When NOT to Get a Dog

I am always happy to help people look at the cute dog and puppy photos in adoption listings when they want to add a new or another canine to the family. The thought that another dog will be able to leave the rescue system and find a happy new home is always a positive one.

This adorable pup, Mara, is currently adoptable through ARF - Alberta Rescue Foundation

This adorable pup, Mara, is currently adoptable through ARF – Alberta Rescue Foundation

So when a coworker recently asked for assistance on this very issue, my gut reaction was enthusiasm. Sure! There are lots of great rescues in the Calgary area to look at!

But that positivity immediately waned.

Upon further consideration of the specific circumstances surrounding this adoption enthusiasm, it immediately occurred to me that helping look at dog profiles possibly wasn’t sending the right message in this case.

Now, people are going to do what they’re going to do. And maybe definitely it’s none of my business. But when I get asked for advice, I want to give good, appropriate advice. And my former stint as a dog trainer means I still get asked for advice frequently enough. So, despite my better judgment, I often give it (in my experience, few people actually act upon it, and then complain to me further later, so really this is just an exercise in self-disappointment).

So this has me thinking: adopting a dog is great, BUT it’s not always the right thing to do.

This is Emily. She is currently adoptable through AARCS. I find her canine version of RBF hilarious.

This is Emily. She is currently adoptable through AARCS. I find her canine version of RBF hilarious.

Here’s when you shouldn’t get another dog:

1. When you don’t have positive things to say about your current dog. If you frequently complain about your current dog’s habits – or lack of habits – you should probably work with the dog you have before you add another to the mix. Don’t like how your current dog doesn’t play fetch with the kids or go on walks? Those are all “problems” you fostered as an owner and can be worked on with the current dog – it doesn’t warrant replacing them.

2. When you’re getting the second dog to keep the first one company. Think the new dog will keep the old one entertained? Maybe. But the new dog will also pick up on the habits of the old dog – the ones you like, AND the ones you don’t like. The result? Two dogs to complain about. Example? Alma learned to lift her leg to pee – and marking behaviours – from Moses when we adopted her. No, not a huge deal. But still. Weird. Get your first dog where you’d like behaviour-wise before adding another canine to the mix.

3. When you’re promising extravagant changes. Don’t get out much? Don’t walk the current dog but you’ll definitely walk the new one every day? Sure, that’s possible. But, like failed January resolutions, it’s also (more) likely you’ll continue the well-ingrained habit of no dog walking at all. Get the routine changed first before you make the big commitment to another living being.

4. When not everyone is on the same page. Some want a puppy. Some want to adopt an adult. Some want a big dog. Some want a medium-sized dog. Some want a dog that’s super active. Some want one that will be calm in the house. Some don’t know what they want. You really need to figure out what works best for your family before impulsively adopting a dog that won’t fit. The whole family needs to be on the same page about everything both before the adoption and after – going to puppy classes, reinforcing training rules, reinforcing house rules, etc.

5. When the dog is for someone in particular. First, living things don’t make great gifts. Second, you think he’s going to be your child’s dog, but you’re wrong. He might be the family dog, but he’s also going to be adults’ responsibility. A young child can’t be in charge of long daily walks when the dog is bigger or stronger than them and when they’re not allowed past the end of the street unsupervised. You – the parents – will primarily be the ones walking, training, feeding, grooming, cleaning up after… all of that. Your kid might make bold promises, but, even if well-intentioned, they will likely be short lived. Trust me, I know. This is how I conned my parents into a second cat when I was 14. Maybe they should’ve taken me up on my threat to “never speak to them AGAIN!” (Aren’t teenage girls just the worst.)

6. When there’s change afoot. Stressed? Busy schedules? Changing jobs? Moving? Kids changing school schedules and extracurricular activities? Introducing a new dog to chaos isn’t exactly fair to them or you. Wait till life settles down and if you still want to adopt, do it then.

