Traveling Dog Lady: Adopting a dog is a lifetime commitment

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Adopting a dog is a lifetime commitment

My 14-year-old senior dog, Hobie, was lounging on the bathroom floor yesterday morning while I was getting ready for work, as he has every day since we first adopted him at four months of age. It's our special time together, just the two of us.  He started the routine as a young pup, when he would actually hop into the shower with me!
With the exception of one cat, and one dog, each of whom had fatal accidents and left us much too soon, all of our pets have lived well into their teens, some of our cats even into their twenties. We've been fortunate to guide the majority of our pets into their golden years with love, affection and more-than-adequate health care.  Basically, my guy and I would do anything for our pets.
But shelters, rescues and the internet are overwhelmed lately with animals who aren't so lucky. Either abandoned, or surrendered properly to a shelter or rescue, dogs are generally given up on at two points in their lives by their human adopters:  during puppyhood from ages 18 months to three years, when their cute puppy-ness has faded away and the reality of raising a young dog gets to be too challenging for the human; and during their senior years when the dog has outgrown its usefulness for the family, no one is paying attention to it,  health-care costs are too much to handle for the caregivers, or the dog has simply become a burden.
In both cases, the dog is just entering the threshold of two milestones in its life.  In the first instance, the puppy is about to reach adulthood.  A year goes by very fast.  The chewing of furniture does end, believe me.  By three years old, most dogs settle down and become loyal, loving, relaxed, well-behaved companions. But people are impatient nowadays, and can't deal with the waiting and everything that comes along with the wait, such as being responsible enough to put shoes and food out of the reach of the dog; giving the dog enough exercise so they don't destroy the furniture, curtains and wainscoting out of boredom; providing appropriate toys to chew on during the pesky teething phase, etc.  Since it's almost always the human's fault when a dog gets into trouble, it's our responsibility as pet parents to provide the tools a dog needs to keep him or her safe, trouble-free, and keep it from eating your house and belongings! Having a "conversation" or trying to treat the dog as if it's a 7-year-old human does not work.  Dogs are dogs.  They chew. It's a fact of life.  So, the impatient human decides they need to "get rid of" the dog like some sort of disposable, damaged goods, hoping someone else will want to pick up where they left off with their unfulfilled hound. The majority of dogs in shelters right now are young males between the ages of 18 months and three years.  Many of them will be killed, for no reason other than there is no room at the inn, and their number comes up.
In the second instance, the senior dog is (let's face it) probably going to die soon.  Some people can't deal with the burden of an elderly pet.  The dog is then put out to pasture, so to speak. Either it's euthanized prematurely, or it's surrendered to a shelter or rescue, to live out its remaining days (possibly years) without its familiar home, people, and routines.  The number of surrendered senior pets posted by shelters and rescues on the internet these days is staggering. Even in a photograph, you can almost always see the confusion in their vision-impaired eyes. Imagine being an old dog, unable to see or hear anymore, reliant on smell alone, unable to walk easily or climb stairs, solidly grounded in your daily routine at what you thought was your loving, forever home, with people you assumed loved you as much as you love them.  Suddenly, you're taken from your home, put in a strange place, confined in a cage or crate, on a concrete floor with barely enough room to turn around, let alone stretch out,  without your favorite couch, chair or doggie bed, being cared for by strange (but kind) people, eating different food, and nothing smells familiar. Even the water smells different!

If the reasons for surrendering a pet are financial, there are organizations that can provide assistance if the person qualifies.  Local veterinarians often have low-cost services and clinics available.  Shelters and rescues and pet-related fairs almost always have low-cost or free vaccine sponsorships going on throughout the year.  Some organizations actually specialize in providing pet parents with food, medical costs, etc.  Dumping or abandoning a pet does not have to happen in the 21st century.  There are people and organizations available who want to help prevent the surrender of pets to shelters in times of financial difficulty. 

Want to know more?  Read my post on FairyDogParents' blog, "The Myth of Free To A Good Home".

Raising a puppy is hard.  Caring for a senior dog is hard.  If in the market to adopt a dog, remember that it's a commitment for the lifetime of that pet.  It's like a marriage, except the other party (the dog) doesn't have free will and options like a human partner would.  If you adopt, for better, or for worse, for richer/for poorer, you agree to take care of this dog for the rest of its life. This is not a temporary assignment.  If you envision yourself going through life changes that will cause you to "get rid of" the dog in the future, then owning a dog is not for you.  It's that simple. Be prepared for the hard work, the expense, the huge challenges; and then be prepared for something else: the reward of unconditional love and precious moments that come from sharing your life with a canine companion.
Hobie spends most of his time sleeping nowadays.  He's on pain medication, and can't see or hear very well.  Sometimes he needs help going up or down stairs.  But he's happy, and he's enjoying his life with us. Occasionally, when one of the younger dogs barks, Hobie raises his head off the floor, ears forward, not quite sure if he heard anything.  After looking around the room, he puts his head back down, and snoozes.  I observe this, and then his life flashes before my eyes in a blink of a moment, and I realize how terribly fast these years have gone by.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.  Every day we get to spend together is a gift.
Our other two dogs, litter mate brothers, Charlie Brown and Cooper, are just over two years of age. They're rowdy, clumsy and they make me mad on a daily basis! They're also cuddly, affectionate, adorable, "wicked smart" and predictable as a clock. I'm proud that I've successfully raised two puppies who are turning out to be pretty good dogs, who will one day (hopefully) become old, senior dogs with health issues. I wouldn't trade this for anything, either.