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Pets: Too Much of a Good Thing?

By KRISTEN STERNBERG | NIE Educational Consultant

You probably know there´s more to owning a pet than providing it with food, water and shelter. Most pets need physical exercise and mental stimulation. Social interaction is another important ingredient for the overall health of many kinds of pets. Another way to help keep your pet healthy is to take it to the veterinarian for regular checkups and shots to prevent diseases.

Home seeker
Alyssa Mattei, center, holds a hamster at the Pet Supermarket in Deltona. Tempest Lewis, 4, left, and her sister, De-Andre Lewis, 10, both of Sanford, watch as Mattei tries to convince the girls´ mother, Glendolyn, just off camera, how cute the furry, four-legged rodents are. Read the article, Pets as presents a poor idea for more on this story. (Photo: News-Journal/Chad Pilster)

The two most common pets in the United States are — you guessed it! — cats and dogs. If, as a present or perhaps future owner of a dog or cat, you follow the guidelines given above you´re well on your way to being a responsible pet owner. Something very important is missing from the list, however. Can you guess what it is?

If you guessed that the missing ingredient is to spay or neuter your pet, give yourself a gold star! In most cases, that is one of the most responsible things you can do. When spaying (this term usually refers to female pets) or neutering (this word is frequently associated with male pets), the veterinarian performs a procedure to sterilize your pet so that it can´t reproduce. If your sterilized pet is kept indoors, many authorities maintain that it will be more contented, more sociable and easier to live with. Neutering your male dog or cat can help keep the pet population down, because it can´t contribute to the birth of puppies or kittens. If your spayed female pet spends time out of doors, you won´t have to worry about unwanted litters!

Stray cats and dogs far outnumber those that have homes. Experts have reported that just one dog and her offspring could bring about more than 67,000 descendants. One cat and her descendants could produce 420,000 cats in just seven years! That´s close to a half-million cats — starting from only one pair!

Many stray or unwanted dogs and cats are brought to their local animal shelters. Sometimes whole litters of unwanted animals end up at shelters. At each shelter there might be hundreds of pets up for adoption. Sadly, there are many more pets waiting to be adopted than there are people eager to give them good homes. If an animal is not adopted from the shelter within a certain amount of time (often 7-10 days), that animal will probably be euthanized. Euthanized comes from a Greek work meaning "good--or merciful--death;" we commonly refer to it as being "put to sleep." According to a newspaper article, more than 10,000 dogs and cats are euthanized in Volusia County each year. All too often, shelters have no choice but to kill these unwanted animals because they can´t afford to keep them all. Many experts in the field are in favor of sterilizing pets to reduce the number of homeless animals put to sleep at shelters.

What´s your opinion? After you have read the newspaper articles by using the links above, ask yourself the following questions: Is there an overpopulation of dogs and cats? Would you and your community be better off if more pets were sterilized? Would your unsterilized dog or cat be a better pet if it were spayed or neutered? While you think about these questions, check out the activities and web links below.

Try these fun activities using The News-Journal!

1. Look through your newspaper for advertisements showing the prices of pet food. Choose a sample ad for dog food and a sample ad for cat food and compare the prices between the two. Which is the more expensive per ounce, dog food or cat food? Now, look at an advertisement for canned pet food. Imagine you have a pet — either a cat or a dog — and that your pet requires two cans of food per day to stay healthy and contented. Using your ad, figure out how much it would cost to feed your imaginary pet for one week. How much would it cost for one year? How much for 15 years-a typical life expectancy for a dog? (Sunshine State Standards: MA.A.1.2.2, MA.A.3.2.2, MA.A.3.2.3)

Animal control officers round up dogs rescued from a puppy mill. (Photo: News-Journal/Bob Koslow)

2. Pets are an important part of many people´s lives, a fact that is reflected often in our speech. Have you heard the saying "It´s a dog´s life?" How about "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?" You can probably think of other sayings or phrases about animals. Search your newspaper and clip any words, pictures, phrases or sayings that refer to animals. Make a collage of your findings on a sheet of construction paper. Add to your collage with other words or phrases you can think of, or with your drawings of animals. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.1.2.2, LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.6)

3. In your newspaper´s Classified Section, find an advertisement for a dog or cat (or kitten or puppy). Make sure the ad you choose provides a good description of the pet up for sale or adoption, including for example its color, breed, size, personality, cost, age, and so on. Plan a game of "Charades" using the ad, and ask a friend or classmate to guess the animal´s characteristics while you act out its description. (Sunshine State Standards: TH.E.1.2.4)

4. Sometimes new mixes are created by mating animals of different breeds. One example is the breed of dog called a "cockapoo." The word "cockapoo" was coined when a cocker spaniel was bred with a poodle. Can you see how the breeder came up with cockapoo for the new breed?

Now, search the classified ads for pets for sale or adoption in your newspaper until you find two breeds with names that sound interesting to you. Experiment with ways to combine the words, or parts of each word, into a new "breed." Draw a picture of your new breed, and write the name you coined on your paper. (Sunshine State Standards: VA.A.1.2.1, VA.B.1.2.1, VA.B.1.2.4)

5. How many comic strips feature animals? Turn to the Comics Section of your newspaper. As you read or scan each comic strip, keep a tally of the animals you encounter. How many different kinds (for example: dog, bird, lizard) did you find? Is one kind featured more than the others? Make a chart showing your findings. (Sunshine State Standards: MA.D.2.2.1, MA.E.1.2.1, MA.E.3.2.1)

A copy of Florida´s Sunshine State Standards can be found at

Check out these links to learn more:

The West Volusia Humane Society´s web site is a great place to start "surfing." There, you can quiz yourself on pet facts or "adopt" a virtual dog, Barkford. While you´re there, be sure to click on the link for the "Kid´s Page." (

Can you be my family?
Dot, a german shepherd, waits patiently for a new home. (Photo: News-Journal/Nigel Cook)

Our pets are dependent upon us for their health and safety. Some pet owners are more responsible than others. Occasionally, pets are mistreated by their owners. Pet rescue organizations are havens for animals who need to be removed from their homes. One example of a pet rescue organization is Noah´s Bark, a facility located in California. Check out some links provided by Noah´s Bark for stories about amazing rescues of dogs, and read the section on Responsible Pet Ownership to see how much you know about caring for a pet. (

Animal doctors are called "veterinarians," and veterinarians know a lot about pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association has posted a great web site with information and activities.

A web site titled "Pet of the Day" features pictures and stories about different kinds of pets. With your parents´ permission, you can nominate your own pet to be Pet of the Day or take part in a Pet Poll. (

You can learn more about cockapoos, by the way, by visiting the Cockapoo club of America web site. (

Cat lovers may want to visit a site devoted to the comic strip character, Garfield. The web site has a large selection of Garfield comics, a Book Nook for further reading, the "Garfield Gazette" newspaper and a special section on Fun & Games. You can also learn about how Garfield´s creator, Jim Davis, got started with his comic strip. (

Dog lovers, you can get equal time by visiting the web site for Marmaduke and his creator, Brad Anderson. From the Comics home page, select "Marmaduke" from the drop down list. (

The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit that site and check out some of the links to see if they have recently published any articles on this topic. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state or click on the "Internationals" button to choose a country.

Published 2001.
Updated March 24, 2004

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