5 Ways to Get the Benefits of Having a Pet If You Love Animals, But Can’t Have One of Your Own

updated Feb 13, 2021
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There’s a lot to say about how rewarding it can be to have a pet. Cat people, dog people, and other pet owners all benefit from the unconditional love, affection, and cuddles their furry roommates provide — and they’re in good company: 67 percent of American households own a pet. Even so, pet ownership is still a pipe dream for many people, and for a host of reasons. 

Whether your landlord doesn’t allow pets, vet bills are out of your budget, or your work-life balance is… not balanced, it might not be right for you to get a pet at this moment. Even so, there are tons of benefits to being around a pet, given that animals, in general, can help boost a person’s physical and mental health. 

Here are five ways to come close to having a furry friend, without the multi-year commitment that many pets require:

Volunteer as a dog walker

Volunteering as a dog walker is practically a win-win-win situation. Not only do you get the benefits of affection from a dog, you’ll also log steps by walking outdoors. Many shelters are always looking for volunteers to walk dogs — just call your local shelter first to check their COVID precautions. If you’re interested in making a little extra money on the side, you can also sign up through an official dog-walking service. Keeping things close to home? Volunteer to walk a busy neighbor’s dog or to check in on your friend’s pup.  

Rikke Rosenlund, who lives in London, founded the local-meet-up website BorrowMyDoggy in 2012; it now boasts nine million users. “Over half of the borrowers signed up to the site used to own a dog, and some are thinking about getting one and want to test first,” she told Apartment Therapy. That latter option, she notes, is particularly useful given how many people think they want dogs, without factoring in how much work their new pet will be. Consider your walk a puppy test-run before you take the plunge.

Work as a pet sitter

Imari Manning, who lives in San Francisco, is the founder of the Black-woman owned and operated Elite Pet Society, and works full-time as a pet sitter. A qualified veterinary nurse with a business degree, she has over six years’ experience in the field. Yet she believes working as a pet sitter is something anyone who is “a true animal lover” can do.

“You must have a certain type of patience, just like nannies have with children,” she says. Manning advises reaching out to local pet companies to ask if they are hiring pet sitters, or answering online ads from people in your area who are looking for temporary pet care. “There are so many people in the pet care industry who like to do this on the side, and I think it is a great way to make extra income if you love animals but don’t want to fully commit to it as a career,” she notes.

Volunteer at a shelter or on a farm

The ongoing pandemic has increased stress on shelters, and more animals are ending up in shelter care. You can find a number of volunteer opportunities online — a good place to start is the Humane Society of the United States, which lists a mix of on-site and home-based volunteer roles through their website. 

If you live near or have access to a farm, you might want to contact the owner to see if they need support in any way. Warren Draper, who runs Bentley Urban Farm in Yorkshire, England,  has noticed incredible benefits for people who volunteer. “Everybody who volunteers tells us that it is good for their wellbeing, but some volunteers are more deeply impacted than others,” he said, noting that the farm has created new opportunities for education, training, employment, and entrepreneurship for local people.

Symbolically “adopt” an animal

Make a difference with the symbolic adoption of an animal! Adoption in this way is great if you want to do something positive for animals, and don’t have the capacity for in-person contribution. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has 100 species to choose from in their adoption program. Sarah Fogel, Deputy Director of Media Relations at WWF-US, explains that the adoption is a symbolic one. “WWF’s program doesn’t involve ‘live’ animals living at sanctuaries,” she tells Apartment Therapy. “You aren’t given ‘updates’ on the species you chose to adopt – but you are given an adorable plush that can function as a ‘pet’ at home!” Alternatively, you could adopt from an animal sanctuary, such as the Donkey Sanctuary, in Devon, England, which provides care for over 7,000 donkeys on their farms. 

When “adopting” an animal, it’s important to think about the legitimacy of the organization, and research whether the organization is both reputable, and has an established history in animal protection. It’s also worth looking into the non-profit’s transparency policies, and whether you’d be able to access public records on where your money goes. 

Opt for an often-forgotten pet: fish!

Fish can be affordable, require minimal upkeep, and if you keep your tank small enough, take up very little space (which makes them great for apartment living). That said, Nathan Hill, the editor of Practical Fishkeeping, points out that there are some important factors to think about. “When keeping fish, it’s unavoidable that you’ll also need to learn a little about water chemistry, water quality, and how to keep things stable for them,” he says. 

Fish also have “highly attuned hearing,” Hill says, so you need to think carefully about where a fish tank is placed. “It needs to be away from sources of excess heat [like] fires and radiators, and cold, as well as distant from noisy areas. You couldn’t stick a fish tank next to a home stereo system, for example, because the noise from that would cause the fish stress,” he says. Although getting and caring for fish can be relatively affordable, it’s clear that to care for fish well, some careful planning goes a long way.