Responsible Pet Ownership Begins With Proper Pet Education — What you should know and what you should ask yourself before adopting.

So you want a new furry family member eh?

That’s great! I hope you are ready for the love, support, and truly live changing experience that only an animal can bring you. But I also hope you are ready for the responsibility, time commitment, piss stains on the carpet, vet bills in the hundreds, sometimes thousands, the training classes, the food expenses, and so on. Adopting a dog is no walk in the park, but it does require many walks in the park to keep that little one from being destructive in your house 😉

*for reference, I will refer to dogs a lot in this piece, but many of the tips, etc. here can be applicable to all animals*

There are some questions you need to ask yourself before bringing a new dog into your life, even if you grew up with animals or have adopted in the past, things can change. The questions to ask yourself listed later in this blog can result in YOU helping the animal shelter crisis by not only educating yourself on proper pet ownership and readiness, but also by hopefully sharing this with others.

Let me preface though….

I’m an animal lover, I have been for as long as I’ve been able to comprehend what those words even mean. I got it from my mama. I grew up in a house that always had multiple animals in it, dogs and cats primarily. In my first 18 years of life we had 2 amazing Golden Retrievers, Oliver and Zoey, and we also “fostered” a third one, Pete, for family friends when their young son was going through cancer. We also had a plethora of cats growing up too. There was Mason, Twinkie, Lizzie, Callie, and Garfield. So yeah, not only was I an animal lover, and not only was my mom an animal lover, our house was essential an animal haven.

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(one of my childhood dogs, Zoey)

Simply being an “animal lover” isn’t the only box that needs to be checked when deciding to adopt an animal. You could be the most passionate animal person in the world, and have all the best intentions, but your 14 hour work day job schedule that also takes you across the country multiple times a month should raise a red flag. Your 2 kids under the age of 3 who like to crawl and pull all over dogs should also raise a red flag. Maybe you LOVE animals but have never owned one, maybe you don’t know the first thing that proper pet care requires, that should raise a red flag. Or maybe you love animals but your spouse doesn’t. That too, should raise a red flag. All of these red flags should be seen as warning signs. A warning that you need to think about the next step you’re going to make. They don’t mean that adopting an animal is completely out of the cards right now, but like with anything in life, red flags should bring you to a temporary halt and allow yourself to think about things further.

If you’re gone 14 hours a day, you’re not fit to get an 8 week old puppy. If your kids love to crawl on dogs, you shouldn’t adopt one who has never been socialized to kids. If you’ve never had an animal of your own before, maybe you shouldn’t get one that is hard headed who also still needs a lot of training and patience. If your spouse doesn’t like animals, maybe you should start with fostering, you know, test the water.

There’s many reasons people should adopt a dog.

And there are also many reasons that people should not.

There’s many reasons why people fail at being fur parents. Many of those reasons can be eliminated by being properly educated prior to taking the plunge.

But I’m not here to judge you, not at all. I know that some people adopt a dog or cat thinking that they are fully ready to do so. They don’t realize all of the hard work, manual labor, and personal finances that stand behind a new animal. They don’t realize that because they’ve seen the glamor of it all.

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(looks easy enough, right?)

Right now, there are millions of animals in high-kill shelters. And more than half of them are on death row if someone doesn’t step in soon to adopt them. There are millions more in no-kill rescues, and those rescues are drowning. Take look at these animals, the ones who are afraid in the shelter, who are now anti-social and depressed. The ones who look like absolute shit, their fur is matted, they smell, they don’t know what a loving hand is. And now imagine the horror they’ve been through only to be discarded like yesterday’s trash. That’s why they appear so bleak and sad on the surface, because they are. Now, this may be true for some, if not the majority of those animals, but not all. There are beautiful dogs in shelters and rescues. And you know what, all of those sad and dingy animals we just talked about? They turn into the most beautiful and often times most loving animals! It’s all about giving them a second chance…. at life.

