What to ask yourself before adopting a dog
October is Adopt-a-Dog Month and many local shelters and animal welfare organizations are holding special events this month to help find lonely cats, dogs, rabbits and other animals go (to a new) home for the holidays.
Every September Diana and I attend the Bay Area Pet Fair at the Marin Center in San Rafael, California. Since it started in 2011, nearly 5,000 pets have been adopted at the two-day fair, with a record-breaking 1,158 in 2015!
More than 60 rescues and shelters throughout northern California bring adoptable pets, and of course we want to adopt all of them. But adopting a dog (or anything else) should not be a snap decision, even when your heart really, really wants it. You need to plan for your pet fair “impulse” buy.
Now and forever
I’ve heard people bemoan that you can’t choose your family. But you can choose your dog, and doing some researching and soul searching can help you avoid ending up in a(nother) dysfunctional relationship. The majority of shelter dogs were put there because their last relationship didn’t work out — the owner chose the wrong dog and/or couldn’t afford to keep it. Unfairly, perhaps, pets have nowhere to leave people. Lucky for some of us.
A pet is a long-term relationship, and with good care it could be part of your life for a long time. Isn’t that the point — to love and be loved for as long as you both shall live?
Ask yourself a lot of questions. If you’re single, if may remind you of writing an online dating profile:
- What do you want in a life companion? What expectations do you have? What qualities are you looking for in a partner?
- How do you want to spend your time together? Do you want a lap dog, a guard dog, a buddy for outdoor adventures, or a playmate for your kids?
- What can your dog expect from you? What are you willing to give of yourself?
- All of which leads to the question: What breed should you get? Each has its own personality. Some are high maintenance, some low. Some are playful and good with children, others not. Some naturally hunt or herd. If you’re adopting a purebred, you can ask the breeder what kind of environment the dog was raised in (home, outdoors, kennel) and how it interacts with people and other pets.
- Who will care for the pet once it’s home? You? Your children? Who will make time for daily brushings, feedings and exercise?
- Money problems are a leading cause of human breakups. Don’t underestimate the cost of owning a dog beyond the adoption fee — it can and will cost anywhere from $500 a year (cheap) to several thousand. There’s food and shots and trips to the vet; some breeds are prone to particular health issues. If you travel often, there’s the cost of either traveling with your dog or finding a pet hotel or spa. See Resources below for some good articles about pet economics.
- Don’t expect to recreate a relationship you had with a dog in your youth or childhood. You’re grown up now and it’s a different dog. Your high school boy/girlfriend has found someone else.
Adopting a dog will bring new people into your life too. One of the best ways to learn about your future dog-mate is to network (in person or online) with others who own the breed of dog you’re considering. You can get good advice about breeders this way too. In the end, you’ll have lots of new friends with the same breed who share your passion.
Consider finding a good veterinarian before adopting, or at least looking for one. You’ll have a relationship with your vet as long as you have one with the dog, so choose that relationship carefully too.
With human and canine alike, of course you want to avoid mistakes, but adopting a dog is much more than that. Like with online dating, you have an opportunity to take your time and find the one who’s really right for you.
• American Kennel Club: “Top 10 Questions to Ask When Getting a Dog From a Shelter”
A good place to start your research and networking. The AKC provides extensive information about breeds and clubs along with a plethora of resources for dog owners.
Search for any kind of pet, from dogs and cats to barnyard animals to things with scales and fins. You can search by breed, age, gender, size and other criteria, like whether your home already has dogs, cats or children.
Another good resource and searchable database of adoption pets, backed by the “passionate pet lovers” at Purina.
• Kiplinger: “9 Costs Every Dog Owner Should Budget for”
• Investopedia: “The Economics of Pet Ownership”
• PetEducation: “Cost of Owning a Dog”