Dogs are for Life

Irene Hislop on 27 February 2018

We hear the slogan ‘dogs are for life’ every Christmas because animal welfare experts see the same thing year after year. People give puppies (or kittens) as Christmas gifts to people who are not prepared to care for them. Around this time of year, the novelty is wearing off and the animals start getting dumped. Unscrupulous breeders make a profit while the dogs suffer the shock and heartbreak of being abandoned. But that isn’t the only situation where people find themselves facing a challenge to keeping their dog. Tragically, people bring their pets to shelters for other reasons than being bored with them. The question is, how can that be prevented?
Life changes are inevitable. Dogs live for 12 to 18 years approximately, and a lot happens in that time. If you get a dog in your 20s, you can expect to move house, change jobs, find a partner and perhaps have children during your dog’s lifetime. And those are all situations where people can find themselves struggling to keep their dog in their changing life. If you really want a dog, but are at a point in your life where you anticipate some major life changes ahead, you are better off waiting. In the meantime, you can volunteer with a dog rescue or even foster dogs. Dog ownership is expensive. Before getting a dog, consider if you can realistically afford food and vet care. Can you afford to board your dog at a kennel when you go on holidays?

Planning Change with Your Dog in Mind

It’s important to really commit to keeping your dog with you as your life changes. Of course, crisis can hit anyone, and some things are beyond our control. But in many situations, keeping your dog is possible with some planning and, yes, some sacrifice.
Planning to make sure your dog is with you for life starts with finding a dog that is a good match for your life both now and in the future. The time to check if you and your family members are allergic to dogs is before you get one. Spend some time with dogs if you aren’t sure. Visit dog owner friends or volunteer at a dog rescue. (You might just find the dog of your dreams at a rescue!)
If you are likely to live in rented accommodation in the next 18 or so years, you have to think long and hard about how to find places that accept dogs and which types of dogs are most acceptable to landlords. Dog lovers know that size doesn’t matter, but some landlords think it does. They are more likely to accept a smaller dog, particularly a breed that is known for being quiet and calm. If you have to move, give yourself extra time to find a dog-friendly place. While larger property companies and apartment buildings are not very flexible, individual landlords can be. Bring photos of your dog and references with you when you view a property. Seeing your dog along with independent confirmation that she is well behaved can dispel a landlord’s worries about dogs. Paying an extra pet deposit can also persuade a landlord to give you a chance. If you do this, take photos of the property before you move in to document its condition.
No matter what type of dog you get, investing in training and toys will deter her from being destructive or loud. All dogs like to chew, dig and bark a little. The sooner you tackle these with your new dog, the less of a problem they will be. Giving your dog some toys will encourage her to chew those instead of the furniture. Barking is a sign of boredom. Giving your dog two walks a day, even if they are short walks, will help. So will leaving the radio on when she is home alone. It will distract her so she doesn’t react to every little noise she hears outside. Digging is a harder problem to solve, but preventing boredom helps a lot.

Managing in a Crisis

People can be hit by a crisis at any point that through no fault of their own makes it hard to keep their dog. Some crises are short-term, such as an illness that temporarily means someone can’t care for their dog. In that situation, friends can step in and care for the dog until the owner has recovered. Other problems are permanent. Elderly people or those who have become disabled can find it hard to care for their dogs, but they also benefit tremendously from having pets. Again, loved ones can step in and help by walking the dog or even hiring a dog sitter to care for the pet. Sometimes, it takes a village to care for pets too.
If you have a crisis and cannot care for your dog, the best thing is if someone you know can take your dog until you are back on your feet. But there are several things you should avoid doing.
  • Don’t sell or give your dog to anyone you don’t know well, especially in the small ads or online. Sadly, there are people who watch for ‘free to good home’ ads and pose as dog-loving families only to subject the dogs they obtain to horrific abuse such using them to train fighting dogs.
  • Don’t abandon your dog in the countryside. This is very dangerous for the dog, who could be shot by a farmer, get injured or starve.
  • Don’t take your dog to the pound. Most pounds have a limit of how long they can keep an animal before they put it down.
If you have a crisis and absolutely cannot find anyone you trust to take your dog, contact dog rescues in your area. They screen potential homes for dogs to ensure that your dog’s new family is safe and capable. Dog rescues are overwhelmed, but they are the best bet for your best friend if the worst happens. It might be possible for a rescue to help you find short-term care for your dog, but this is not easy for them to do. This really is a last resort.
Those of us who cannot imagine facing a situation where keeping our dog was impossible can step up here and help vulnerable dogs. We can offer to help elderly or disabled friends and neighbours who need a hand with their dogs. Dog rescues appreciate donations of cash and quality dog food. We can also offer to foster dogs who need a safe place while they wait for their new family. And we can remember when we see dogs needing new families that it isn’t always because someone was irresponsible. It can be because someone suffered a terrible crisis.
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