By Sarah Pacheco, Hawaii Army WeeklyMarch 22, 2013
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Surprising your loved one with a kitten or puppy may seem like the perfect present, especially if you dress it up in a big red bow.
But an animal is a lifetime responsibility, and Army veterinarians, both here and nationwide, are urging prospective pet owners and pet-givers to think twice before making any decisions this holiday season.
Don't get wrapped up in those puppy-dog eyes; a pet is the gift that keeps on giving (for better or worse) long after the holidays are over.
"(Owning a pet) is definitely something not to jump into headfirst without communicating the decision with everyone in the household beforehand," said Capt. Emily Corbin, Public Health Command and officer in charge, Fort Shafter Veterinary Treatment Facility.
"People forget that cute little puppies and kitties grow up into dogs and cats," Corbin added. "At that point, they're no longer cute and the newness has worn off, and then you have a busy family stuck with a pet they may not have carved time out in their schedule for."
The most common thing people forget, according to Corbin, is that an animal is a long-term commitment, both emotionally and financially.
"The average lifespan of a dog is 10-15 years," she said; cats can live 13-17 years.
"A family must be prepared to care for the animal that entire time," Corbin said.
The yearly cost for vet visits (vaccinations, as well as heartworm and flea prevention) for a healthy, medium-sized dog is approximately $250 at a military veterinary treatment facility. Add to that additional expenses like food, toys, training, grooming, pet-sitting and moving costs, and the bills quickly pile up.
"Puppies and kittens can also wreak havoc in the house and cause damage to expensive furniture," Corbin noted. "Even the most well-trained pets can have their moments."
Other important things to keep in mind before acquiring a pet include:
Size and temperament of the animal -- Animals grow fast, and within a few months that little ball of fluff can be as much as 10 times its current size. Do your research on pet breeds, keeping in mind average height, weight and how the breed gets along with children and other animals.
Lifestyle and exercise needs -- Think about how much free time you have and how you like to spend it. If you're an active individual who's always on the go, a pet that requires a lot of upkeep might not be the best fit. Likewise, if you're sedentary, don't expect a dog with boundless energy to slow down for you.
Living environment -- Keep in mind proximity to parks/safe places to exercise your pet, stairs or other obstacles in your home that may pose problems for smaller and/or older animals, and any rules about the types/breeds/number of animals you're allowed to have in your housing area (see "Pet Policies" for more).
Local and state regulations -- Hawaii is unique in that it is the only U.S. state completely free of rabies. It also has a host of endemic animal and plant species. To keep the Islands rabies-free, and to protect its native wildlife, the Hawaii government enforces strict quarantine laws and prohibits the sale/ownership of certain animal breeds and species, such as snakes, snapping turtles, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils and non-domestic dogs, cats and hybrids. Visit the Hawaii state Department of Agriculture's website (http://hawaii.gov/hdoa/ai/aqs/info) for full rules and guidelines.
Pre-existing health conditions -- Certain dog and cat breeds are notorious for health problems; for example, French bulldogs, though trendy right now, suffer from several congenital diseases and conditions, including thyroid, spinal and breathing issues. Be aware of what to look for and how much time/money these health conditions will cost, both now and in the future.
Breeders vs. adoption -- The pet industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with not-so-good people looking to cash in on a quick buck, especially this time of year. Do your homework to know if you are buying from a reputable source. Or consider adopting from the local humane society or animal shelters.
"Adopting from a shelter is always a great idea," said Corbin, who owns a "mutt" she adopted from a Texas shelter. "Just remember: A pet is a long-term commitment."
The Department of the Army has its own set of rules for tenants in Residential Communities Initiative housing developments that take the safety and welfare of all residents into account. Rules were developed with input from current residents, garrisons and headquarters.
•Tenants may not board/own any dog breed (including mixed-breeds) that is deemed "aggressive or potentially aggressive," unless the dog is a certified military working dog that is being boarded by its handler/trainer. Breeds include pit bulls (American Staffordshire Bull Terriers or English Staffordshire Bull Terriers), Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers and Chows.
•Tenants may not board/own exotic animals, including but not limited to rodents (other than guiana pigs), pot-bellied pigs or any farm animal.
•Dogs that demonstrate unprovoked barking, growling, snarling or any other aggressive behavior, despite the breed, are not allowed in on-base residencies.
In addition, all cats and dogs residing or visiting U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii installations for more than 14 days must:
•Be registered with the Schofield Barracks or Fort Shafter Veterinary Treatment Facility;
•Be registered with the Island Palm Communities community center, if kept in IPC housing;
•Receive all required immunizations;
•Have a microchip ID implanted under the animal's skin;
•Wear pet collars with ID and rabies tags; and
•Be leashed or controlled within a pet carrier/cage while in public areas.
Pet abandonment is not an option and is illegal.
Missing pets must be reported to the Directorate of Emergency Services' Animal Control officer and game warden within 24 hours. An animal not reported missing within this timeframe will be considered abandoned.
Also, providing food, water or shelter to stray, feral or wild animals is prohibited on base. The DES Animal Control officer and game warden are responsible for the safe capture and removal of these animals.