This new column is dedicated to our furry friends that we love so much but that rarely get the attention they deserve. So here it is; their “15 minutes” of fame. These regular articles will also be a guide to help you, as their owner, to be a better “pet parent”.

We hope that in the coming months you will join us on a journey of sharing experiences and tips on the do’s and don’ts of owning a pet.

Within the gay community a lot of us consider our animals to be our children and therefore treat them as such. I don’t know about you but I really go all out when it comes to my three dogs; I buy them jerseys, treats, name-brand collars and leashes and so on.

Up until four months ago I had never owned a dog. I thought myself to be too selfish to look after any other living creature aside from myself. That all changed a few days before my 29th birthday when I bought my first pug. Soon after I bought another two pugs and I am now a happy and proud parent of two of the most beautiful male pugs, Winston and Rayden, and the latest addition, our female Diva!

As a first time pet owner, I’ve learnt that there are a number of things to consider before taking on the responsibility of caring for an animal.

The approximate cost of owning a dog, depending on its size, per month could be anything between R400 to R900 a month, while owning a cat could be somewhat cheaper at about R150 to R500 per month. But remember, that’s not including potential vet bills.

To calculate the financial impact of a new dog or cat include the cost of purchasing the animal (pedigreed or breed animals can easily cost into their thousands), health care (vaccinations and ailments), feeding and essentials such as collar and leash, blankets and a dog house (for protection against rain and sun if the animal is to be kept outside). I’d also recommend that you consider implanting a microchip in your pet to ensure that he or she has a better chance of getting home safely if lost.

“In those first few weeks, don’t even think about having an active social life…”

You can then enjoy the fun of selecting a breed of your choice. You’ll need to do some research on the types of characters these animals have. For instance: if the breed barks a lot; if it is prone to certain illness; or if it is child or elderly-friendly, depending on your household. A good option is to Google the kind of breed you are interested in.

You should also consider how a pet will fit into your lifestyle. If you intend to spend every night at the clubs, a dog – which usually needs considerable ongoing attention – is not recommended, and a cat would perhaps be best suited to your needs (they tend to be a little more independent and, I suspect, have their own agenda).

If you are like me, however, and spend a great deal of time at home then you could go for a dog that requires constant affection. I know I have the time, energy and commitment to provide my animals with what they need, which is why I selected pugs as it is important for their character to have that kind of attention.

If you have a large enough property you could consider getting a large dog breed such as a Labrador, St Bernard, Husky, German Shepherd and so on. If you have a smaller area and garden or live in a flat perhaps think about a Pug, Chihuahua, Pekingese or, of course, the ideal flat dweller – the cat. Also consider how important having a hair-free environment is for you. If you’re anal about spotless furniture don’t get a long-haired cat or dog

Your reason for wanting a dog or cat is also a deciding factor. Do you need a large and aggressive dog to protect your property or a lap dog companion that will share your couches and bedroom?

Remember you will need patience when raising a puppy or kitten – especially when it comes to house training and obedience. And in those first few weeks, don’t even think about having an active social life. If you have the finances (yes another cost to consider) it’s usually a very good idea to take your puppy to a training school. Ask your vet to recommend one in your area.

Please remember to consider going to your local animal shelter or the SPCA to see if there is a dog or cat that suits your needs and requires adoption and, of course, most of all, your love. They need homes desperately.

Don’t ever consider giving an animal as a gift to someone unless it has been very well planned and cleared with the person beforehand. A puppy or kitten is not a toy you can play with now and put away in a drawer later. A pet is a lifelong commitment that, if treated well, will give you years of companionship and friendship. Before you take the first step, make sure you’re willing and able to return the favour.

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