It’s true. People hurt dogs, people discard them because they are ignorant and stupid. But no matter how mad this makes me, I can’t help but believe that those numbers of animals in shelters and rescues will decrease if the human race became more educated before choosing to adopt an animal.

Instead of judging people who give up their animal for various reasons. They’re moving, their kids don’t get along with them, they’re allergic, etc. Try to find a different approach to this. Trust me, I’ve judged and still want to judge many of those situations. But the more I work in no-kill animal rescue, the more I am able to see between the lines.

While excuses are often times exactly that…. excuses. There are times where lack of proper pet education is what causes the gut wrenching decision to surrender a dog.

There are times where lack of proper pet education leaves a family drowning with thoughts of “I don’t know what to do”, “I can’t train this puppy”, “I’m afraid I made a mistake”, “this is not as easy as it was supposed to be”.

There are times where proper pet education could have been the difference between a family being prepared for the lifelong commitment of a pet, and giving up on it too soon.

PET EDUCATION 101:

When, where, who, and why?

The decisions to make before adopting a pet.

 

WHEN

is the right time for you (and your family) to bring a furry friend into the home?

Your kids have been begging you for 3 years to get a pet, or you’re mourning the loss of your family dog 1 year ago, or you are finding yourself alone in a new city. You suddenly have the urge to get a dog, I mean your best friend got one and it is going swimmingly for her.

Here’s what you need to further consider:

Are you caving? You’re sick of your kids constantly asking you for a dog, and quite frankly you just want to make them happy and shut them up at the same time. You’ve interacted with dogs before, and so have they, why wouldn’t now be the right time?

Between you and your spouses work schedules and each of your 3 kids being in a different sport, you are essentially only at home for dinner time and bed time (and sometimes not even dinner). If you’re gone consistently from the home for more than 8-9 hours a day, you need to consider the fact that your furry family member will not only be alone for that long, but will also potentially be in a kennel for that long. Further more, leaving the dog alone for that long will result in lack of proper socialization and training, which in turn can lead to frustrating moments between you and him. He could behave wildly when you get home because he’s got so much energy built up, is excited to finally see you, and oh yeah, he’s realllllly got to go to the bathroom. Not to mention he hasn’t had a chance to be properly trained, so the jumping will begin, potential barking, oh and sometimes he just might get the zoomies and as a result knock something off of the table, or worse knock your littlest child clean off her feet. To be fair, this will be no fault to the dog, he’s just excited to see you, he’s got energy to burn and no better knowledge of how to properly behave. So you get frustrated, and as a result, finally realize that your family doesn’t have the time to put the effort into your dog, so you surrender him to the pound, leaving him confused, alone, and sad. All of which could have been avoided had you realized and decided long ago in the decision making process that your family just does not have the time to commit.

Mourning an old dog is one of the realest and rawest emotions you can feel. But before you dive into another one, consider how your life is different NOW vs. THEN.

What has changed? Are you busier with work, do you now have children, are you in a different city with different potty training barriers, etc? The last time you got a dog might have been 10+ years ago. You could have been living with your parents still and therefore had help potty training. Or maybe you adopted an older dog who didn’t need any training. Maybe you had more flexible work hours to let the dog out on your lunch break. Does your current job make you travel for work? If so, how long are you gone for and do you have someone who can watch the dog responsibly when you leave? Have you moved to a bigger city and into an apartment on the 10th floor with little potty training access? On the plus side, things now could be an even better bring-a-new-dog-into-your-life scenario. You could have more time, more help, a larger yard, easier access to training, etc. but they are still all factors that need to be taken into consideration. Saying yes to some of the barriers above might not mean not getting a dog at all, but it might alter the age, breed, and personality traits of a new dog you might be adopting.

Will getting a dog truly fix your feeling of loneliness?

Dogs, in my opinion, are hands down the greatest companion. So it is easy, especially for dog lovers, to turn to the idea of adopting one when they are feeling alone. But all of the factors previously mentioned, especially the time commitment, need to be considered even more if you are about to make this decision as a result of one very strong emotion, may it be sadness, loneliness, self-pity, etc, that is clouding your judgement. Allow yourself to think on it, ask a friend or parent for some advice. And then, if you truly are ready, be prepared for the greatest companion ever.

