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Timing Is Everything – When Not to Get a Dog

By: Joan Paylo

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If you're thinking of bringing home a dog, timing is everything. After all, your new-found companion will look to you for a lifetime commitment of love and security. Assess your family and financial situation, the season, and special circumstances – and don't be discouraged. If you're thoughtful and realistically assessing your situation, you may still find time to care for and enjoy a pet.

Busy Seasons, Changing Schedules

If you invite a dog into your family, he has a right to demand good chunks of your attention.

  • Holidays are notoriously bad times to welcome a new dog into a new family. Irregular schedules, rich foods and a steady flow of strangers through the house cause stress in even veteran household dogs.

  • If you're planning a vacation, put off getting a pet until you're back. For many dogs, traveling can be unsettling. Before you take off with a dog, be aware of how he reacts in unfamiliar surroundings, what frightens him, how he deals with different modes of transportation and what might tempt him to run away. Also, think about the consequences of leaving him home: Would be confused, frightened – even angry – if you left him with a neighbor or put him in a kennel for a few weeks?

  • Are you starting a new job, expecting a new baby or moving to a new home? Postpone getting a dog until you've adjusted to the changes in your life.

    Good People In Temporary Homes

    It's human nature: Away from home, we crave the comfort and companionship of a pet. But when college students, military personnel or summer residents go to pick a dog or cat, their circumstances can raise a red flag with shelter personnel or responsible breeders.

  • College students. Shelters in college towns are trying hard to stem the once-annual tide of pets turned into the streets after school recesses for the summer. Personnel interview all students living in the same apartment and ask them to designate one as the official owner. They're asked to prove they can support the dog financially and get help from low-cost spay/neuter programs. Landlords and parents are called to ensure that someone will accept the dog over the summer.

  • Military personnel. Until recently, the number of stray and abandoned pets around military bases was at crisis proportions. Moving a pet across country or borders is prohibitively expensive for the families of enlisted people, and many foreign countries have strict rules requiring expensive quarantine that can last months. So, military families saw no choice but to turn out their pets when they were assigned a new post. Now, Internet sites, such as "Tootie Talks" at www.militaryliving.com/tootie.html, offer advice and support for keeping the family together.

    In the past six years, humane organizations have worked to help service personnel in government and off-base housing make sensible, responsible decisions about getting and keeping a pet. Military bases now require special identification for pets and impose regulations to keep pet populations manageable. Shelters counsel families to make certain that a responsible, alternative home will accept the pet if the original owners have to move on. At times, shelters advise the family to wait until their last tour of duty to adopt. Military spouses and children are encouraged to volunteer at shelters if they want to be around pets.

  • Summer rentals. It still happens much too often. A mother and her preschooler show up at a shelter, asking to "adopt" a dog for the summer so the child can experience having a pet. Summer communities, plagued with an overabundance of homeless dogs and cats as each season winds down, have launched public education programs to ward off the "summer rental" of pets, as well as to remind honorable dog owners that their pets can wander off and get lost if precautions aren't taken.

    "If we meet a person in transition, it's a reason to have a longer, deeper conversation to help them decide whether this is the best time to adopt," says Christie Smith, executive director of the Potter League for Animals in Newport, RI. "In this business, we need to move away from being the heavy-handed adoption police and trust that most people do okay in deciding what's best for their family and the animal."

    The Basics - Time and Money

    When considering adding a dog to your household, review the following checklist:

  • You, your kids and all the adults in your household should agree that you want to share companionship with a pet for the next 10 - even 20 - years, in sickness and in health. Who will care for him if you can't? Is any member of your family allergic to dogs?

  • Are your children ready to live with a dog and are you willing to choose a breed and size that will mix happily with your youngsters?

  • Can your family finances support the dog's medical care, training, food, grooming, toys, and other supplies?

  • Does your housing situation – lease or condo agreement, available amount of indoor and outdoor space – allow you to keep a dog?

  • How much time do you have to care for the type and age of dog you want? Puppies require concentrated attention; some breeds – such as Dalmatians – need more attention than others. Dogs crave structure and regular schedules. Do the adults in your family work long, irregular hours or travel extensively because of business or personal demands?

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