7. When your current dog isn’t well socialized. Like point 1, you need to make sure your current dog has good manners before expecting her to share her house, her toys, her space, her family with another dog. A second dog is going to be a big adjustment for your first one, and you can’t ignore how they respond to the transition.

8. When you don’t have time. A second dog isn’t 50% more work; it’s at least 100% more work. Definitely more if you’re getting a puppy. Now you have two mouths to feed. Two vet bills to pay. Two poops to scoop. Sure, you can walk them both together… most of the time. But now you have two dogs, they each deserve one-on-one time on a regular basis, even if that just means individual walks on weekends. And if you get dogs with different exercise and training needs – definitely more work.

9. When you haven’t fully thought it out. Sure, you saw a cute pup at a local adoptathon and the kids fell in love. As hard as they may try with their screening processes, rescues can’t weed out all impulse adopters. Even if the process goes for a week or more, the decision itself to adopt can still be impulsive. You need to more than sleep on it. You need to be realistic about what a second dog entails. And you need to pay more than lip service to the responsibilities.

10. When you (and your family) have some things to learn about dogs, interacting with dogs, and dog behaviour. Don’t tell me how “adorable” it was when your toddler walked up and hugged a strange dog in a pet store and expect me not to dust off the soapbox and launch into a lecture about kids and dogs and strange dogs and greeting dogs… I’m getting worked up just thinking about it.

Somtimes I feel like I could share this graphic by Dr. Sophia Yin every day and it wouldn’t be enough.

11. When you’re getting said dog from a pet store or an online marketplace like Kijiji or Craigslist. If you need an explanation here, I have nothing more to say to you.

So, in the case of my coworker, I’ve changed my tune, specifically highlighting several of the points I made above. Will she take the advice? We’ll see. It’s hard to pull people back to logical thinking when they’ve got adorable puppies in their crosshairs.

A quote I think of frequently when I resolve to be bluntly honest.

A quote I think of frequently when I resolve to be bluntly honest.

Will at Marking Your Territory made a good, relevant point on this very subject earlier this week, when he wrote “Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to get a pet“. The point isn’t to get a dog in spite of all the problematic circumstances I’ve listed above; it’s to change your circumstances. Or, in Will’s words: “Don’t wait for the right time, make it the right time!”

This is great advice. For example, is your current dog somehow an obstacle to you wisely adding a second dog to your house? That’s completely within your power to change as you work towards training and socializing your first dog in preparation for the next one.

These things are almost always in our own hands – and it’s only fair to you, your current dog, and any potential new dog that you make the smartest decision, not the impulsive emotional one (sometimes those can be the same thing).

This post is part of the Thursday Barks & Bytes Blog Hop, hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like a Dog. Go pay a visit to the hosts and check out other hop participants.

Barks&Bytes

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Second Anniversary of Alma

Two years ago today, the Husband and I made our road trip south of the border to Montana to adopt a dog from the Montana Companion Animal Network.

After months of looking at Pet Finder and local ads for adoptable dogs – and a lot of patience – we gave Alma her ‘forever home’.

Alma and Moses in her first month at home

Alma and Moses in her first month at home

Alma & Moses

Alma & Moses

A couple of water dogs

A couple of water dogs

The forever home comes with Canadian winters, but she doesn't seem to mind.

The forever home comes with Canadian winters, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

Fun with friends

Fun with friends

IMG_2330

Don’t let anyone tell you pure-bred dogs don’t also need adopting.

Alma's favourite sleep spot - the en suite

Alma’s favourite sleep spot – the en suite

IMG_5228Happy second ‘Gotcha Day’, Alma!

Free cats!

I don’t mean “free THE cats” – this isn’t a Braveheart situation.

Not this.

No.

And I’m not about to go on some barely intelligible rant about the enslavement of companion animals because that would be ridiculous and highly contradictory being a happy pet owner myself of two dogs and two cats.

