In the Chicago Tribune "Ask Amy" column dated March 8, 2016, advice columnist Amy Dickinson responded to a lonely middle- aged woman's plea for advice on how to improve her social life. Dickinson's advice included three suggestions: move to an apartment, get a dog, and join a gym. I worry that Dickinson's simple advice to "get a dog" was not presented with the caveat that you must first want a dog in your life. Dogs can be wonderful "friend-makers" but owning a dog for this reason only is a terrible mistake.
Dogs are not accessories. Dogs should not be purchased for the sole purpose of attracting the attention of strangers. In fact, some dogs are anti-social; they love their parents and that's it. Dogs are living beings with emotional and physical needs. Owning a pet is a tremendous emotional, financial, and physical responsibility that cannot be ignored.
In Chicago, over 19,400 animals were abandoned at Animal Care and Control last year because pet owners did not properly think through their pet ownership decisions. Before you decide to adopt a dog, please ask yourself the following 7 questions:
1. Do I have the time to have a dog? Dogs need a lot of attention. Housebreaking and training your pet not to destroy your furniture can be exhausting and time consuming. Dogs need to go outside at least three to four times a day to eliminate. In wintertime, this means you will be going outside in the bitter cold weather. In the fall, you may find yourself outside in the rain watching your dog defecate. Additionally, I recommend a minimum of two twenty-minute playtime sessions a day for most dogs. Remember, this is a daily responsibility that cannot be forgotten. If you are not available, you must arrange for another person to do this activity. Many of my working clients hire a dog walker to come to their homes for a fee.
2. Do I have the money to pay for the dog food, toys and their veterinary bills for the next 16 years? A 15- pound bag of dog food costs around $35 and will last a medium- sized dog around one month. Vaccinating your pet and addressing your pet's health concerns may run $500 to $1000 per year or more. Don't ever assume that the purchase price of your dog is your greatest expense or that your pet only needs to go to a veterinarian once a year for vaccines. Dogs do get into trouble-they eat garbage on the streets, cut their foot pads and get infections. Most of my clients bring their pets to see me two to three times a year.
3. Ask yourself, "Where will I be in five to ten years?" Because wherever you are, your pet will be there too. Make sure you realize that some pets can live 16 years and you will be responsible for them. Pets are not disposable and cannot be discarded when they no longer fit your new lifestyle.
4. Do I have the space to have a dog? If you rent, does your landlord allow you to have a pet? If you live in a condominium, are there any weight restrictions? Don't forget that adorable ten-pound German Shepherd puppy will be a seventy-five pound adult!
5. Do I travel often? Not only do you have to find someone to take care of your pet while you are away, but most likely you will also have to pay them to do so. Pets are expensive and a privilege to have.
6. Do I work long hours or have an erratic schedule? Just like children, pets like to sleep, eat and eliminate on a set schedule. If you disrupt their schedule, there may be unpleasant consequences when you get home. If you are away from your home for more than six hours, I recommend that you hire a dog walker to take your pet outside to eliminate and exercise. This may be an additional financial responsibility for some pet owners.
7. Finally, the most important consideration you must reflect upon is if you really want a dog. Are you emotionally ready to connect and love a dog at this time in your life? To thrive, dogs need to emotionally connect to their owners, and you must be ready to receive them.
If you are a pet lover and are not prepared for the total responsibility of pet ownership, ask a friend if you could pet sit their dog while they are out of town or take their dog to the park a few days a week. Another option is to donate your energy and passion to a local animal shelter. These shelters would love for you to walk or play with their dogs.
Don't ever get a pet just to meet a new human friend. Pet ownership is a huge responsibility and should not be taken lightly. Let's try to reduce the number of pets abandoned each year by asking yourself the above seven questions before you adopt a dog.
Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.