Last Sunday was the 12th Annual Dumb Friends League Telethon in Denver, Colorado. I’ve worked at the telethon for many of those years and it’s a well organized endeavor to solicit operating funds and adoptions for homeless pets DFL cares for. Invariably there is a rush of interest in puppies and dogs featured on the show. But impulse purchases based on sentiment often result in regret.
What should you consider when a cute dog panting on a wide-screen television in your living room tugs at your heart? First and foremost, slow down. . .take a deep breath. . .and look around your home. Are you prepared for the commitment of a life-long companion of a different species? Owning a dog is a major responsibility. It’s a huge commitment in many ways. Let’s examine some criteria you should objectively consider:
1. Research various breeds to see which fit best into your home, time schedule, and lifestyle. Knowing breed characteristics is important even if you adopt a mixed breed dog because characteristics of each component breed will affect the dog’s size, coat, temperament, energy level, intelligence, and behavior. Some will need large areas for exercise, unless you’re willing to play and walk with them every day (which you should, regardless of breed). If you’re a neat-nick you may not want a breed mix that sheds incessantly and in volume. If you’re away from home more than six hours a day, where will the dog stay? Can you make a long-term emotional commitment to another living, breathing creature who will become completely dependent upon you for his/her resources–physically (food, water, exercise), emotionally (attention, touch, play, interaction), cognitively (communication through training and sharing language), and intellectually (brain stimulation through activity challenges, new environments, interactive toys)?
2) All dogs need protection from weather, nutritious food, plenty of water, space to move around, medical care, companionship, intellectual stimulation and training so they know how to fit into your human world.
3) Be sure you can handle the financial commitment. Grooming, medical care, food, equipment (eg: leashes, collars, toys, bedding), boarding can cost a bundle. There’s nothing as heartbreaking as the inability to pay for care your ill or injured beloved pet needs. Your dog will age and will suffer from the same health issues older humans do. It’s not uncommon for veterinary fees to hit $10,000 during a pet’s lifetime. If there are serious illnesses or injuries along the way, it’s your responsibility to provide for the pet you’ve made a commitment to.
4) Tragically, shelters often see elderly dogs abandoned when the family they’ve known all their lives loses interest in them when they’re no longer “fun.” Think long-term before you bring a dog home. Small breeds can live up to 18 years. Medium breeds to 15, large breeds to 12, giant breeds to 9 years of age. Dogs are constant companions in your home so evaluate if you are up for the emotional commitment of having someone on your heel 24/7.
5) Consider the space needed, exercise requirements, and energy levels of dogs you’re considering. Try to match the dog’s energy level to your own. If you’re a couch potato, don’t adopt a herding breed! If you like to climb 14ers or camp in the winter, don’t adopt a lap dog! If you travel a great deal, will you be willing to take your dog? Or can you find and afford proper accommodations when you leave him/her?
6) Learn the psychological. cognitive, and emotional needs of the breed mix, in addition to the physical. Dogs abandoned in yards, on chains, or otherwise ignored will suffer unspeakable psychological damage, regardless of the quality of food or toys you provide. You isolate your pet in your yard and home so his/her mental needs are your responsibility.
7) Understand that dogs are pack animals and need attention. They are not cognitively able to spend time alone. They require intellectual stimulation and interaction with other dogs, people and sometimes other animals. Solitary confinement in a palace is still solitary confinement.
8) Plan to train your dog so that he/she understands how to fit into your world. Dogs without leadership become anxious and often engage in undesirable behaviors just because they don’t know better.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: BEWARE OF PET STORES AND ONLINE “PURCHASES” OF DOGS. These are often fronts for deplorable “puppy mills” and if you’re not completely bilked out of your money and get a dog, he/she will probably come with a host of behavioral and medical problems. There is absolutely no reason to spend thousands of dollars for a pet dog!!! Any so-called “breeder” who doesn’t make you sign a “spay/neuter” contract before you take their puppies home, is not a reputable breeder.
IT’S SAFEST AND MOST HUMANE TO ADOPT FROM A SHELTER, RESCUE OR SANCTUARY that holds a 501-C-3 designation as a non-profit. These dogs are screened, medically and behaviorally tested, and often home-fostered so you can quickly be educated on her/his temperament and needs. Foster volunteers know their animals and will be careful who they allow to adopt. Consider them your consumer safety advocates.
If you’ve examined your motivation, qualifications, and ability to commit to a dog, you’ll make a better companion for that pup than someone who flies into a sentimental acquisition.
If, after sincere soul-searching you feel you can’t make a mature commitment but still want to have dog contact, VOLUNTEER. Shelters, rescues, and sanctuaries are crying for help.
Good luck and thanks for your interest in helping homeless dogs–in whatever form you are able to.