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22 Ways to Enjoy Animals When You Can't Keep a Pet

Updated on July 22, 2018
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Carolyn worked as a technical writer, software user interface designer, and writes about children's lit, the American West, and investing.

Dog-sitting and dog-walking are great ways to be a part-time pet owner.
Dog-sitting and dog-walking are great ways to be a part-time pet owner.

Not everyone can have a pet in their home, but that doesn't mean that you can't spend time with animals or have a pet experience. Keeping pets has many known benefits, such as increasing longevity and lowering your blood pressure. I had a lovely little kitty named Jerry who was a very good listener. Unfortunately, circumstances sometimes prevent us from making a full-blown commitment to keeping pets. Remember Fluffy from the movie While You Were Sleeping? Sandra Bullock's disarmingly girl-next-door character feeds the leading man's cat (only to find out later that the cat is actual the leading man's girlfriend's cat, who is already married--the girlfriend, not the cat. It gets complicated.)

1. Watch Someone Else's Pet For Them

Like Sandra Bullock did in the movie While You Were Sleeping, when a friend or loved one is on vacation or in a coma, offer to watch their pet for them. Make sure your friend supplies plenty of food. You'll be extremely popular, since you will be saving your friend tons of money on pet boarding fees. Pet sitting is an excellent way for children to experience the responsibilities of caring for an animal before making a commitment to own one. It is also a good way to determine if you are a cat, dog, iguana, hamster, or goldfish-kind of pet owner.

2. Take a Dog for a Walk

A variation on pet-sitting is dog-walking. You can walk other people's pets as a business or as a volunteer gig. Dog-walking is a great way to get outside and enjoy your surroundings and interact with an animal. But you have none of the downsides of pet ownership, like where to put the pet when YOU go on vacation.

3. Take a Shelter Dog for a Walk

Thousands of dogs in animal shelters across the country wait for months in small pens before being adopted, found by owners, or euthanized. Animal shelters need volunteers to come and walk these creatures as a humane act of service. My aunt, who has owned many dogs over the last several years has made it her passion to find owners for these dogs and to work once a week as a dog walker. Her compassionate service gives these dogs a chance to run off some of their natural energy and brings them into much-needed contact with humans.

4. Borrow a Pet from School for a Weekend or for the Summer

Many cassroom teachers keep pets in their classrooms as part of the elementary classroom experience. The class takes care of these small pets during the year as part of the school day. But during school breaks, such as Thanksgiving, Winter Holidays, Spring Break, and Summer, these pets need a temporary home. Often teachers will send a pet home with a student who is entrusted to care for the pet responsibly.

5. Buy a Zoo Membership

Zoo members support their local zoos with their membership funds. Some zoos allow you to select the specific areas you wish to support. If you can't have a pet at home, why not become a zoo member and donate the pet-care costs to those aimals lives?

6. Become a Volunteer Zookeeper

Volunteer programs at zoos allow children of different ages to help care for animals on an ongoing basis.

7. Feed the Birds

Feeding wild birds isn't as demanding as keeping a domestic pet. If you forget to feed the birds, after all, wild birds will just move on to the next house. Bird watching can be a very satisfying hobby, especially if you live near a lake, river, or other riparian area. You can buy or make suet to feed the birds, or get bird seed appropriate for your area from animal feed stores. A less-committed approach to feeding the birds could involve walking to a local park with a loaf of stale bread and feeding the ducks.

The National Geographic Web Site offers lots of point and click fun for young animal lovers.
The National Geographic Web Site offers lots of point and click fun for young animal lovers.
Bankers aren't the only animals Congress is trying to rescue.
Bankers aren't the only animals Congress is trying to rescue.

Horse Adoption Program Explained

A Venus Fly Trap may be the closest thing some people get to owning a pet.
A Venus Fly Trap may be the closest thing some people get to owning a pet.

8. Adopt a Wild Horse

Banks aren't the only entities the U.S. Congress is trying to rescue. The 1973 Adopt a Wild Horse or Burro program is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's attempt to manage the growing population of wild horses in the Western United States. Qualified individuals can actually adopt and care for these horses. If you aren't in a position to actually raise and care for a wild horse, you might donate funds to one of the organizations who does.