Here’s a simple, yet tough question: do you really want a dog?

This one sounds silly, but it happens more often than you realize. To some people, adopting a dog is a trend. Their family and friends have dogs, who you generally get along with when you see them. You see the dogs that are fully trained and think “how hard can this be”. Or maybe your new flame likes dogs, and therefore, you jump on board with the idea because well, you want this new relationship to work. Your kids might want a dog, but do you?

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WHERE

Are you going to adopt from? Have you done your research?

Whether you are hard set on rescuing or hard set on adopting from a breeder, there is still research that needs to be done on both ends.

Rescue:

from a no-kill rescue organization or from a high-kill animal shelter? Here are the pros and cons of both:

Rescue (no-kill organization that relies heavily on fosters):

  • You are helping an organization that pulls animals out of the high-kill shelters or saves them from terrible living conditions (PRO).
  • You have a higher chance of getting paired with a dog that is a perfect fit for your family due to adoption screening processes (PRO).
  • There are fewer dogs available due to their reliance on fosters, most of the time, and the fact that most are run strictly by volunteers, and therefore don’t have as readily available resources to hold more dogs (CON).

Shelters (high-kill, generally. Where people can just dump their dogs at *sigh*):

  • By adopting an animal from a shelter, you are clearing that kennel out for another one to come, therefore saving an animals life somewhere along the line from the doom of euthanasia due to overcrowding (PRO).
  • More animals to choose from, including many breeds (PRO).
  • The animals rescued from here, seem to know that they are rescued the moment you set foot in front of their kennel (PRO).
  • The match-making skills plus the true personality of the animal can be sometimes unknown and unpredictable until you get home with them (CON).

Regardless of the route chosen in the realm of rescue, research still needs to be done. Just last week I read a news story on a man who got charged with 117 counts of animal cruelty…. All in the animal SHELTER he ran! Not all rescues and not all shelters are run with compassion and love. Make sure you do your research, ask around, ask for a tour of the facility first, and most importantly read reviews on the web.

Where to start your research?

  • Google “animal shelters in ____ city” or “animal rescues in ____ city” and if you’re looking for a specific breed you can search “Golden Retriever Rescue in ___” for example.
  • Click on each shelter or rescue as it comes up in Google and click on the reviews section, read them all, especially the bad ones. Get a feel of it the bad reviews were left by just a generally disgruntled person who didn’t get what they wanted (likely because they were unfit to own a dog) or if there is a common theme among many reviews.
  • Go to each website. Is it up to date, does it have good quality, is it legit?
  • Once you’ve narrowed your search down, physically go to your top 3 locations, if possible, and trust your gut feeling once you’re there.

 

BREEDER:

You might be thinking, oh this one is easy, I’ll just find the nearest breeder to me, and at the cheapest price, and I’ll have myself a full bred ____!

WRONG.

The research required in the area of animal breeders needs to be much more in depth than that of rescues. Simply because backyard breeders exist in massive numbers, and if they’re “good” and “experienced” in backyard breeding, then they are experts at covering up their tracks and coming off as angelic people who love dogs and truly care for them.  I suggest you do some deep digging if getting a dog from a breeder is the route you decide to take (although I hope you highly consider rescue first!).

The Humane Society has outlined some good tips, which I will lay out below, on how to spot a responsible and credible breeder, but if you want to read further into their input and advice, you can do so here.

