Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Perils of Puppyhood, or Responsible Pet Ownership 101 (Part I)

After the trauma of having to put down my beloved companion of 15 years, my shepherd mix dog Hallie, in April, it took a while before the hubs and I were ready to open our hearts and homes to another dog. We both knew it was just a matter of time, but we were in no rush. That is, until we found out we were pregnant, and realized that baby+puppy would be a disaster, as would toddler+puppy, and really, kid-under-5+puppy. So we started looking for a pup. Oddly, when you're looking for a dog, sometimes they can be hard to find. We really weren't even picky either- just wanted a large-ish mixed breed puppy or youngish dog. The only criteria we had were: no dog breeds outlawed by city ordinance, a preference for against a couple of breeds, and nothing over $100. We were ok with a pup or a dog young enough that it could still socialize well with Tyke, the chihuahua, and Fergus and Hemingway, the cats. I'd have been devastated if the newcomer had torn apart another family member. Somehow, providence intervened and we found our first choice of breeds, an English Mastiff. Two Mastiff lovers had decided to see what it was like to have a litter of pups, wound up having TEN pups, and they were having some difficulty in finding homes for the last 3 puppies- they were selling them for the same money as the local shelter asked for adoptions. Don't get me wrong, shelter dogs are fantastic, but all of the dogs we looked at were either too old or had bad habits that would have been a problem at our house- like cat chasing. I've wanted a Mastiff since college, D has wanted one for ages too. And so Sadie joined our family.

And now to the point of this little article (no, dear reader, it wasn't solely to gush about our new family member)- it's time for me to get on my soapbox and proclaim that there are pet owners out there that are less than responsible. There are, in point of fact, pet owners out there that are FAR from responsible. And this is a tragedy for the animals. I'm sure that many would agree with me that animal abuse should be a felony. But how many of us stop to consider the disservice done to pets by overspoiling, undertraining and generally not doing right by our animals. I'm not saying that every pet owner abuses or neglects their pets- far from it. But what about overspoiling them? Too many treats is NOT a healthy way of showing your pet how much you love them. Obesity from overfeeding of people food and snacks and lack of exercise is a pet killer just like it's the number 1 killer in humans. And while lots of people LOVE animals, not everyone wants your cat or dog crawling all over them. So here is my little schpiel about the responsibilities that we OWE to our pets. They give so much and ask for so little in return- but there are certain necessities that we must be able to provide.

Responsible Pet Ownership
Pets are a wonderful enhancement to our lives- they give us unconditional love and companionship, they don’t judge, they help lower blood pressure and mitigate stress and generally enrich our daily existence. But it’s very important that we remember that while pets give to us freely, we do not get these things without having to give in return. We owe it to our pets to do right by them- and that starts before you even get a new pet.

To begin with, look closely at the pet you are considering, your life, lifestyle, finances, and commitments. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t get a new pet unless you can afford to feed them, buy supplies and veterinary care as well as take care of emergencies. If you know that a trip to the vet would mean you can’t eat for a month, the responsible decision is to wait to bring home a pet until your situation improves. But you should also consider whether you can “afford” to spend time training your pet and spending time with them. Even after they grow out of the “baby” stage where they need to be taken outside every hour or two, puppies need a big commitment of time and effort from their “people” to train them and bond with them. Both training and bonding are important- and work to support each other. You will bond with your puppy or dog during training sessions, and your training sessions will go much more smoothly if you work toward establishing a good relationship with your pet outside of “school” time.

It’s also important to keep your schedule in mind- most adult dogs (except some miniature breeds) can hold their bladder and bowels for 8 or 10 hours while you’re at work so long as you take them out immediately before you leave and upon your return home. It may take them some time to acclimate to this schedule though, so be patient. But if your dog can’t hold it that long or you know you will be away from home longer, it’s important to make arrangements so your dog doesn’t suffer or have an “accident”. The last thing you want to come home to is a mess to clean up, and it’s hardly your dog’s fault if you leave them penned up for 12 hours. If you know you’re routinely away from home for that long, a dog may not be the best pet for you unless you work at a job that allows your dog to accompany you. Even if you don’t work long hours, it’s a good idea to have a neighbor or friend who can be available to let your dog or dogs out if you have to be away for a longer period than usual. Routinely setting the stage for “potty messes” in the house not only makes for a miserable dog, but can give your dog the impression that the house is an appropriate place to do their “business”- which most people are not okay with. If you are going to depend on a child who comes home from school earlier than you come home from work to let the dog out, make sure that the child can handle the responsibility- again so that your pet doesn’t suffer unnecessarily. And also so your child doesn’t wind up resenting your pet

If you have other pets already, take some extra time to consider their needs as well. Existing pets can have some trouble adjusting to a newcomer or they may not even notice a difference. Regardless, make sure you make some extra time to spend with your existing pets to reassure them that they are still special to you. If you are bringing home a puppy and have an older dog, make sure that the older dog has a place to go to get away from the “puppy nonsense”- it can be very aggravating to be constantly pestered by sharp teeth and a loud voice. The transition to a peaceful home will go much smoother if your “older” pets have a place to go to get away for a little quiet time.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Responsible Pet Ownership", as well as some more humorous pictures and anecdotes from my own experiences raising a mastiff! :)

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