I’m sure I’m not the only person who sees pictures of homeless animals and wishes I could open my home to them. I’d be lying if I didn’t ever imagine a big-eyed puppy wrapped in a big red bow waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning.
It’s a fairly common childhood dream that never came true for me, and that’s probably for the best. A puppy isn’t a toy that can provide entertainment for a couple of months until it’s tossed aside for something newer and more fun. A puppy is a part of the family that takes a lot of time, patience and commitment.
I asked Washington County Shelter Director Tammy Davis if this is something she encounters after the holidays, and she confirmed that a couple of months after the holidays, there’s usually a surge of dogs that were given as gifts. After the newness wears off, she said, people aren’t equipped to care for the dog or train it, so they wind up in the shelter looking for another home.
Here is a full disclaimer: I’ve never owned a puppy. I had a dog growing up, but the amount of care and attention required to make sure a puppy grows into a well-organized dog is precisely why I’ve never had one.
But after asking a couple of friends, tossed in with what I remember from my childhood dog, here are all the things to consider before bringing home your furry family member:
• Commitment: This is the big one. My childhood dog, Spike, lived to be 15 years old. Sure, puppies are small and cute and fun, but the thing about puppies is that they grow up. Your responsibility of caring for the dog doesn’t end when she grows into her paws. Make sure you or your family is ready to care for a dog for 10 to 15 years before bringing one home.
It’s a daily commitment — making sure the dog gets a walk every day; if you live in the city, you’ve got to clean up after her; its yearly vet visits, keeping up with vaccines; and playing with the dog to make sure she gets enough exercise.
• Training: Puppies aren’t born housebroken or knowing the rules of your home, which is why intensive training is key into making sure your dog is well-behaved. Training takes a lot of time and patience, and each dog’s different personality might throw an extra challenge into the mix.
For inexperienced dog owners, training classes are an option, but they’re expensive, so make sure you’re willing and able to make the financial commitment if you’re unable to train the dog yourself.
Another solution may be to get an adult dog instead of a puppy. Check the shelter or Humane Society for older dogs that may already know a few tricks. In addition, older dogs have already grown into their personality, so you’ll have a better idea if he’ll be a good fit for your family (This goes for cats, too!).
• Resources: Sometimes animals get sick, and vet visits aren’t cheap. Make sure your budget allows for at least a yearly vet visit to keep up with vaccines and regular checkups. As dogs (and other animals) age, they can be more prone to illness, just like humans. Make sure you’re financially able to keep your dog in relative comfort for her whole life before bringing her home.
• Lifestyle: An unstable lifestyle isn’t conducive to owning a pet. What I mean is, if it looks like you may ever have to move somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, it might be better to hold off on getting one until you’re sure you will be able to keep them in your home.
Additionally, consider if you have enough time for a dog. As mentioned before, training a dog takes a lot of time, but so does playing with him, vet visits and taking him for walks.
• Allergies: Does anyone in your family have known allergies to dogs? It’s worth taking into consideration if anyone in your life has serious allergic reactions to pet dander before bringing Fido home. Some folks with pet allergies can’t even be around clothing with dog fur on it, let alone come over for dinner without a severe allergic reaction.
Now, I don’t want this to sound like you should never get a dog. I just want to make sure everyone does their homework before bringing one home, so fewer dogs end up in shelters because of impulsive decisions.
If you do decide to add another member to your family, I’d suggest leaving out the surprise — take your family to meet the dog. If you’re adopting from a shelter, see if you can go walk the dogs and get them out of their cages. The Washington County-Johnson City shelter has designated playrooms for people to meet animals — take advantage of that.
If your family isn’t quite ready to add a pet to your lives, here are a few ways to make the holidays special for homeless pets:
• Donate to the animal shelter (or Humane Society!): Supplies like food, toys, cleaning supplies and non-clumping cat litter are essential to any animal shelter. Contact your local animal shelter to see where the needs are. Monetary donations are also appreciated.
• Sponsor an animal: Cover the adoption fee for an animal at the shelter to increase its chances of finding a home.
• Volunteer: If you’re unable to give an animal a home for the holidays, volunteer some of your time at the shelter or Humane Society caring for them. Dogs and cats are social creatures, and you don’t have to bring them home to open your heart to them.