How to tell if a breeder is a responsible, caring, and reputable breeder:

  • They let you visit, play with, sit with, and get to know all of the puppies
  • The puppies appear to be well groomed and excited to meet you and play
  • The living area for the dogs seems to be well kept and nothing appears to raise any  red flags
  • They breed one specific breed, or a few at most (vs. any breed that crosses their mind or has a backyard full of many types of breeds)
  • Has a list of interested people or a waiting list for puppies, because they don’t always have puppies readily available, meaning they don’t crank out puppies
  • Is well respected by a local veterinarian and has a good relationship with them
  • Knows the background of the puppy and can provide information on the parents and grandparents as well as the genetic and health risks of the breed
  • Can provide tips and guidance on proper training and how to find training courses
  • Provides you with a written contract

A responsible breeder will also want to get to know you, the reason behind why you want a dog, make sure your whole family is on board with it, and any other questions applicable that might help them determine if you will be a responsible pet owner.

*above information is quoted from The Humane Society 

If you are talking with a breeder who doesn’t meet many, or all, of the criteria above, you should look further. And if it is a glaringly obvious backyard breeding situation, get in contact with your local authorities, save those dogs that are ‘living’ there!

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(this is Timo, a full-bred English Creme Golden Retriever that my volunteer organization, TGRR, has in our care. He came from a terrible backyard breeding situation, which has scarred him for life)

WHO

will take care of the dog?

This might sound like a no-brainer, but it is a very serious question. Often times, people get suckered into getting a dog because their family wants one and crosses their heart, hope to die, that they will help take care of the dog. But when it comes time to take care of the dog, the promises often don’t hold up. Make sure you have a serious talk with your family members about the needs of the dog and what proper care looks like. Then, once everyone understand what care looks like, determine if the promises to care for it will hold up. Otherwise, the one person who didn’t fully want the animal in the first place will end up with the responsibility, which can often lead to resentment toward the dog, or worse.

On the other hand, if all members of the family do in fact want to adopt a dog, the question here becomes, who is available to give it the care it needs? Is there time in each of your daily schedules to feed it, let it out, walk it, and train it? Adopting a dog goes farther than just wanting it and knowing what proper care looks like, it’s being available to responsibly care for it.

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(Our first dog, Otto, during one of our daily 5AM potty breaks. Because this is reality people. If you get a puppy, they WILL need to go out once if not 2-3 times per night, as well as nearly every hour during the day. It’s just a part of potty training. Do YOU have time for this?)

WHY 

Do you want to adopt a dog?

The question you should ask yourself first, before/ with the when, where, and who. But also ask it again at the end of your decision making process, to make sure you still have the same reason for wanting to adopt. If your answer to WHY isn’t a resounding “yes! I want this NOW! It will change my life, make me happy, fulfill a broken piece of my soul” then my friend, it might be a good idea to wait.

After going through the when, where, who, and why, you are more sure than ever that you WANT TO ADOPT!

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So what’s next?

Make sure you are prepared for some of the “unexpected”. Here are some of the things that blindsided us when we got our first dog, and that I see blindside other people when they get their first pet.

The vet bills

People will tell you “owning a pet is expensive” to which you will reply “I know”. NO, you don’t! Trust me! I thought it was going to be oh, $50ish bucks per vet visit and a few extra dollars for food each month, but….. I. Was. WRONG.

Firstly, the larger the dog, the more expensive everything is.

Secondly, don’t be fooled by puppy prices, they’re SMALL then, remember?!

Here’s what we pay per dog of ours (one weighs 65 lbs, the other weights 80 lbs)

  • One bag of dog food, that last 1 month, per dog: $37
  • One round of annual shots: $175 (for the most recent visit)
  • Heartworm preventive (purchased in a 6 month supply): $47
  • Flea and tick preventive (purchased in a 3 month supply): $57

The cost for the bare minimum (food, vet, preventive medicine) for ONE dog per year is: $723

But wait, here are other expenses you might not realize:

  • Dog bowls: $20 each (don’t forget you need one for water and food)
  • Boarding (for vacation): $30 (ish) per day, per dog (depending on where you go). Say you go on a 5 day vacation: $150
  • Dog bed: $30
  • Dog crate (needed for training): $30-60+
  • Puppy training school (a 6-8 week course for the basics): $80-$120

And because no dog is ever perfect, consider the emergency vet bills. Because I keep good tabs of my dumbass (but actually really smart dog), here is the breakdown of all of the emergency trips within the first 2 years of his life:

  • Ate my shoe strings: $400
  • Ate the rubber ring on the water dish: $520
  • Sickness for we don’t know what: $441
  • Ate 12 dog “boots”: $320

Total emergency vet visits (not to mention the cost of other events where items needed replacing): $1,681. That’s just from ONE dog.

