4 New Year's resolutions for pet owners

Elvis, a 2-year-old beagle, checks out a camera

Elvis, a 2-year-old beagle, checks out a camera lens while sniffing polar bear protein samples at Iron Heart Performance Dog Center in Shawnee, Kan. (Oct. 28, 2013) (Credit: AP)

I want to share a few New Year's resolutions that can make the lives of your animal family a bit better.

1. Every species kept as pets has some kind of backstory, and all pet owners should go out of their way to learn a bit about this history. Try, for example, to learn what part of the world your particular pet is native to and where they were first domesticated. How your pets' ancestors lived and what they ate in their native habitat tells you what kind of care they need and why.

2. All dog and cat breeds were selectively bred to serve a purpose or satisfy some type of need that humans have, and every breed tells a story. If you have a mixed-breed dog, like a Yorkie-Poo, then there is twice the research, because you have more to learn.

3. Develop a relationship with a vet before you actually need one. Vets specialize in different species and their needs. It is rare to find one vet who can do everything. Get to know your vet and when he or she is available and who backs them up so you can be proactive rather than reactive if your pet has an emergency.

4. This is the most important one: Do your best to look at the world from your pet's point of view. If you have a small dog, cat or ferret, get down on the floor and look at how your pet sees its environment so you can understand why the animal does what it does. Always remember that animals live for the moment and have no idea that what they are doing right now can cause any kind of consequences later. The idea of them doing anything out of spite is alien to them.

I would say that 99 percent of all the issues we have with our pets' behaviors is due to a lack of communication. We as the more intelligent species must go out of our way to understand our pets' way of thinking.

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Q: Our 12-year-old son wants a tortoise and specifically asked for a sulcata tortoise. We heard they get very large as adults. He feels he can make a large enough enclosure for it. He is very devoted to his pets, but we wanted your opinion before we make this choice. Richard Wood, Holbrook

A: I am always fascinated by large tortoises, but these sulcata tortoises grow very large. By the time your son is in college, the tortoise will be the size of a small coffee table and will be pooping like an elephant.

I do know a few hobbyists who spend a lot of time and money to house adult sulcatas correctly, but it is very hard to do indoors. Most of these tortoise hobbyists keep their pets outdoors in warmer areas of the United States.

Baby sulcatas are offered for sale all over the Internet and they are very cute, but you may regret this choice a decade from now.

Russian tortoises, Greek tortoises and Cherry Redfoot tortoises stay much smaller as adults. I think any of them would make a more appropriate pet.