Pets for people with little time but big hearts
April 10, 2015 10:14 AM   Subscribe

What are some breeds/animals that fill that newly single lonely-feeling, but are compatible with a busy workday? A few details and I get emotional inside.

Working through a break in my relationship, a ton of advice around here is to get a pet. I know that I love dogs, and I get along okay with cats, but I also work 8am-6pm most days. I don't know how much time I have to take care of an animal, and I would hate it if I made a commitment to a dog or puppy and was only able to spend 2 or 3 hours or less with it some days. I know I can kennel a dog during the day, but coming home for lunch to let it out isn't really an option, and 10 hours seems like a long time to be in their kennel.

I was wondering if Mefi thought it would be a good idea to try to find a calm, sedentary dog at the SPCA/pound that was already potty trained, if he could just be here as my comfort animal, and I would love him and take care of him. I'm really nervous about this. I don't have a very dogproof apartment.

Are there any specific pets/breeds of dogs that don't need a ton of attention, but really love you and comfort you and make you feel less lonely?

The other thing I worry about here, is that I would be adopting a dog for selfish reasons. I wouldn't want to get a dog to serve my own needs, I would also want to provide a happy and caring life for the dog. I know that dogs are like, super happy and thankful all the time, but I just don't know if I can make him happy.

Anyway, thanks a ton for reading and replying
posted by bbqturtle to Pets & Animals (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's ok to get a dog to provide for your own needs, as long as you're also able and planning to provide for the dog's needs. It doesn't sound like you're able at this time.

Get two cats.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:17 AM on April 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yep, two cats that know each other, and will learn to love you. You see ads all the time, have to move, or grandma can't take care of her cats any more.
posted by Oyéah at 10:21 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess you guys have a consensus. Just a small followup - any tips on choosing a cat that's a good fit for me?
posted by bbqturtle at 10:23 AM on April 10, 2015

Why don't you sign up as a foster mom at your local shelter? Or, you could offer to babysit friends' pets on weekends, just to get a feel for it. Avoid getting an older, sedate dog. It sounds like you've been through enough. There is no need to set yourself up for another loss.
posted by myselfasme at 10:24 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

You probably want either cats or rats. Both of them do well in groups and can entertain each other when you're not home, and both of those have litter situations so you're not keeping them from being able to go to the bathroom for long periods of time. They both also require less care and maintenance than dogs, which is better if you are new to having your own pet. Do you just prefer a more doggy personality? You can find very friendly cats who totally seek out your company and want to be hanging out with you all the time. If you go through a rescue, talk to them about the kinds of personalities you want in a pet.

Rats have a shorter life-span than cats (2-3 years, generally), which may or may not appeal to you. (Less commitment, but also less time with them, basically.) They are just as friendly as cats and dogs and will cuddle you, chirp when you get home, etc. etc. You want rats which are friendly and not shy--if you're interested I can explain more about how you might locate good pet rats.

I have a dog, and I work full time, and I live alone in an apartment. It can be done, but my commute is nearly an hour and so I almost never work longer than eight hours at work. I take work home so the dog can go out and pee. If I routinely worked ten hours AND I had that long commute... no. That's too long to make a dog go without a chance to eat, drink, and go to the bathroom. It's totally okay to get a pet for your own selfish desires, but I think you might not have a situation that lets you keep the hypothetical dog happy right now. Even a lazy, relaxed, very low maintenance older dog, and especially a single dog. Two cats, especially a bonded pair of two cats if you can find them, strikes me as your best bet for something friendly to love on you right now.
posted by sciatrix at 10:25 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Go to the shelter and meet some cats. See which ones you like.
posted by aniola at 10:26 AM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Ha, on preview--get thee down to your nearest animal rescue and talk to them about what you are looking for. Rescues that get the time to know their animals are probably best, since you're new to this. Ask them if they have any cats or pairs of cats that they think fit the bill. Maybe also go down and spend some time hanging out with their cats beforehand--see if you find any that you just like to interact with. Don't pick based on color, get to know them a bit and pick based on personality. (I'm in favor of you finding adult cats rather than kittens because I think you'll have an easier time finding specific friendly, more "dog-like" cats if you do things that way.)
posted by sciatrix at 10:27 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

