Pets as city dwellers

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Pets are found in profusion in every city. Great Danes romp in Central Park in New York, while a Siamese cat sleeps in a Seattle apartment. One rabbit in Cambridge, Mass., looks after his owner's two rooms by day, and a canary in Phoenix sings to a woman as she does her household chores.

These animals provide companionship, security, or just plain fun.

Most pets can be trained to adapt to city life, says Liz Szumski of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City, who has four cats, one dog, and a turtle in her six-room apartment.

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"If you have enough room, responsibility, and love in your heart, and you really want a pet, then get one," she says. "You'll experience a lot of joy."

Liz Christie of Portland, Ore., shares a duplex with her dog Snuggie, a tiny ball of fur that defies identification with any one breed.

"My life is not really geared to having a dog in the city," she says. "Snuggie makes me feel guilty when I haven't been home enough. I know she gets lonely."

But Miss Christie says she will never give up her dog. "She is my companion, " she says. "And she entertains."

Two graduate students in Philadelphia have an aquarium with tropical fish.

"They are so beautiful," says one of the students. "At times when we are too tired to read or bake, we just sit in front of the aquarium and watch the fish. They are neat because they have personality."

Space is a major factor in having a pet in the city. A Great Dane would not be happy in a one-room apartment.

But there are alternatives for animal lovers with tiny apartments. A toy dog , cat, or any of the rodent pets, such as gerbils and hamsters, are friendly additions. Birds and fish are popular.

Having a pet is not easy work, as most owners can testify. Cats demand food on a regular schedule, dogs need to be walked even during rainy weather, and tropical fish don't always survive if left alone.

One dog trainer advises people to do research before they buy a pet. For example, some dogs may shed more than others, but they might be a gentler breed. Some need more exercise than others.

"People often make a mistake in buying a tiny puppy that will be three times larger at eight months old," says Dennis White of the American Humane Association in Englewood, Colo. "Unless you are certain of the breed, it is difficult to determine what that animal will be like when it is older."

Mr. White warns shoppers not to buy exotic pets such as lions, rattlesnakes, or tropical birds. Often these do not thrive in restricted environments and sometimes turn on the owners.

There are different places to buy pets. Purebred dogs and cats are sold through breeders. Persons interested in these animals can attend shows to become familiar with different breeds and to talk to owners, breeders, and trainers.

Animal shelters offer pets that are otherwise destined to be destroyed. Most shelters give quality treatment to the pets and require that an animal be in good health before they will sell it. These shelters also often sterilize the animals to help control overpopulation.

Pet shops are another source of animals, although experts tell potential customers to be wary. Some shops get animals from reputable local breeders, but others buy their dogs from "puppy mills," wholesale factories where dogs are confined to cages and denied exercise and companionship. These dogs are often in bad health.

"You should ask to see credentials as to where the animal came from," says Dennis White.

Classified ads in newspapers list both purebred and mixed breed pets. Visiting a family selling an animal is a good way to see its parents and how it has been cared for.

City pets that are trained and well cared for are usually happy and relatively trouble free. But animals can aggravate neighbors and landlords with barking, clawing, or biting.

City dogs are given a bad name by owners who walk a dog without bothering to curb it or clean up after it. Some cities, such as Boston and New York, have adopted scoop laws, and owners can be fined for not disposing of their dog's waste.

Animal owners find themselves in a quandary as more and more city apartments adopt the rule "no pets allowed."

One organization, the Animal Protection Institute of America in Sacramento, Calif., suggests that landlords institute a good behavior policy that allows pets as long as they do not present a problem.

"Many landlords do have a common-sense rule like that," says a spokesman for the institute. "We think it should be encouraged as an enlightened attitude which will keep pets from being squeezed out of the city system."

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