Becoming Religious Includes Your Pets
One of the ways you can tell if a family was once secular is if they have a dog. It is extremely rare to find a dog in a frum-from-birth home. When Mom and Dad decide that they want more Torah in their lives and embark on a mitzvah-observant lifestyle, giving away the family dog or cat is not an option. The kids are pretty attached to the family pet, and giving away their precious friend is something that could make the adjustment to a new lifestyle painfully difficult.
There are actually quite a few halachic considerations for your pet too, and in some ways, having animals give you the opportunity to do more mitzvot.
When it comes time to clean out all the chometz before Pesach, this includes the chometz in your pets’ food. Fortunately, pet stores carry special Pesach food for all your animals.
There are four issues related to Shabbat: feeding, petting, trapping, and walking your pet.
Feeding does not pose any challenges and, in fact, Halacha requires us to feed our animals before we feed ourselves.
According to Halacha, an item which has no purpose on Shabbat is considered muktzah and is not to be handled. Is your pet muktzah? There are two opinions: (1) the pet is muktzah and cannot be touched on Shabbat, unless it requires medical attention; or (2) pets who live in the house serve a constant purpose of bringing pleasure and companionship to its owners, something that does not stop on Shabbat, therefore it is not muktzah. I suggest you consult with your Rabbi.
Trapping is the act of restricting an animal’s movement. This is forbidden on Shabbat. However, this applies to animals prone to escape and not easily captured. It does not apply to domesticated pets, since by their domestication they are in some ways already trapped. Walking outside then, as long as your dog stays by your side is no problem. But if your dog likes to run away, you need to use a leash. On Shabbat, put on the leash while you are still inside the house to get around the law of trapping.
Spaying and neutering are more complicated issues and I will save that discussion for a future post.