You really could get a dog, an older one. I adopted my senior girl when she was 13, maybe 14? She slept ALL THE TIME but she was fantastic company and her needs were modest. If you are gone from 8-6, however, you would very likely need a dog walker mid-day or a doggy door at the very least.
posted by mochapickle at 10:27 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Every time I've gotten a cat, their personalities in the shelter have held true for what they were like in my house. If you go to a shelter that allows you to spend time with them, you'll find a great one who is perfect for you!
posted by something something at 10:30 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

You probably want a cat that's about a year old already. No kittens. If you can get a bonded pair or some siblings that's even better because then they'll be able to have company when you're away. My cat is much clinger than I expected because she's hyperactive and gets bored easily so I am still trying to find her stuff to do since I work 9-5.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:33 AM on April 10, 2015

I don't know where you're located, but is there any chance you could adopt these kitties? They're a bonded pair living with a fellow MeFite in Toronto that need a new home ASAP.
posted by carmicha at 10:42 AM on April 10, 2015 [21 favorites]

Foster to adopt is your friend. You can find out whether you've got a good fit with a cat that way.

I concur that you want an adult cat (who wants you more anyway) and more than one. Two or more cats are better behaved -- they don't get bored or lonely in the few minutes every day that they're awake, so they don't mark or destroy anything. I've always been really lucky with my cats but I know many people have litter box issues when their cats are mad at them.
posted by janey47 at 10:42 AM on April 10, 2015

Get and older cat (5+ years), and read up on the ASPCA's list of feline personalities and you'll find one suited to you. Here's more details about how the personality profiles were created.

They developed this personality chart in order to reduce the incidence of take-backs, so people's personalities are matched well to the pets. You might want a private investigator, sidekick or secret admirer.

Don't feel bad at all about this being a companion animal for your needs. You're saving a life.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:44 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

You want cats, or maybe a house rabbit.

I have a similar lifestyle, and I'm a dog person, but I got two cats. I can't live the life I want and fit a dog in too :-(

If you adopt adult cats you have a much better idea if their temperament. I adopted a 12 year old and a 2 year old. The two year old was fun and playful and loved exploring, the 12 year old cultivated a series of warm place to snuggle, usually on my lap. It's the best of both worlds. They are both a bit older now, and both sleep more ;-)

There's a risk with cats over 9 that they won't be around for long, that's something you'll have to decide for yourself if you can live with. I think everyone should adopt a geriatric cat at least once. They are usually so much more interactive with humans as they get older. And much more talkative and up for snuggles.

Or a rabbit. By far the best ever pet I've ever owned was a rabbit. He had the best funky personality, stubbon, playful, funny, acted like he was the boss. But I've heard that there can be massive variation in rabbit personalities, and some are a lot more standoffish. Again, you might see if you can adopt an adult whose personality is better known.

Both cats and rabbits are crepuscular so they are active at dawn and dusk and sleep in the middle of the day, which fits well with humans working.
posted by Helga-woo at 10:44 AM on April 10, 2015

Yep. An older bonded pair is perfect for this set up. They are each others' best friends, and you are the favorite aunt/uncle who shows up for cuddles and provides food.

*Bonus* they're usually the most well adjusted, yet can be the hardest to place just due to logistics. Everyone's looking for one cat, especially a kitten. So you get extra warm fuzzies for giving difficult-to-place pets a home.
posted by politikitty at 10:48 AM on April 10, 2015 [16 favorites]

Just chiming in to note that there are other pets that can absolutely be cuddly and affectionate, not just cats and dogs. Some rabbits, chinchillas, and birds are definitely lovey. You just have to meet them and see for yourself.
posted by juniperesque at 10:52 AM on April 10, 2015

Of course you can get a dog! And any dog would be lucky to get you. The key for you is either a dog walker or, even better, a doggy day care for workdays. There are plenty of them and basically the dogs play together all day. Even my full of beans Australian Shepherd gets his fill of running and play when he goes to the doggy day care. A long and energetic walk in the early AM and when you get home will work too.

