As a person who dedicates her life to living and working with therapy dogs, I am often asked the question, Should I get a dog? It comes in different forms, but boils down to the same thing: Should I add a dog into my already complicated, busy life?
Just last week, I received an email from a woman who wants to have a therapy dog. She read about the meaningful work therapy dogs do and wants to become involved with this type of volunteer effort. Wonderful, I thought, until I read further along… BUT, she said, I already have two dogs and don’t want a third dog… BUT, neither one of those dogs could be a therapy dog. I really want a therapy dog. What do you think?
When a question like this comes through my inbox, I’m remained of the time years ago when the mother of one of my fourth grade students came to me saying, My son wants a dog, and my husband wants one, too. I don’t want a dog. I don’t even like dogs. What should I do? My husband and son promise they will take care of the dog (the son, a 10 year old, the husband working full time, and she home all day)…
Normally, I’m not one to hand out opinions, but when it comes to dogs, I simply can’t hold back. My opinions are strong and since dogs can’t speak for themselves, they need caring humans to look out for their welfare. When a dog is taken into a home, she should be entering her forever home, which amounts to a commitment of 9 to 15+ years. Large dogs typically live shorter lives, some very small breeds can live beyond 15 years. That commitment not only involves a roof over her head and food and water, but exercise, preferably with her human, regular visits to the veterinarian, and training, lots of training. This is a huge commitment both in time and money.
Sadly, in today’s society, dogs are treated by some as disposable. The shelters are filled with unwanted dogs. The child who begs for the dog loses interest (no surprise!), so poor pup is taken to the shelter for adoption. The too busy career man, woman, or couple don’t have time to train the puppy so it acts out and chews on the new couch. When she starts on the table legs and rug, she’s off to the shelter. It’s natural that the interest of a young child jumps from one thing to the next as he learns and explores the world around him. And, adults working hard at demanding careers often have little time for necessary rest and relaxation, let alone taking care of a dog’s needs.
It’s wonderful to have a dog or dogs in your life. But, it’s not bad to not want a dog. What’s wrong is to bring an unwanted dog into your household. The only right way to get a dog is to have total commitment from everyone involved. If children are part of the equation, they can help with her training, feeding, grooming, walking, and clean-up. This, though, must have the involvement of the adult or adults in the household. It is NOT up to the the child, it’s up to the adult.
My two grandchildren, ages 3 and 5 keep begging their parents for a dog. They love visiting our house and playing with our 3 English Setters. Since my daughter grew up in our 3-4 dog household, she is well aware of the amount of care and time needed with dog ownership. She and her husband both have demanding jobs and she wisely has told her children no dog for now. Instead, she focuses their attention on exploring creatures in nature. The other day they did FaceTime with me…. they were all excited: Gran look at the fuzzy caterpillar we found in the yard. Then they shifted to telling me they just took a long bike ride with their dad, and yesterday they took a hike. Someday, I’m sure they’ll get their dog, but for now caterpillars, bike rides, and all sorts of things are grabbing their attention.
When the questions come to me, I’m actually glad. It tells me that these people are not acting on emotion and running out to adopt the cute puppy they saw online for adoption. These are the people who are thinking about such a big decision. I take it as my mission to help them look at the pros and cons, often playing the devil’s advocate, prodding them to think and dig deeper into the decision-making. I always end by saying, Bottom line, YOU must want this dog. REALLY want this dog. Because that’s what a dog deserves.