experience that others have.  This post is not meant to come off as mean, as finger pointing, or even to put anyone down. It is simply me trying to organize my own thoughts of what MY definition of what a responsible owner is.

Can you tell me what your definition of being a responsible pet owner is?


  1. That's a hard question, and when you throw in there the thought that to some people horses are not pets, they're livestock, it makes the water even muddier.

    If I tried to answer this it would take forever and be totally wishy-washy. I know what I prefer, but mostly I think people are doing their best. I don't think a horse (or any animal) should live in its own crap though, and horses need to eat every day. On the other end of the stick, I don't think it's right to put animals through a lot of painful, invasive treatment, or long, drawn out deaths just so we can feel better about ourselves or avoid grieving.

  2. tough question. A responsible animal owner needs to have the time and resources to adequately protect and provide for his or her, critters. Do we make mistakes ? yes, the trick is to learn from them. Any animal need to be socialized or managed at the very least enough to be able to treat injury and or illness.As far as intact males go, if the dogs are kept home , do not wander and are not populating the countryside,well that is being responsible, however there are circumstances where neutering is still to the dogs benefit (prostate cancers etc) Resources to care for animals is not just financial, it is experience, finances knowledge skills and time in fairly unequal proportions. have I answered you ? nope , cant even answer myself on this one

  3. Right, I agree with both of you. There really is no single cut and dry answer. Luckily I wasn't really searching for one, I mostly was just curious to hear others thoughts on them.

    Andrea, what you said is a very good point about the long drawn out deaths, and painful treatments. I agree that there is a time to just let them rest in peace.

    Fernvalley, I think you hit the nail on the head about learning from our mistakes. That is the biggest thing for me.

    Thank you both for responding, I know it is a tough subject and a touchy one, that many people would prefer to avoid discussing.

  4. Well, if you ever find the answers to most of those questions, let me know:). I really think that these are the questions that come along with any society and we all have to struggle through them. The only thing I would add is that there is a fine line between being irresponsible and being ignorant of something. An irresponsible person is ignorant and can't be bothered to try correcting that. A responsible person may be ignorant of something, but will work to Change that when the need arises. You use the example of the nail in Sassys foot, it was an honest mistake I have seen experts make. Ive seen farriers walk away from a shoeing job without cutting or clinching the nails. Now that you know about it, it won't happen again, the irresponsible person just wouldn't care.