I think you just need an adult dog. And plans for the walker/daycare/daily walks, whichever you choose, in place first. I'd go to the pound and find your soulmate. Yes, of course your dog will love you.

I've had cats forever and some great ones but there is just nothing as comforting and wonderful and joyous and fun as a dog.
posted by bearwife at 10:55 AM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Nthing "cats". I was in exactly your situation (day job, recent breakup) only my ex and I had already adopted a cat and I decided to keep him for precisely the same "I need company" reasons you're facing.

And that's how I ended up with Zach for sixteen years and Zach was THE BEST.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I consider myself a dog person, but similarly Mrs. Karaage and I both work 8-7, and often go on travel. We don't have a huge yard, nor the lifestyle right now to adequately support a dog, so we looked at cats.
Spend some time at the animal shelter, and don't feel rushed to make the decision. I don't think we picked our cats as much as they picked us. By this I mean we originally went in with a very specific breed and color in mind, and only one, but after playing with those cats and seeing that they seemed to be fairly uninterested in us (or in some cases, scared and clawy), we met Hank and Dean, two black cats that were found together and bonded.

As soon as we opened the cage Hank rolled out and immediately went straight for our laps and rolled over, and Dean also started headbutting and open to pets/scratches. We took them both home because we didn't want to split them up, and it was the best decision in the world. They're both very loving and "dog like" (follows you around the house, likes being by your side, will play fetch and come when you call them), but because they have each other they usually keep each other entertained during the daytime and don't generally engage in overly destructive behaviors due to boredom.
posted by Karaage at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm going to break from the crowd and suggest a guinea pig or two. You don't seem particularly enthusiastic about cats, so getting two of them seems like you are setting yourself up for potentially decades of feeling ambivalent about your pets.

I love dogs, but if you are feeling stressed about your schedule, you are just going to feel guilty and like you're a terrible dog owner (you wouldn't be, but you might feel like that), and again, it'll be an added stressor.

Guinea pigs are awesome. They are self-contained, they'll talk to you (google "guinea pig vocalizations", they have an amazing range of communication that you'll figure out as you get to know them), they're easy to take care of, and definitely totally fine on their own for prolonged periods of time.

They'll snuggle with you on the couch, hang out while you're working on the computer, greet you when you come home, and be little furry potatoes running around all excited when you bring them fresh greens to eat! They're pretty great pets, and they have a. a lower initial cost investment, and b. a shorter lifespan (which is good and bad), but you aren't committing yourself to potentially 15 years or more of caring for this pet that you're getting because of a breakup.
posted by HermitDog at 11:00 AM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm puzzled by all these answers suggesting a person who is gone 8 - 6 shouldn't get a dog ... do you think people with careers just don't have dogs?

Of course you can get a dog. Dogs mostly sleep when their owners are at work. A puppy is probably not a great choice, but damn ... you realize how many unwanted dogs would KILL to be your pet even though you are gone 8 - 6?
posted by jayder at 11:06 AM on April 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

A geriatric pet should *not* be your first pet. The stress of aging issues and vet costs and weighing the cost/quality of life/benefit of treatment options for an animal who can't weigh in can be very difficult.

My childhood cat spent the last 5 years of her life with pancreatitis, which eventually devolved into diabetes. I would know her treatment needed adjusting whenever she used my clothes/bed as a litter box. I had to get comfortable giving her injections. The insulin was surprisingly easy. But the needle for the subcutaneous fluids is frighteningly large.

After fourteen years of her devotion, including still preferring me over my parents while I was away in college, I was happy to be able to give her that extra time. And most pet owners want to give their elder pets a good life. (And to be fair, not all geriatric pets are so high maintenance. But it is a reasonable risk you should expect.)

But just like training a puppy is a lot to take on without some pet experience under your belt, so is a geriatric pet.
posted by politikitty at 11:08 AM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'd join the chorus of suggestions for a cat or 2. I'd suggest an "oriental" breed cat if you are a dog person, they tend to act more dog like. Though of course individuals vary so getting to know the animal first is important. I had a mixed orientalish cat, he lived for 20 years, he would greet me each day after work with a long conversation about his day, bring me toys when he wanted to play & liked to play fetch. The talking or vocalizations can get annoying to some people, but when I lived alone I found it great company.

