Downstairs in my house right now, there is a shelter cat having its first fifteen minutes of life in my home. This is the first pet I've had in six years — and I've been longing for it every second of that time, including the periods apparently spent sleeping, eating, or doing anything other than repeating IwantapetIwantapetIwantapet under my breath. There's nothing like that longing; whether it's because you once had pets and now can't, or just love animals and fantasize about owning one, you never really get over it until the next fluff monster takes up residence and eats your socks. So what can you do if you're desperate for a pet but genuinely can't have one, for reasons of expense or living situations? I am an expert. Let me guide you.
There are ways to cope with an animal-less life that don't include running up to dogs in parks and attempting to steal them. (Pro tip: doesn't work.) Instead of lingering creepily while petting the animals of strangers, make time and space in your life for animals you can help, if not necessarily have. I'm including options here for the die-hard animal lovers who'll even express affection to a pangolin. (I'm one of those. I once tried very hard to get a cuddle from echidna. Luckily I was unsuccessful.) Whether you're strictly dog-and-cat or more intent on the exotics, there's a way for you to get your pet fill without needing to shell out for microchips and vet bills.
As for the new cat? She's currently lying on my feet demanding cuddles. I think this is going to be a very beautiful friendship.
1. Stop Torturing Yourself With Adoption Possibilities
Get off the adoption websites. Do it. Right now. If you can't offer an animal a good life at the moment, stop giving yourself opportunities to mourn about animals that you'd absolutely adore but can't take home. I know you have your future pets bookmarked, but please stop putting yourself through repeated devastation when they're taken by somebody else. Let's find better outlets for that love and energy that don't cause you to have a crying fit when Mr. Whimples is adopted by a couple in Indiana, yeah?
2. Connect With A Famous Animal Online
How did people ever cope with petlessness before the Internet?! You probably already spend hours on ICanHazCheezburger and other sources of pet-related fun, staring at other peoples' Instagrams and sighing wistfully. But it doesn't have to be like that.
Find a daily tracker on one particular pet or litter — breeders now often have 24-hour cameras on litters as they grow, and you can feel a special connection to their life arc and privileged access to their everyday experiences. It's not quite the same, but hey, it's something.
3. Explore Your Petsitter Options
One of the best possible methods of temporary pet-ownership is to sign yourself up to an organization that provides pet sitters. Trusted House Sitters is one of the most famous — members are rated, recommended, and paid to stay in a family's house while they're away, often with animal friends included. You have to be willing to travel, fit in with other peoples' schedules, and recognize that these aren't actually your animals, but it's a pretty great gig.
4. Volunteer At Animal Shelters & Humane Societies
This is one of the quickest ways to sate the desperate need for a fluffy friend in your life. Animal shelters and rescue centers often desperately need volunteers who won't mind socializing animals, helping with training, sorting out fostering, feeding and cleaning, and generally being owners to dozens of animals at once. (Dog groomers and walkers are always in demand, so make it clear if you don't mind getting wet or run off your feet by an over-excited Great Dane. ) You'll likely also learn a lot about animal behavior and how to help damaged animals. Win-win.
5. Offer To Help With Friends' Animals
Sometimes the hardest bit of pet-singledom is having friends who've already found their dream Fido or Spot and settled down. Well, find ways to be a threesome. Intrude — but politely.
If they call for a sitter or somebody to help out with walking or a trip to the vet, volunteer. Take over treats whenever you visit (running it by them first in case of dietary restrictions). Don't talk to the animal instead of the friend or visit explicitly just to see it — that's a good way to get deleted from phone contacts — and know that you aren't the owner, but make it clear that you adore their animal and they'll probably trust you to help them out.
6. Volunteer At A Sanctuary Or Zoo
Zoos and sanctuaries have different volunteering opportunities than shelters. While places like the ASPCA will mostly deal with house pets, zoos offer a far wider range — but they also have a heap of qualified staff to deal with them personally, so you'll spend much more time talking about animals to visitors than giving tortoises cuddles. But you'll likely also get to assist with animal care and feeding, particularly if the zoo includes a petting zoo, where animals need to be cleaned and handled.
7. Go Abroad With Animal Conservation
If you want to sate your lust for animal ownership and have free time and cash, why not do some good in the world? Do some volunteer work overseas with animal conservationists in other countries. The work will likely be physical and may be in poor conditions, but you may get up close and personal to some spectacular animals and help their future. Warning: not for those who genuinely think they could adopt a baby elephant. You can't get too attached, particularly to wild animals.
8. Go Wildlife Spotting
If you're a general animal lover, the idea of a pet-less life may seem barren beyond belief, but you'd be surprised at how much wildlife exists in your area or nearby. Get yourself to your nearest national park, enroll in a local wildlife tour, or just go out into parks and commons on quiet days; you may be very surprised at how much life you see.
9. Scope Out Pet Championship Shows
Trust me, even if you're not into the idea of pedigree, there's nothing more fulfilling for pet-lovers than seeing some of the finest examples of your chosen breed around the world strutting their stuff for Best In Show. Shows are open to the public with tickets; go along with binoculars, a show guide, and a like-minded friend who can coo and make judgements with you. ("Oooh, that basset hound is gorgeous, but he totally just farted on the judge.")