Instead I am talking about free cats – cats given away for free.  And dogs.  Rabbits.  Guinea Pigs.  Any pet, really.  But I’ll refer primarily to cats because free cats are what we see more frequently.

Some Background

My office has an internal message board system for employees.  People can post ads for anything, from when they’re looking for plumber recommendations or their kid is fundraising for school, to selling cars/furniture/time shares.  It is a great tool for sourcing Girl Guide cookies.

During the extreme flooding Calgary had last month, it was inspiring and endearing to see the message boards fill with offers of help in the form of donations, supplies, labour, vacuum truck services, free generators – you name it.  If you lived in this city, you knew many people affected by flooding even if you weren’t yourself, and it was awesome to see so many maybe-humanity-doesn’t-suck-so-much-after-all moments.  Also, our Mayor is the best.

An arial flood photo from the National Post.

An arial flood photo from the National Post.

But I digress.

Amid these ads came another one.

A coworker from another department and another floor posted an ad for a free cat.  She was moving and urgently trying to give him away “to a good home”.  The cat was fixed and declawed (a post for another time).  It was an adult cat – about 7 years old, if I remember correctly.

Now I’m not going to go into the reasons people end up having to (or thinking they have to) rehome their pets.  I can’t even comprehend the decision making process someone goes through to decide to depart with a beloved pet they’ve had for that long.  I also acknowledge this city is notoriously difficult for finding pet-friendly rentals, and it goes without saying that adult pets are more difficult to rehome than young puppies and kittens.

The ad was short and sweet – like many of 92 ads that currently show up on Kijiji if you search for “free cat” in Calgary – a brief description and a cute photo.

I stewed over the ad for a few hours after first reading it and eventually resolved that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut (shocking).   I fired off an email to a coworker I’d never even seen before, poking my nose where many would probably say it doesn’t belong.

As diplomatically as possible, I outlined a couple reasons why giving away pets for free – and trying to rehome them yourself – isn’t necessarily the best idea.  Here is a long-winded version of what I sent her.

1.  Offering a pet for free risks enforcing the notion that there is no value to the pet. 

I’m not kidding about this. 65% of cat owners got their cat for free.  It’s no secret there’s a heirarchy the way people view different kinds of animals, and for many people cats do not get the same status as dogs, for example. The facts prove this.

Half as many pet owners get pet insurance for cats as compared to dog owners.  Not as many cat owners license their cats (about 50% compliance in Calgary) compared to dog owners who license their dogs (90% compliance in Calgary).  According to the CFHS, more than twice as many cats than dogs are admitted to Canadian shelters in a year, and 46% of them are euthanized, compared to 14% admitted dogs euthanized, and 33% other species.  The only place where cat owners excel is in spay/neuter, with 79%, compared to 69% of dogs (step it up, dog owners!).

If people are continually “giving away” cats, there can be a subliminal message that the pet has no value and is easily replaceable.  I’m not saying that someone whose cat has an “oopsie” litter should try to capitalize off the kittens and sell them for thousands of dollars (that’s how backyard breeders are born), but I am saying that rarely can you – or should you – procure an animal of any kind for free.

Our cat Isaac is a direct contradiction to this. He was "free" in the sense that he was a stray in our neighbourhood for a long time until we finally just took him in one particularly cold December day.  Of course, he wasn't actually free in the sense that our first order of business was to get him checked out, neutered, and tattooed.

Our cat Isaac is a direct contradiction to this. He was “free” in that he was a stray in our neighbourhood for a long time until we finally just took him in one particularly cold December day. Of course, he wasn’t actually free in the sense that our first order of business was to get him checked out, neutered, and tattooed.

Rescues, for example, often have a nominal adoption fee – usually between $50-$150 for a cat and between $150-$250 for a dog.  Of course, this helps the rescue recover the costs of feeding, sheltering, spaying/neutering, vaccinating and other possible medical expenses.  But it also ensures that adopters understand there are costs associated with having a pet.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to tack on a nominal fee – it’s not like $100 would garner a profit of any kind for “selling” a cat that’s been taken care of for 7 years, but it tells those looking at the ad “hey, I think this cat is awesome and has value”.

