Thinking about getting a dog or gifting one? Read this first!
Last year, Santa got me a puppy.
For two years I had been telling my retired father he needed (we, really, so that I could play with it when I visited) to get a dog. He wasn't ever ready until last November.
We worked with different rescues, looked into breeders, and considered our local pet shop. I had my heart set on adopting and insisted there was no other way. The truth is, you don't pick a dog - he or she picks you. Rescuing is amazing because there are so many dogs that need a home but sometimes it does not always end up like so.
In mid-December 2015, we walked into the local pet store just to better scope it out, myself fully committed to rescuing a dog from a shelter or rescue group. My dad had been doing his research on this pet shop for several weeks and went in to look at the Frenchies, a dog he was convinced would be the breed for him unless we could get the "Obama Dog." (This shop specializes in Frenchies and we hadn't seen any available for adoption.)
And then... there she was in the upper right cubby, a tiny, little, white furball known as the Maltichon (Maltese Bichon mix). I pointed to her and said, "Dad, that's the kind of dog mom would like - small and fluffy; mom would not want a Frenchie." (Side note: We had let mom know we wanted a dog but she didn't think we were serious and she didn't want the responsibility, especially not around the holidays.)
We asked to meet the Maltichon and it was all over. This little furball stole our hearts instantly.
"I want this one," I said. "If you get her I will babysit for you." My father was curious. "You'll watch her? We can have joint custody." "Yes."
My dad was hesitant because when I was a kid they got me a cat that I was supposed to take care of and Fluffy ended up being my mom's responsibility. We both knew having a dog would be a much bigger responsibility. This little bundle of joy who we named Zoey was supposed to be his dog. To make a long story short, she ended up being my Christmas present and due to my work schedule, splits her time between our two houses (which the vet advised is okay because she is comfortable with both of us). We got lucky in that Zoey and my mother, who she would be spending so much time with, had an instant connection.
I was not fully ready for a dog at first. We were looking for my dad. But there was little Zoey and she has been the best present in the world who in many ways has changed our lives for the better.
However cute they are, fight them temptation to give a dog as a gift without doing your homework. Don't just walk into a pet shop and pick out a dog like he or she is a Starbucks Latte. Dog ownership is a ton of work with sometimes steep price tags.
Planning for Puppy: What You Need to Know for a Happy Adoption
Don't be that person who returns a dog - it's not healthy for the dog. Approximately 3.9 million dogs nationwide enter shelters every year notes the ASPCA. According to the dodo, many shelters report an increase in abandonment following the holidays. Way too often I see posts in Facebook groups of dog surrenders, sometimes after only being in a home for a few short weeks or months; it's heartbreaking. The last thing that dog or a shelter needs is a stupid person bringing them a Christmas dog that was not planned for accordingly.
While I was all about adopting and WILL be adopting my next dog, some people prefer not to adopt, bringing me to my first tip.
Consider Your Vehicle
Aside from adopting, there's buying a dog from a breeder or buying a dog from a pet shop. No matter which option you end up choosing, doing your research is key. Don't just choose a vehicle on a whim and when you chose, investigate your sources:
• Check out online reviews.
• Speak to other people who have gotten their dog from that vehicle.
• Meet with staff and have phone conversations with staff.
• Learn about policies. For example, if you are rescuing, does the rescue just hand the dog to anyone? If so, be cautious about what you are getting. Any rescue I've ever dealt with required an application with references along with meet and greets. Some require in-home visits.
Some people prefer breeders or pet shops to adopting because with reputable breeders and pet shops, there's a better chance of knowing what you'll get and you can find out the dog's history.
Home Free Animal Rescue (Monmouth County, New Jersey) is one of the rescues I've had the pleasure of working with when looking for a pup. Its founder and president Jennifer McFadden notes: "You can't really identify breed in a shelter pup younger than three to four months. Size is a little easier to estimate if you have any kind of growth/time records."
A pet shop and or breeder will be able to tell you the breed and what their temperament naturally lends itself to but they can't tell personality, adds McFadden. Then there is sizing, shedding, and allergies. If you live in a small apartment and that little puppy you took home from the rescue turns out to be a Mastiff, spacing won't quite work.
Prior to getting Zoey, I did not realize there were breed-specific rescue groups. If you can be patient when choosing a dog, now that I know better, I recommend checking them out. Check out Facebook for specific groups as well. I now follow Bichon Frise Rescue of Northern New Jersey, for example.
Let the Potential Dog Spend Adequate Time with Each Family Member
This is key! In fact, many rescues won't allow you to adopt without them meeting each family member.