9. Get involved with a Horse and Pony Rescue Organization

Mistreated, abused, neglected, and abandoned horses are an increasing phenomenon as many families struck by the housing crunch and rising cost of living are having to make a choice between keeping their beloved horses and feeding their families. Equine rescue organizations offer a more humane alternative to abandoned horses than the slaughterhouse. The cost of caring for horses in these equine rescue organizations can exceed $2000 for each horse including vet bills, dentist bills, shots, food, and boarding. You could get involved in a rescue organization by adopting a horse or pony and contributing toward their care.

10. Help Find a Home for an Unwanted Pet

Help a local animal shelter advertise their pets for adoption. Encourage your friends and family members who are looking for pets to go to the shelter first. Too many pets are inhumanely euthanized because people felt they were disposable. Click here to see a list of animal shelters by state.

11. Take Care of a Virtual Pet Online

You can choose from dozens of virtual pet websites to raise dogs, cats, fish, and even monsters as pets online. These virtual pet websites simulate the experience of raising a pet to some degree of accuracy with a focus on clothing and accessorizing the pets and using the pets to play games. My husband plays a particular Multi User Online Role-Playing Game where the characters get to choose different virtual fantasy pets depending on what level their characters are at.

12. Collect My Littlest Petshop Toys

Every 8 to 11-year old girl I know is wild about these tiny posable animal-shaped plastic figures with bobble heads made by Hasbro. Each figure can be traded, accessorized, and posed and played with. On the Hasbro My Littlest Petshop website you can conveniently keep track of the pets you own and the pets you want, or you can buy the Virtual Interactive Pets (Littlest Petshop VIPS) which come with a secret code you can enter into the Hasbro LPS Website to unlock a virtual pet character.

13. Start an Ant Farm

Ants aren't warm and fuzzy and they won't crawl into your lap and lick you in the face, but they are fascinating to watch. Get a see-thru plastic ant arm and watch the ants at play and at work as they finish up that one last project before their vacations to tahiti.

14. Raise Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches

Budding entymologists will convince you that these fascinating insects are easy to care for and they reproduce like crazy. They are also difficult to kill. Best of all, if you live in Madagascar or a New York City highrise, you probably won't even have to buy them. Cockroaches can be kept in a tightly sealed terrarium and require very little food or water.

15. Spend an Afternoon at a Petting Zoo

Go to a petting zoo, often featured in the children's area of a larger metropolitan zoo, or at local farming attractions during autumn months or at your state fair. You can experience lots of (usually) young animals and get to spend lots of time touching their noses and feeding them handfuls of pellets from dispensers at a quarter or two a pop.

16. Raise a Venus Fly-Trap

Venus Fly Traps are flesh-eating plants that can take on a life of their own. If you don't believe me, just watch Little Shop of Horrors on DVD. You will have the added benefit of keeping down the fly population in your apartment.

17. Visit the Amazing Animals section of the National Geographic Kids Website Online

This top-notch web-site offers another online venue for animal exploration with gorgeous trademark photographs, trivia, and online games geared to older elementary-aged children. Animal lovers can spend hours on this fascinating collection of web pages.

18. Subscribe to or check out ZooBooks and National Geographic Kids magazines

These high-quality magazines geared to middle-elementary aged children will fascinate animal lovers and whet their appetites for animal companionship.

19. Read A Great Book About Loyal and Brave Pets

Three books that come to mind are Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Steven Polson, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, and the Shiloh trilogy by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

20. Help a Hospital or Nursing Home With Their Pets

Many hospitals and nursing homes keep pets as a form of therapy for their residents. Children's hospitals sometimes have aquariums full of fish that need maintenance. Ask around and find out if you can help care for the animals in the care of the organization, or offer to take animals to visit residents

21. View Facts, Photos, and Videos about the Earth's Endangered Animals on

You can spend hours learning about the living creatures that live on planet Earth by browsing through the enormous collection of animal and plant life on this unique and high-quality web site that rivals National Geographic's work.

22. Watch Animal Planet's Adoptable Pets Videos.

So many animals to adopt! Spread the word.

Not your typical pet fare, but animal lovers will enjoy the high-quality photos and information-packed articles on
Not your typical pet fare, but animal lovers will enjoy the high-quality photos and information-packed articles on

© 2008 Carolyn Augustine


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