What Makes a Pet Great?

“What makes a pet great?”

I was asked this question by a pet owner and it caught me off-guard. Truth is, I’d never really given it much thought. All pets are great, right? The reality is some animals are truly incredible, amazing once-in-a-lifetime friends we are lucky to share our lives with while others… maybe not so much. Good pets, just not quite great. So what's the difference between good and great pets? What makes a pet great? I wanted to find out.

When I finished seeing patients later that day, I decided to list the attributes of what I believe constitutes a great pet. This list is incomplete, totally biased and probably downright wrong. But it’s my list. Here are three attributes of great pets I see time and time again in my veterinary practices. 

1) Looks and/or acts like me.

Ok, I know this sounds superficial and shallow, but I see it all the time in pet owners and patients. In my experience, people tend to pick pets that favor them in some manner. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, here are a few of my observations. 

Socialites and celebrities (and wanna-be celeb socialites) clutch a Chihuahua, Yorkie or Maltese, the only breeds more narcissistic than Paris Hilton.

Big dudes prize pit bulls and young dudes favor Labs.

Single dudes go for mutts with big, soft eyes that broadcast brain waves to charm single females (that’s a scientific fact) and short dudes veer toward Jack Russell terriers for their pugnacity or Rottweilers for their mass.

Irish setters are infinitely amazed that food comes in a bag while their owners are astounded they remembered to buy the bag in the first place.

Presidents use polls to pick their pooches while Persians prefer penthouses with a Park Avenue perch.

Cats, in general, tolerate us humans as long as we serve them faithfully and don’t request much.

Perhaps we seek the best parts of ourselves in the pets we choose. Our pets certainly bring out our best parts. Either way, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it as the proud owner of a hyperactive, hyper-vocal, whippet-thin beagle-Lab-mixed beach mutt.

2) Doesn’t mess in or mess up my house.

Despite the popularity of Marley and Me and a hundred Hollywood pet-clichés, pets that destroy the home don’t tend to go down in the annals of greatness. Constantly cleaning up or replacing damaged furniture gets most pets a quick trip to the great outdoors. People love to brag about pets that are house-trained, have good manners, and travel well. Great pets are usually great cohabitants. And that takes a little commitment. Unfortunately, many pet owners forget this.

I often hear clients lamenting their current companion challenge as they fondly recount a previous pet that “trained themselves” or “never, ever behaved like this.” They share stories of how these great pets of yesteryear were faultless. I’m guessing the passage of time has softened the harsher realities of the past. Rare is the pet that “trains themselves” or “never had an accident in the house.” Every pet (and person) has flaws and needs help. Every good dog or cat is a great pet in training. I know that today’s problem can be tomorrow’s perfection. 

The truth is that with a little effort and guidance, we can teach our pets to share our homes and lifestyles. Talk with your veterinarian when your pet is a puppy or kitten to establish good habits, or at first sign of any behavioral issues.  

3) Speaks to me.

At the risk of sounding like an Age of Aquarius veterinarian, I communicate with my pets. Really. Not in a “Dog Psychic” way, but in a quieter, more personal manner.

A look, wag or head rub speak volumes to me.

My pets cheer me up when I’m down, inspire me when I need motivation and celebrate my successes. Regardless of the economy, traffic or how grumpy I want to be, it’s nearly impossible to remain glum when I’m covered in dog kisses and my cats wind their way round my legs. They tell me to knock off the gloom and enjoy the moment at hand.

And, somehow, amazingly, it works. Every. Single. Time. I can’t explain it and I don’t know if I want to. I just know it is. That’s what really makes my pets great to me.