Pet Lovers' Guide
Everything you need to know about your four-legged BFFs
Photograph by Geoff Tischman
I never thought I’d be a pet person. But on the day a starving kitten showed up at my backdoor during a raging blizzard, that all changed. As I write this, a tiger-striped furball is curled up on my lap and purring. I’m a convert, and, boy, do I have company. More than three out of five American households have at least one pet, and about 95 percent of us consider our pets to be members of the family, according to a recent Harris poll.
Whether you are a longtime pet lover or still on the fence about whether to add a dog or cat to your home (Do it! Do it!), we think you’ll learn a lot from our 2016 Pet Lovers’ Guide.
A Canine Primer
You’re walking by a storefront and spot an adorable puppy. His sweet, pleading eyes beg you to come closer, melting your heart, and… STOP! He’s beautiful, yes, and you’re already in love. But animals should never be an impulse buy.
“People agonize over buying a car, but they see a dog in a pet store and decide in a nanosecond,” says Michael Woltz, VMD, director of the Central Animal Hospital in Scarsdale. “Dogs outlive cars. Think twice. It’s not a disposable object; it’s a 15-year responsibility.”
A Feline Guide
Cats get a bad rap: “loners, aloof, finicky.” But cat lovers, as well as behavioral experts (along with anyone else who’s ever felt their blood pressure plummet in response to a soft, warm, purring kitty on their lap), will tell you otherwise.
Why the negative stereotype? The problem, according to Paula Garber, an Ossining-based certified feline-training-and-behavior specialist (think cat whisperer), is that people don’t understand cat communication. As pack animals, dogs communicate more like people, using eye contact, greetings—even body language. But cats, Garber explains, descend from solitary-living wildcats—plus, they don't have the musculature necessary to make certain facial expressions. Also, because they’re prey to larger animals, cats are cautious, perceiving eye contact as a threat.
That doesn’t mean cats don’t express feelings; they just show it differently, says Garber. Some cats are super-cuddly, while others just want you nearby. And modern domestic cats have become much more social than their ancestors because of their interaction with people.
Finicky? Call it vigilant and discriminating. Again, the behavior is linked to cats’ survival instincts.
There’s no shortage of adoptable cats and dogs in Westchester. Last year, the SPCA in Briarcliff Manor took in more than 1,700 animals and adopted out more than 1,600. The Humane Society of Westchester in New Rochelle took in more than 500 dogs and over 700 cats and adopted out about 350 dogs and more than 600 cats. Cities like Yonkers and Mount Vernon also run their own animal shelters. And there are many local rescue groups dedicated to saving animals.
Most shelter animals land there through no fault of their own, says Shannon Laukhuf, executive director of the SPCA. People move, or a child gets allergies, or an elderly person passes, or someone’s home is foreclosed upon. “Many shelter animals have been loved and are loving,” she says.