Just because you spend all day obsessively scrolling cute dogs on Instagram doesn’t mean you’re ready to adopt one, or to adopt one right now. Timing is everything when it comes to putting an animal’s life entirely under your care, and dog ownership takes commitment with a capital C. Despite initial good intentions, 10 percent of adopted dogs are returned to shelters within six months of adoption, often because an owner’s circumstance changed or dog ownership turned out to be more work than they thought. Make sure you and your dog live happily ever after by taking an honest look at your current and future situation. Ask yourself:
Irresistible “puppy dog eyes”—not to mention pleading children—can push people to get a dog before they’re ready. But getting a dog requires serious consideration. Puppies, in particular, can live for 15 to 20 years! According to a study by The Kennel Club, 10 percent of puppy owners said they bought their puppy on impulse; 40 percent said they bought a puppy because of the way it looked, and only 10 percent said they bought a puppy after checking that it suited their lifestyle.
A dog is man’s best friend, but who’s going to watch him while you’re with your human BFFs? If dining out with friends every night is non-negotiable, or co-worker happy hours are an essential part of the job, you might need to rethink your priorities.
“Having a dog is comparable to having a child,” says Jennifer Rogers, adoption coordinator at One Tail at a Time, a no-kill animal rescue organization in Chicago. “A dog is a living being that needs care, time, energy and love. You need to ask yourself if you’re willing to make sacrifices. And not just if you can, but if you really want to.”
Dogs aren’t just fair-weather friends, either. Sure, playing Frisbee with Fido on a spring afternoon is delightful, but you’ll also be walking him in the pouring rain/snow before work or when you’re sick with a bad cold. Dogs need tending to no matter how much you just want to flop on the couch.
According to Foundanimals.org, a change of living situation to a place where pets are not allowed is the No. 1 reason pets are turned into shelters. Even if you don’t see a move in your near future, does your current building or neighborhood allow dogs? Some rescues will require you to have a fenced-in yard before even considering you for adoption. Most home associations don’t mind members having pets, notes the Home Owners Protection Bureau, but they will want to make sure the animals don’t disturb other residents. For that reason, certain dog sizes or breeds are prohibited, or the number of pets restricted. Always check all rules before adopting a dog you can’t keep.
That said, rules can be altered. New York apartment dweller Jono Waks, who had been wanting a dog for years, fought to have his co-op’s “no dogs” rule changed and now has two chihuahua rescues. “I went the ‘comfort dog’ route, petitioning the board with letters from doctors and therapists on how much dogs improve a person’s wellbeing.”
The unconditional love you’ll receive from a dog is priceless, but that’s no consolation when the bills mount. Owning a dog isn’t cheap, and the first year is the priciest. The ASPCA estimates that the total first-year costs range from $1,314 and $1,843 on average, based on the size of your dog.
“Since I worked in an office full time, I waited until I was financially ready to afford a dog walker every day,” says Rachel Kechum, an adopter of two rescue dogs. “Plus, those vet bills, food, and in my case, dog outfits, add up!”
Adoptions can be free to a few hundred dollars, usually covering spaying and neutering, but the costs don’t stop there. A first-time visit to the vet might cost $300, while the dog’s age, health and pre-existing conditions will determine future medical care. Emergencies will cost too, although you can get pet insurance to offset unexpected medical costs. There will also be fees for food (remember, larger dogs eat more!), treats, grooming and supplies like dog beds, cages, collars, ID tags, leashes and toys. Depending on the dog’s temperament and your lifestyle, you might also need to shell out for obedience trainers, dog walkers, pet boarding and more.
Dogs demand a lot of your time for their physical and emotional wellbeing. Dogs need to be walked a few times a day, and depending on the type of dog, this can range from 10 minutes to multiple hours. A fenced-in yard with a pet door won’t cut it as a long-term solution. Dogs also need to be trained to your routine and lifestyle, with puppies requiring the most work since you’ll need to housebreak. Even puppy-proofing your place for safety requires commitment.
Dogs are also social creatures. “If you don’t give a dog time, he can become depressed, obese or destructive,” says Toni Boden, co-founder of New York-based non-profit rescue group Stray From the Heart. “Dogs need companionship and would be lonely alone in an apartment for 10 hours!” If you’re not working from home or don’t have a flexible schedule, you’ll need to make arrangements for someone to care for your dog.
Who is going to watch the dog when you travel for business and/or pleasure? Do you have the budget or mindset to leave the dog in a kennel? Do you have family or friends living nearby who can comfortably care for the dog while you’re away? If not, are you willing to adjust your lifestyle? “I haven’t taken a vacation in three years!” laughs Waks. “I just don’t trust others to love and care for my rescues like I do!”
Starting a new-yet-demanding job? Did a newborn baby just enter your world? Always wanted to live overseas? While congratulations are in order on all accounts, think long and hard if you really have the stability to commit to a dog long term. “We ask people who want to adopt a dog how they see themselves in 5 to 10 years,” says Boden. “It’s not always easy to know, but it’s important.”
From roommates to significant others to spouses to kids, dog ownership affects everyone living under your roof. Taking care of the dog is often a shared experience, so make sure everyone is emotionally vested. If children are too young to understand what they safely can and cannot do around a dog, make sure your living space accommodates proper separation when needed. Also consider how a new dog would affect any other pets in your household.
There’s an old adage that adopting a rescue doesn’t just change a dog’s life, it changes yours. But if you’re still unsure about the commitment, test drive dog ownership with a temporary foster-to-adopt situation first. Just don’t let those puppy dog eyes overshadow this important checklist!
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The Ulti-Mutt Guide for Rescue Pets and their Pawsome Pet Parents.