From the moment my parents brought me home from the hospital, I’ve always had a dog as a member of the family. For me, the hardest part of moving a away for college wasn’t coping with a shoebox dorm or a rotating cast of crazy roommates. It was learning how to deal with coming home without being greeted to waggy tails and that unconditional loyalty and affection only your dog knows how to give. So after living in various Boston-area apartments for almost 6 years where dog ownership wasn’t practical given my living situation (or allowed by the lease) I almost gave up on the idea of ever being able to have a dog of my own. To stick a bigger knife in your heart, my family in PA lost the two dogs I knew most of my life in two years back-to-back while I was going to school and working in New England.
After Raven, my family’s 8-year-old black lab, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 8, my mother wasn’t sure about getting another dog. Even though the idea of my family being completely dog-less made me unbelievably depressed, I couldn’t blame my mom for her doubts. After raising 3 children and 3 dogs, she thought she was ready for a break. But you know what George Carlin has to say about that…and a few weeks before Raven left us, Mazie, my parents’ second yellow lab, joined the fam. After getting to know Mazie as a pup, I promised myself that as soon as it made sense for me to get a dog of my own, I would.
Luckily, over the past couple years, the pieces started coming together for me as a potential dog owner (or parent really…). I fell in love with a guy who happened to dig dogs as much as I did and we negotiated being able to have a dog in our current apartment with our (very awesome) landlords. After almost a year of settling into our new home and dealing with a few different job changes, we brought up the dog conversation again. Here are a few things we had to iron out before starting the search:
Breeders vs Rescue Organizations/Animal Shelters
As you may know…there are a few different ways to get a dog. Some better than others. My boyfriend and I decided that ethically, the best thing for us to do in would be to adopt a rescue dog. If you remember Bob Barker’s advice about controlling the pet population – he was right. There are more dogs out there that need homes than households willing to give them a good home. These dogs end up in shelters every day.
Unfortunately, in the US, puppy mills and backyard breeders far out number ethical breeders who do things like genetic testing and only letting dogs only produce one litter a year. Even when trying to figure out the differences between a backyard breeder and an ethical one the lines can get a bit fuzzy. The big difference? Ethical breeders don’t breed dogs for the sake of making pets – they breed for the sake of making “a better dog.” Part of the reason why dogs from reputable breeders are so expensive is that it takes a lot of resources to produce a healthy pup, and if a breeder is doing things the right way (quality vs quantity), it takes a good bit of time and money to do things right.
Purebred vs. Mixed Breed
Here’s a sad truth: a lot of purebred dogs in rescues are puppy mill puppies. And unfortunately, because of unethical breeding practices, these purebred dogs are at high risk for having tons of health issues. There are plenty of saint-like people who are willing to rescue these poor dogs and cope with having a dog with health issues. However as a couple of nerds, my boyfriend and I are big believers in genetic diversity – a mixed breed dog from a rescue from our standpoint probably has a better chance at a long healthy life (although there’s never a guarantee). And of course it’s always fun to have people play “guess the mutt” with your dog.
Puppy vs. Adult Dogs
Before Lucy, I helped raise 2 pups with my parents and siblings. Even with 5 people on the job, raising and training a puppy is hard work. Originally my boyfriend and I talked about getting a young adult dog – a dog 2-5 years old so the energy level wasn’t too intense…but of course, those puppy dog eyes did us in. But apparently we won the rescue dog lottery by getting a 6 month old pup who was already perfectly housebroken and crate trained. Whoever fostered her before she was placed did an amazing job! But if you’re getting a young pup you can’t (and shouldn’t) expect a pre-trained dog. Puppies are cute for a reason – they’re cute to prevent you for holding too much of a grudge over your torn up socks and the 3 am walks.
Adult dogs have a tougher time getting placed because of puppy love (yes I am guilty of this) – but depending on your lifestyle, they can be a much better fit. There are tons of reasons why people are forced to give up their long-time furry companions to rescue orgs – finances, illness, military service, death [eek]….A cousin of mine adopted an adult dog last year from a woman who was in hospice and losing a battle with cancer. She felt much better knowing that her beloved coonhound would be taken care of after she passed.
By taking on the responsibility of giving a good older dog a comfortable home, you’re not just doing right for the dog, you’re doing right for people too.
And before you get a dog…
Think really hard about your living situation. Dogs definitely require a lot more attention and time than most other pets. It’s a huge responsibility, and it certainly helps to have other people sharing it. Even big families can have a hard time “making time” for a dog if they’re hardly ever at home. And of course there’s costs associated with food, vet bills, toys, pet walking/sitting, replacing your socks… It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you think you’re up for the task, please consider adopting – and not shopping for – your new best friend.