As other have suggested an older cat, a couple of years old would be perfect for your current lifestyle.
posted by wwax at 11:22 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are wanting to jump into this during an emotional time, which I think is not wise. I would strongly suggest fostering for a while to see if this is what you really want, before jumping into a many-year commitment to an animal.
posted by ktkt at 11:28 AM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Since you're a dog person but have a busy lifestyle and you're not super enthusiastic about cats, I'd actually suggest getting rats. They're basically like little dogs, highly intelligent, enthusiastic when they see you, cuddly, but also sleep all day, poop in their cage, and don't need as much attention as most dogs. They're amazingly affectionate and fun to watch. Get at least 2, as they need the companionship of their own species. Despite their icky reputation, they're really lovely animals.
posted by phoenix_rising at 11:42 AM on April 10, 2015

Adopting a pair of adult, bonded cats would be great. They already will be good with one another, they'll keep each other company while you're away, and you won't have to deal with the extra attention socializing and training a kitten requires. Kittens are cute, but they can be A LOT of work.
posted by quince at 11:49 AM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like you, I'm a dog person, but I really enjoy my friend's Maine Coon-ish cats. They play more like dogs than a lot of the cats I've met. Go you for adopting a critter or two!
posted by ldthomps at 12:09 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you get a cat, I'd suggest going through a kitty foster parent who can give you an idea of what the cat is like.

I have a wonderful chill girl, but my boy is like a super-active, highly strung small dog. You don't want that.
posted by jgirl at 12:17 PM on April 10, 2015

My husband and I always thought we were dog people but then my dad got a cat who I love. She's enormous and she likes to play and she starts purring when I look at her and she lets me pick her up and give her hugs. So we got a cat and we really like her. She's old but she just wants to hang out with us, sit in our laps, snuggle with us, etc. Taking a nap with this warm, soft thing next to you that's purring is kind of the best. She's very vocal which is entertaining because she makes funny noises. She's very cute but she's also just weird about some things (she hangs out in closets, will only drink water from a glass, growls at reflective surfaces), which adds to her charm. We both still want a dog but I wouldn't want to trade her in.

I will also say though that as someone who couldn't have a dog, I volunteered at the animal rescue and that helped me with my inclination to be around dogs. Yeah, sometimes I want to take an animal home but it's actually pretty rare. Few things make me want a dog less than trying to corral a reactive dog or hanging out with a dog who will not. stop. barking. for a few hours. But once in a while there is a dog who is just the best and it reminds me to go home and love on my cat.
posted by kat518 at 12:26 PM on April 10, 2015

Rabbits are great but can be very delicate, health-wise. The House Rabbit Society has locations all over the place. As far as I know, they'll only adopt rabbits in pairs because they can be destructive if they get bored. Rabbits can also bond with guinea pigs and you can litter box train them. I got one at a shelter years ago and she was litter box trained at the shelter; if I remember correctly, she came home, dropped one hard clean rabbit pellet outside of her box, and then knew what to do.
posted by jabes at 12:26 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing a cat.

Anecodtal: my little feline rascal is my best friend. I got her when my boyfriend of 4 years and I broke up, and everyone said I should get a dog instead because cats are aloof, only tolerate affection when THEY want, etc.

At the shelter I rescued her from as a 6-month old kitten, they let me play with her for a bit. She was sweet, if a little nervous, and loved being held and petted. That hasn't changed. This is a cat that will now follow me EVERYwhere I go inside the house. If I'm sitting on the couch or in bed, she slides herself along my body and cuddles up. If I nap, she tries to be big spoon. If I'm reading a book, she sits in my lap and purrs. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, she finds a way to be within two feet of me. When I was in Europe for a month, my boyfriend fed her and spent time with her - they day I got home, she went absolutely bonkers. Would not leave my side for days, and would literally sit on top of me (or my feet if I was standing). Outside of her 4 a.m. craziness that subsides in a couple hours, she's as cuddly and affectionate as a dog. I'm told this is an anomaly, but there you go.