Maybe you’ve read this far and don’t actually want a dog, maybe you want a cat. The madness does not stop there my friend. Our $20 “budget kitty” has cost us:

  • Ear infection: $426
  • Blocked bladder/ kidney stones: $1,800
  • Total: $2,226

Proper training

An important topic, because without it, families and owners get frustrated that their dog hasn’t turned into the “angel, cuddle bug of a dog” they expected which can turn to surrendering the dog to the local shelter.

If you want your dog to be potty trained, you have to commit to it. And commit longer than 1 month. It took our first dog about 3-4 months to get “relatively potty trained” but even by the time he was 10 months old and pretty trustworthy, he literally took a shit in the middle of a crowd of people hanging in our living room. Talk about a party pooper.

If you want your dog to be obedient, you have to train it. If going to puppy school isn’t in your budget or schedule, you better be researching self-help training books or youtube videos to work with. And then, commit to working on some skill every single day of the week. Repetition works.

If you want your dog to get along with others (dogs, cats, kids, people), you need to commit to socializing them at a young age. If, on the other hand, you adopt a rescue who is already not good with any of the above, then you need to respect that and not put them at risk of getting into it with anything or anyone they don’t like.

If you want your dog to be anything, do anything, behave a certain way, then that is on YOU and not THEM. They are not mind readers, but most will do anything for a treat and an extra belly rub. So use that to your advantage, show them the love they  deserve and thrive off of.

The Time Commitment

Coming from someone who has only ever been a dog mom, and not a human child mom, this might be an inaccurate assumption, but I’m going to say it anyway. The time commitment that dog’s require is similar to that of a human child. It’s not as easy as getting a dog, locking it in it’s kennel, and continuing on with your partying or crazy busy life. I mean, I guess it could be that easy, only if you’re a piece of shit.

When considering the time commitment for this new furry family member consider all of the following:

  • Late night potty break wake up calls (and I mean like 2AM, 4AM, something of that sort, especially with a young dog)
  • Early morning breakfast feeding wake up calls (our dog is 4 years old and still tells us that anything past 6:30 is indeed too late)
  • Training the dog (as previously mentioned) only works if YOU put the time into it. Factor in the time it takes to drive to training, to be AT training, and the time you need to work on it together when at home.
  • Vet visits, are just like doctor visits, they take time out of your regularly scheduled day. And they operate on normal working hours too, so be prepared to have to adjust your work schedule to take them to the vet for sure once a year, but likely more because well, everything in life is unpredictable, including your dog!
  • Socialization, as previously mentioned is important. You need to be ready to budget time into your weeks to get your dog out of the house, take them to a park, the store, a friends house, etc. Anything beyond sitting in the comfort of your home is good for stimulation of your dog and will result in your dog being better behaved around other animals and humans.
  • The unknown. Something always comes up, be prepared to roll with the punches of it when it does!

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Is it lot to consider? Absolutely

Is it a potential risk, new life jump, a big change? Without a doubt.

But is there a lot of potential love & happiness to gain? 100%

At the end of the day, know that a new furry member of your family always comes with more baggage than a basic chick flying to Coachella for the weekend. There’s A LOT to consider. I hope that you take some serious time to research, talk with your family or friends, think it through yourself. And then, when you’re ready. Be prepared, because your life will never be the same. But be patient, open your heart, open your home.

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A checklist to download, save, take with you, and share with friends!

A dog-readiness

 

From one dog lover to (hopefully) another,

Thanks for reading!

If there is someone in your life who you feel....

isn't fully prepared for a dog

or maybe not educated enough.

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