The number of Americans living alone is growing and so is the number of singles who have pets, statistics show.
But while the benefits of animal companions are well documented, there’s also a potential downside, experts say. To avoid it, single dwellers need to think through their impulse to pair up with an animal and be ready to provide a pet with healthy environment, they add.
Let’s start with the numbers.
More than one quarter of the U.S. population now lives alone, according to a recent article in Forbes magazine. Thirty years ago that figure was 17 percent. The trend has momentum and is not likely to reverse, the article says.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook indicates that pet-owning singles have begun to close the gap with pet-owning families in the last five years. While the number of families with pets showed less than 1.5 percent growth, single adults with pets increased more than 16 percent.
The Denver metro area appears to be part of the demographic trend. Forbes named Denver-Aurora as the 11th best metro area in the country for singles. It said Denver is the 7th best city for millennials – people between 25 and 34 years of age.
There are flesh and blood issues behind the dry numbers. Is the pet you’ve chosen suitable for your living space? How about your lifestyle? Can your pet handle it when you have to go out and leave it alone?
Make a mistake and it may mean a miserable life for your pet and a giant headache for you.
“Be realistic,” says Jai Michaud, supervisor of animal training and behavior at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. “Is the pet a good fit for your lifestyle? Can you spend the time and money it takes?
“Dogs need more exercise and they’re more likely to have separation anxiety when you leave,” Michaud says. “They can tear your apartment apart.”
PetMD.com has published “10 things you should know and consider before choosing your canine friend.” including whether you should get a dog at all.
Some dog breeds are not tolerant of being left alone, according to DogTime.com, which has published a list of them. Among the less tolerant are Yorkshire Terrier, Toy Fox Terrier and Pug. Some considered more tolerant are Boston Terrier, Brussels Griffon and Llasa Apso.
Indoor life can be tedious for some cats, according to All Things Pet.“They lack aspects of daily life in the wild, including the freedom to hunt, mark, protect and defend, and to interact with others of the same species.”
So what’s a pet guardian do to ensure success?
“For lonely pets, giving them mental stimulation helps,” says Dr. Rhea Dodd, a Denver-area veterinarian and animal behaviorist. “Food treats, interactive toys, puzzle cubes, a dog walker, animal scents. For cats, climbing towers, hiding places like bags and boxes, dangly toys, feather toys, toys that move, food toys that dispense treats, bird feeders, fish tanks and catnip.”
Kim Sporrer, a Denver public relations specialist who lives in a loft with her cat Zoie, has gotten the message about providing an enriched environment for her pet.
“Find ways to have them move around, like scratching posts,” Sporrer says. “Play with them when you’re here. Give them lots of toys. Find outlets for their energy.”
Cats are vertically inclined, loving to climb. “The nice part is I live in a loft with lots of stairs. Zoie likes to be up high,” she adds.
Bradley Joseph, owner of a Denver marketing and branding firm, shares a townhouse with his golden retriever, Moses. Like Sporrer, he understands how his pet fits in.
“I was careful to adopt a rescue dog with a good temperament,” Joseph says. “I have an advantage because I work at home. And when I have to be gone my parents or a neighbor look in.”
The bottom line, according to Joseph: “You need to really be there for your dog. Make it a priority.”
Sporrer and Joseph both understand the payoff when the human-animal bond works.
“Moses is a wonderful companion,” Joseph says, “a huge stress reliever.”
“When I’m here,” Sporrer adds, “Zoie is like my shadow.”