My little Shichimi is the lovingest, low-maintenance pet anyone could ask for, and her presence is truly a blessing. I'm a scientist and sometimes work 10-hour days... coming home to a sweet, huggy little cat is just lovely!
posted by Everydayville at 1:02 PM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

Seconding a pair of bunnies. Ours live in a playpen in the living room during the day, and when we come home in the evening they're happy to see us and they run excited laps of the house. We have a tiny back yard that ours enjoy digging up but many people have indoor-only bunnies. They are delicate and it's sometimes hard to know what's going on with them (as prey animals they hide signs of sickness and pain, and most rabbits don't vocalise at all) but they've added hugely to our happiness since we adopted them.
posted by escapepod at 3:35 PM on April 10, 2015

Get rats! My son's pair of boy rats are the dopiest sweetest little creatures and aside from a weekly cage cleaning, which is straightforward and way less gross than a litter box, they basically want to be fed regularly and then played with in the evenings and early mornings when they're active. They sleep all day, curled up around each other, and then run around and play and eat tiny seeds and chunks of fruit (and boiled egg, so funny watching them try to figure out how to eat a boiled egg) and are basically adorable curious little creatures with teeny paws and soft fur, that will sit on your lap and scamper around the room and be happy to see you as Bestower of Treats and Tummy Tickles.

On a very practical level, they have a lifespan of 2-3 years, they're in a cage 95% of the time, and if you're in a large city you either get them as rescues or from a fancy rat breeder who has socialized them well when they were little, and they cost-wise cheaper to feed and care for than our cat or dog. A very good short-term pet. Although you must get two same-gender so they can hang out with each other. The girls are smarter and more active, the boys are cuddlier and lazier.

18 reasons why rats are the most underrated pet - with adorable pictures!
posted by viggorlijah at 5:51 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree that if you want a dog, you should get a dog. I work regular - long hours, during which my dog sleeps on the bed, lounges on the couch, eats, and generally has the life I sometimes wish I had! Or if my hours are long, he has a blast at doggie day care or out for an hour with his dog walker. Takes a bit more planning, but is doable.

I agree that a puppy would probably not be ideal right now, but dog =/= cat, and working people have dogs...(I have a feeling there are a lot of cat people in this thread trying to convince you otherwise! ;)
posted by mingodingo at 6:11 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion to finding two bonded cats who can entertain each other while you're at work. If you were well and truly a dogs-only person, I wouldn't try to sell you on kitties, but I've known several people who felt similarly "meh" about cats until someone in their household adopted a friendly, active little meower.

I like jgirl's suggestion to find cats through a foster owner, since that person can probably tell you about how they interact with other animals (in case your life has room for a dog in a few years), what mischief they get into, how much human attention they need, etc. But shelters are great places to find cats, too. Most of the awesome, snuggly cats I've owned came from the local humane society.

Alternately, if you're worried about committing to an animal during a big (and busy) life change, could you make time to volunteer at an animal shelter once or twice a week? They're often looking for nice people who would love to take their dogs on walks.
posted by Owlcat at 10:29 PM on April 10, 2015

If you have money to pay a dog walker, you can get a dog and have someone come take your dog for a good long walk in the middle of the day. But having a dog IS a commitment. You can't go straight from work to dinner because that WOULD mean leaving your dog alone for too long. I work from home, so my dog has it very cushy. On the occasional days when I leave him alone for 6 or 8 hours, I feel bad, but it's rare, and he is otherwise with me a ton, so on balance, he has an excellent life.

But if the commitment feels like too much, then yes, fostering a dog and dog sitting for friends are good ideas. There's also DogVacay, where people pay you to dog-sit for them. You could do that on weekends if DogVacay operates in your area. Nothing against cats -- just a huge dog person here!
posted by swheatie at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2015

I have a dog. When I work from home, he spends most of the day sleeping in a corner or his cage... which is the same thing he does when I am at work.

If you get a low-energy breed and at least two years old, you'll be fine.

Also, 2nding guinea pigs (note: plural; you must have more than 1). They talk to you and cuddle with you. So long as you feed them twice a day they don't mind if you don't spend time with them.
posted by flimflam at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2015

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