"It's incredible to see how each dog selects a person or family. Some pups will outright ignore or even avoid one person," says McFadden.
Like people, dogs have their own personalities and will love some people and hate others. It's important that the dog feels comfortable with its potential family and vise-versa.
Make Sure You Have the Time and Money for a Dog
I knew a dog would be expensive and a lot of work but despite all the research my dad and I did, I underestimated everything. I once heard the saying, "it takes a village to raise a kid," and not insult your human children, I feel like same way about dogs now. My little 8 pounder has three humans pining over her and I couldn't be the (hopefully she agrees, good dog mommy I am) without my parents. I adore my Zoey and wish I could spend every minute with her but the bills have to get paid. What are you going to do with the dog when you go to work? Or what about when the dog gets sick?
Zoey is now 15 months old. She still goes to the bathroom every three to four hours. For a year, she was never really alone for more than two hours thanks to the help of my dad and me being able to bring her to work.
Dogs need to be walked more when they are younger. Consider who will take care of the dog when you can't. Many people will opt for a dog walker. The following sites are worth checking out when you need a helping hand with your pooch:
Aside from the walks, dogs need to be played with, need hugs and kisses, need to be fed (sometimes twice a day), need to be groomed, need their bowls, toys, clothes, and bed cleaned, etc. Zoey gets fed twice a day and needs at least one long leisurely walk and a half hour of playtime in order to get out all her energy. Since getting her, I've had to put her needs before mine as you might need to do with your dog. They will rely on you heavily.
Don't forget to make time to socialize your dog. We meet so many unfriendly dogs, many of which are that way because they were not socialized. Check your local Petco for puppy playtimes - mine has free playtime on weekends for puppies six months and under. Other great places to socialize your dogs:
• At dog parks
• Through people you meet on Facebook dog interest groups
• Through dog meet ups on Meetup.com.
While we go overboard with Zoey, the bullets marked with an asterisk are definite expenses. I ball parked the numbers based on what I spend and know around what other small dog owners (under 20 pounds) in New Jersey spend to give you an idea.
• *Flea and tic treatment: $150 each year
• *Heartworm medicine: $100 each year
• *Food: $500 to $800 each year
• *Treats and bones: $150 each year (some of our favorite bones are Benebones - they last months).
• *Toys: $100 - $250
• *Clothes (if you live in a cold area, your dog will likely need a winter jacket): $30 to $100
• *Harness/leash: $50 to $200 a year
If you get a puppy, they are going to outgrow harnesses over and over again. You may also find that your puppy can get out of some and thus, those will need to be replaced. The best harness for us and the only one that Zoey has not been able to get out of is Petco's Good2Go No More Pull Harness.
• *Car restraint: $35 to $150 (length depends on durability of product. I spent $65 on one Kurgo Car Seat and $40 on the other several months ago and they remain in excellent condition).
In some areas such as New Jersey and Hawaii, drivers can be ticketed for not transporting an animal safely.
• *Hygiene products: $30 to $200 year
There's doggy toothpaste, toothbrushes, wipes, dry shampoo, regular shampoo, and conditioner, brushes, combs, paw moisturizer, ear cleaner, and eye cleaner, and groomer. Keeping up with your dog's hygiene is important for his or hers overall health. Who knew grooming costs between $50 and $75 and some dogs need to get groomed every six to eight weeks. Our favorite hygiene products are TropiClean Spa Facial Scrub, Eye Envy, and Burt's Bees Hypoallergenic Wipes. If you let your dog use WeeWee pads, that's another huge expense to add on.
• Dog bed: $25 to $200
I've gone through three beds. She threw up on one and chewed up another. In the first year, expect to go through at least two beds. Her favorite bed? Mine.
• *Vet visits and medications: If you get a puppy, plan for: spay/neutering expenses and lots of shots. I must have spent $500 on these alone. Depending on your dog's health, this will change from year to year. It's best to always set at least $50 a month aside for doggy emergencies. My cousin Maltese's allergy medicine costs $60 a month, an expense that many potential dog owners might not consider.
• Dog gate and/or play pen: $100 - $200
• Doggy Insurance - plans range in prices. I've found that many insurances don't cover vet visits. If you know of one that does please let me know!
• Everything else: Obedience school (PetSmart around $100 per level - there are three levels. Each level includes 6 classes) and doggy steps $50.
Moral of this story: If you are going to gift a puppy, do your homework! Dog is not called "man's best friend" for nothing, but this holiday season and everyday please help keep dogs out of shelters and make getting a dog a pleasant experience by sharing this article.
Expenses reflect small dog estimates. For more of Zoey, follow her Instagram.