The reasons for getting a pet are plenty obvious. Companionship, for one: a dog that trots next to you on your daily run, a cat that curls up on your lap when you watch your favorite movie. Even a fish or an iguana can have its own subtle charm and personality, as plenty of happy owners can attest.
Having a pet is a big responsibility, of course, and there are some special things for apartment-dwellers to keep in mind. Before you go to Petco and make an impulse buy, before you start dreaming up names and imagining all the zany adventures you and your new animal friend will have together, consider the following questions to see if you’re really ready.
Is your pet even allowed?
First things first, you need to figure out what you’re legally allowed to have in your apartment or even in your city. If you want to branch out beyond the standard dog/cat/fish-in-a-small-bowl animal selection, you’ll need to take a look at your local laws.
For example, if you live in New York City, you’re allowed to have a gerbil or a canary, but not a ferret or a python (or, for that matter, an ostrich, a porcupine, or a dolphin; the full list is in this PDF. Check out the laws in your own city before you indulge your dream of an exotic animal sidekick, a la all those Disney cartoons you watched as a kid.
Also look at your lease and talk to your landlord. (And, obviously, if you have a roommate, well, you really should talk to him or her.) There may well be a clause in the lease regarding animals–for example, stating that you’ll have to pay more rent, or are limited to cats and small dogs, or just plain can’t have pets, period. Don’t be afraid to ask your landlord if it’s possible to make an exception for you. For example, when some friends of mine renewed their lease, they asked their landlord if he’d allow them to have a dog. Knowing that they were responsible, conscientious tenants, he agreed. If you are able to get such changes, be sure to get it in writing, just so there’s no disagreement down the line.
Finally, your city government or other local organizations may have published guidelines about your rights and responsibilities as a pet owner. For example, if you live in New York City, you should be sure to read through the brochure Keeping Your Pet in a NYC Apartment published by MFY Legal Services, Inc. & Community Access, Inc.
Is it in your budget?
As Alex pointed out a while back–and as you probably already know–pets cost money. How much? Around $600-$700 per year for a cat or a medium-sized dog, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Figure out your monthly expenses, in detail, and see if there’s room for a pet. Factor in any additional rent you’ll have to pay, and make sure you can also afford to save some money for a “just in case” fund, should your pet need any unexpected medical treatment.
Is it in your schedule and your lifestyle?
Also remember that a pet will take time, energy, and effort. You’re on your own now, so you can’t pass the responsibilities on to your kid sister or your parents. If your bearded dragon needs to eat, you have to go to the pet store and get some crickets. If the cat seems lethargic and sick and clearly needs to see a vet NOW … well, you’re heading to the kitty ER, not out on your hot date. If it’s 2am and your dog starts barking because it needs to go outside … You get the idea.
And do you have space in your apartment? Will you be enraged if your cat doesn’t quite make it to the litter box sometimes–because that’ll happen, you can count on it–or if your dog chews up the shoes that you accidentally left in the hallway? Do you have any friends or frequent visitors who have allergies?
How about your surroundings–the world outside your door? This one really only applies to animals that need to be walked outside–hello, dogs–but just remember that you’ll be walking around outdoors a couple of times every day. So if you live in a neighborhood where you won’t be comfortable walking around the block at 8pm, well, that’s a bit of a problem.
On the other hand, walking a dog can be a wonderful way to see your neighborhood and meet your neighbors. I have a friend who met his wife at their local off-leash dog run. Maybe you’re even looking for an excuse to get out of the house more often. In that case, heck, a dog would be great for your lifestyle.
If you answered yes to all of the above questions, and you’re certain it’s going to work out … Great!
Do your research. Check with other owners of similar pets. Head to the store and get all the things you’ll need–a litter box, an aquarium, food, toys, whatever it is that you need.
And then … off you go.