In all of my reading and all of my hours spent volunteering at the SPCA, I think one of the main lessons I’ve learned about dogs is this: Many people should not get a dog.
That sounds like an extreme statement. Let me qualify it.
The more I learn about dogs, the more I take them seriously. I used to think dogs were easy pets to have. Just grab a puppy anywhere, bring it home, and it’s your best friend for life! Turns out it’s not that simple. Dogs are complex animals who require a great deal of love, attention, and training. Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human even made me seriously question whether I should get a dog. Her recommendations for dog ownership are somewhat extreme in this modern age. Grandin seems to wish that all dogs could roam free around the neighborhood, like they used to do a few decades ago. Otherwise, she asserts, dogs are not enjoying a joyful life as they are locked up in a crate for 12 hours a day. She has a point.
A cultural misunderstanding of a dog’s complexity is why we have so many truly incredible dogs waiting in the emotional wastelands of our shelters and humane societies. Granted, the shelters are doing the best job they can with the resources that they have–but not even the best shelter can provide a dog with all of its emotional needs. Only a human family can do that.
But what kind of human family should get a dog?
It’s a difficult question to answer, and clearly, everyone has to make that decision for themselves, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m always dismayed by the number of people I meet who seem fundamentally unsuited to caring for a dog–the people who abandon that briefly loved dog a few months later. I probably see a disproportionate number of these people because I’m a part-time shelter volunteer, but I still think it’s an important issue to address.
It always breaks my heart when I hear about people giving up their dogs. I understand that, in this economic climate, many people can no longer handle the financial burden of a dog (or cat, or gerbil, or what have you). In this respect, it is wise to give up one’s dog to someone who may be better equipped to care for him. However, I am generally appalled by the pet ads on Craigslist from people who are abandoning their animals. These are common excuses that I see:
- “We don’t have room in our apartment anymore for our Great Pyrenees.” No, duh. Maybe you should have considered that before you brought that white fluff ball home. That sweet, cuddly pup that looks like a stuffed animal is going to turn into a 130-pound yeti in a matter of weeks.
- “We have to get rid of our dog because I’m allergic.” I understand that some people may not know they’re allergic to dogs before they bring them home, but test this one out a bit. Ever stayed at someone’s house and felt congested from their pet’s dander? Maybe dog ownership is not for you. Spend some quality time with some dogs before you commit to bringing one home.
- “The puppy is nipping at my children.” Yep. That’s what puppies do.
- “We’re moving and so we have to get rid of our dog.” I understand that there may be extenuating economic circumstances, but in general, I think it’s cruel to abandon your dog because you’re moving. I myself wouldn’t dream of moving into a place that wouldn’t allow me to bring my dog with me.
- Or, the most infuriating: “We just don’t have time for her anymore.”
Frustrating Craigslist posts aside, here’s my amateur’s vision of the types of people who shouldn’t get dogs:
- People with young children who want a dog–or worse, a puppy–to be a playmate/guardian for their children. These people really make me the most anxious. I see them come into the shelter with their little kids and ask if we have any puppies available. My guard goes up instantly. There is nothing wrong with getting a dog so your kids can enjoy canine companionship. However, many young parents seem to underestimate the commitment that a puppy demands. It’s kind of like having an infant all over again. And your kids are not going to raise and train that dog for you, no matter how much they beg and plead (trust me. I was that kid once! My mom was the primary caretaker for our dog, and she wasn’t really keen on having that job in the first place). Parents buy a puppy for their kids and then realize a week later, “Oh, crap. This creature needs a lot of attention that I’m not willing or able to give it.” And the dog or the puppy ends up at the shelter, confused and bewildered.
- People who travel a lot for work or are never home. A dog will not have a high-quality life if she lives the majority of it in a crate. Dogs are social animals. They need our daily companionship and interaction.
- People who don’t have a clue about a dog’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
- People who won’t take the time to train their dog or think that training is “cruel” or somehow makes the dog less happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. A well-trained dog is a happy dog, because she knows where she belongs in the family order. A well-trained dog is mentally balanced, content, and a respectable member of society.
- People who will neglect the physical health of their dog. The more reading I do about dog food, the more I am appalled at what we’ve been feeding our pets.
- People who won’t spay or neuter their dogs because they think it’s unkind or depriving. Unless your full-time job is a reputable breeder, please, please spay and neuter your dog. The world is filled with unwanted dogs who are the result of irresponsible humans. I see their sweet faces every day at the shelter. Think of them before you hesitate to spay or neuter.
I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental or cynical, even though it probably does. This post stems from my deep wish that people took dog adoption more seriously. I think dogs in America would be so much better off if their humans took the time to do a little more research. I’m always very encouraged when I do meet other dog owners–like many of the incredible dog bloggers that I link to on my site (on the right sidebar)–who understand, even better than I do, the tremendous commitment we must make to our dogs. I hope I will carefully and judiciously consider all of these elements before my husband and I bring a dog into our home. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. And that’s the main thing I’ve learned.
How about you? What kind of people make the best dog owners, in your opinion?