2.  Owners looking for only free pets also worry me. 

Firstly, free pets can encourage impulsive decisions.

But even more concerning, if you’re not willing to pay even a little bit to get the right pet for your family, then what about paying for proper medical care and a healthy diet?  Even a cat obtained for free somewhere isn’t “free” when you include the cost of food, litter, toys, vet visits, etcetera.

Of course, there are also those truly terrible people who take pets from free online ads only to re-sell them for a profit, or get those free pets only to do something truly horrible like use them as live food for their snakes or other reptiles (it happens, particularly with kittens and bunnies).  Free dogs, of course, can risk being adopted into dog fighting, and any unfixed pet can be adopted for breeding purposes and wind up in a puppy mill or kitten factory.

As the average person trying to rehome a pet, you also don’t necessarily have the experience necessary to vet potential adopters, no matter how bold, underlined, and italicized your “to a good home” requirement is.  And I’d hope the last thing you’d want to see is your cat end up back on Kijiji when it doesn’t work out with the new family.

Rescues and shelters excel at this; they never want to see their pets end up back in the system and will do their best to match them with a truly forever home.  They may not be thrilled to see you surrender your pet, but they will do the best for it once its in their care.  I do recommend canvassing local rescues to see who has capacity and ask for help with the rehoming process.  Even if they dissuade you from directly surrendering it, they can offer advice and resources.  You may even end up fostering your own pet while they find a new family for it, but then you have their resources to ensure a good home is found.  To ease your guilty conscience, I’d also recommend making a donation to the rescue when you surrender your pet to cover the costs they will incur on your behalf.

Working with a shelter also has the benefit of promoting the shelter system and pet adoption.  It’s one less pet ad on the internet, and you can still tell people about your cat who needs a good home, referring them to the shelter for adoption information.

Sure, maybe if you had a close friend or family member willing to take your pet, these concerns are moot.  You wouldn’t necessarily want to charge them money and you probably wouldn’t make them go through a rescue for the adoption.  But once you’re at the point of posting to coworkers, acquantainces, and strangers on online forums, I think some greater oversight is required.

I got Emma from a backyard breeder who advertised on Kijiji before I knew any better (we all make mistakes).  I think I paid $60 for her (her costs in shredded

I got Emma from a backyard breeder who advertised on Kijiji before I knew any better (we all make mistakes). I think I paid $60 for her and she did not come vaccinated or spayed (her costs in shredded toilet paper are still accumulating).  She fits our family well and I’m glad we have her, but I will be going through rescues for any future cats/kittens.  I know I picked her out due to a cute photo, but I also remember passing over free cat ads, seeing them as untrustworthy.

3.  Some Potential Owners Might Not Want a Free Pet

A kitten posted for free in an online forum likely hasn’t seen a vet or been spayed/neutered.   If it has, I would expect the owner to charge even a little bit for them to recover some of these costs, and I wouldn’t really fault them for this.

There are so many campaigns out there to educate people about responsible pet procurement that ads for free pets may turn away – and rightfully so – some really good potential adopters.

Maybe they don’t want to encourage backyard breeding.  Maybe they are concerned about the health and want to find a kitten that’s been spayed and vaccinated.  Maybe they do think free pets have lesser value – there could be the perception that there’s something wrong if it’s just being given away – and would instead opt to pay a little for a pet that may even just appear to be a little bit better.

I understand the sentiment that rehoming a beloved pet isn’t about the money, and that isn’t the message you want to send by tacking a price tag to your animal, but the associations with free pets outweighs this in my opinion.

Don’t forget, there is still a strong perception – whether conscious or subconscious – that pets are a commodity, or have an element of commercialism.  Many people are working against this, including Actions Speak Louder (Calgary), but it remains a reality that has to be acknowledged.

