In this week's Living Sanely newsletter, we're going to provide some very specific and tangible advice: Go to an animal shelter and adopt a cat or dog.
Our cat, Samantha, died from cancer, so we know all the downsides of pet ownership; huge grief, expense, and work. But it has been so worth it. For 11 years she gave us an almost endless supply of affection, love, and companionship. Many things in life - children, lovers, work, travel, art, reading - can be satisfying or enriching, but in very few things is the balance of pleasure and pain so strong as in the case of pet ownership. In our case, for every bit of hassle and expense, there was ten times as much affection and joy in return. In how many situations can you say that?
Animals in shelters are every bit as desirable as those obtained from breeders or elsewhere; in fact, they have usually had a preliminary exam and any necessary vaccinations. The kind of shelter doesn't make a huge amount of difference; in all likelihood you will find a wide range of cats and dogs at your local shelter. Be realistic about matching your needs with what you can offer in terms of time and effort; some animals need more care than others. "Mutts" or mixed breeds are usually healthier than purebreds, who suffer from health issues caused by inbreeding.
If you adopt a shelter pet and give it love and affection, you'll be richly rewarded. The world is often insane, but nothing will help you live sanely more than a good pet.
Use this site to find a shelter: http://www.aspca.org/adopt/shelters