HONOLULU, Hawaii (March 19, 2012) -- Pet overpopulation is a sad reality in the U.S.
Up to 7 million animals enter U.S. shelters every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Of this number, about 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats are euthanized, and less than two percent of cats and 15-20 percent of dogs are returned to their owners, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy.
Military families on the move should think carefully before taking in an animal to avoid contributing to this problem.
First, take into account your lifestyle and potential commitment to a pet. Are you an active family, with weekend hikes and daily runs, or do you prefer lazy weekends on the couch? Are you home enough to ensure your furry friend will get the exercise, training and attention he or she needs?
An impending overseas move is another consideration. You may not be able to take your pet with you. Many duty stations will only allow shipments of cats and dogs, so a pet rabbit may not be the wisest choice.
And if you plan to live in housing, it's important to study military housing breed bans and pet limit requirements, so you don't end up having to give up an animal because your community doesn't allow it.
As important as evaluating your family circumstances is choosing an ethical location to obtain your pet. Sadly, many pet stores in the U.S. aren't regulated and deny you the opportunity of personally inspecting the home of a responsible breeder.
"The biggest health consequence, because of poor breeding, is shortened life span and premature death," said Amanda Morgan, an Air Force spouse and veterinarian technician. "No one wants to spend thousands of dollars on a pet that will only live a few years. This is why potential buyers should do their research and select the best breeder of their future pet."
A great place to start looking for a "forever" pet is your local animal shelter. Some of these animals are perfectly well behaved and healthy; they were just given up due to an irresponsible owner or one who may have had a family emergency.
However, if you do decide to seek a responsible breeder, ask detailed questions, such as what breed-specific health testing has been performed and what drove the decision to breed. You also should visit the home of the breeder to see firsthand how the puppies are raised.
The Humane Society at www.humanesociety.org has a checklist of questions to ask when looking for the right animal.
As you consider your options, make sure you're aware of the types of animals that can accompany you on an airplane. Many airlines are prohibiting brachycephalic breeds, also known as snub-nosed dogs, due to their compromised respiratory issues, which have caused deaths in flight.
Just as important as deciding if you can take on a pet and seeking the right location is making sure that animal can go where you go.
While pets can be a wonderful addition to a military family, the decision to have one should be carefully thought out.
Pets depend on us to be their voice and look out for their best interests. By following some of the tips above, we can be sure we are doing right by these family members.