It would be nice if campaigns like this weren't necessary.

It would be nice if campaigns like this weren’t necessary.

People turn into backyard breeders realizing they can profit from their unfixed pets.  Pets are sold in stores like commodities – they’re advertised, they go on sale, some places even let you finance your purchase.  Store sales are analyzed to determine what breeds, ages, and colours of pets sell fastest and for the highest prices.  Sometimes they come with warrantees or guarantees.  By Canadian law, they’re property.  You may not like it (I don’t), and these pets really do become members of the family (arguments about not giving away those members at all notwithstanding), but the procurement of pets in the first place is still pretty commercial for a lot of people.  Putting a price on a pet you’re rehoming at least uses this perception to the advantage of the pet, acknowledging this construct and using it to show value.

These days more than ever, people are being educated about backyard breeding, pet stores, and puppy mills, and are seeking their pets from reputable breeders or rescues – neither of which provide pets for free.  By even asking for a symbolic financial commitment from your pet’s new home at least you are asking for some kind of commitment at all, beyond promises that only time can prove.

The Outcome

I sent a very abbreviated version of this information in an email to my coworker who posted the ad and though I waited anxiously the rest of the day, I never did get a reply of any sort.

However, the ad was taken down the next morning.  Was this because she heeded my advice, didn’t want anymore unrequested advice, or found a home from the cat?  I’ll probably never know.

Couldn't put a price on these two.

Couldn’t put a price on these two.

Alma’s First Week

Alma has now officially been part of our household for a full week!

Alma

When the Husband and I decided to adopt a young adult dog instead of getting a puppy from a breeder, we knew there would be lots of benefits and drawbacks.

For the benefits, well, we’d get to skip all of the ‘typical’ puppy frustrations: middle of the night bathroom breaks, house training, nipping, chewing, and what I like to call general “Puppy A.D.D.” when training starts out.  We might miss out on the short – but very cute – puppy phase, but we also forego the aforementioned.  And it’s not like Moses was a terribly difficult puppy, but it’s near impossible to guarantee a Moses 2.0 no matter where we’d get a puppy.

On the other hand, adopting an adult dog has its risks.  You’ve missed some of the formative years of the dog’s life, and by the time they are around two years old, the dog’s habits, manners, and temperament can be well-established.  This is really both good and bad, because while you know what to expect, you may also have some challenges ahead.

This was a reality we accepted and prepared ourselves for.

I mean, I’ve met lots of amazing, friendly, well and easily trained rescue dogs.  But I’ve also heard and witnessed stories of dogs with serious histories to work though: obsessions, reactivities, even aggressions.

Discussions with Alma’s foster mom before we picked her up hinted at a bit of shyness or insecurity around people (which would be reasonable) and food aggression (also understandable, despite whether or not it’s acceptable).

So, given Alma’s history of neglect and unwant, we weren’t quite sure to expect.  How would she interact with us? How would she and Moses get along? And the cats? How would she adjust to life inside the house?  She’d never been walked before – how challenging would that be?

Well, it turns out, Alma’s transition has been near seamless!

Sure, we may have a couple of things to work through with her (which I will write about on another day), but it’s nothing we can’t overcome and she’s a fast and willing learner.

Alma & Moses

Alma and Moses are two peas in a pod.  We actually could not have asked that the two of them get along any better.  In fact, she seems to almost breathe new life in Moses while he’s still on the road to recovery.

She’s also very respectful of the cats and the kitten has even permitted her a couple of sniffs.

And around people?

Well, I continually find myself baffled that Alma was surrendered in the first place – she is such a sweetheart.  She’s very affectionate and, like a typical Newf, wants nothing more than to hang out where we are.  (Which makes thinking of her former life that much more sad and angering, really.)

A new walking buddy

In short, Alma’s first week has been great!

Sure, there are risks adding a second dog to any family – no matter where that dog comes from – but for us, it has only been a week and it has already been completely worth it.