Extraordinary Dogs

Owning a Dog

Owning a Dog

Dogs are the most popular pets in the world. About 58 million dogs provide love, companionship, and services for humans in the United States, and that number increases every year. But dogs need more than just shelter. They need a nurturing home, food, health care, play time, and rewards for good behavior — even a simple pat on the head.

But all too often, people neglect the dogs in their care, and the results can be deadly. Millions of unwanted dogs end up in shelters every year. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 30 to 60 percent of those former pets are put to sleep.

“There are hundreds of reasons why people relinquish their dogs to an animal shelter,” says Leslie Isom of the Humane Society. A 1996 study found that nearly a third of people who give up their pets were not prepared to deal with the aggressive behaviors that can develop if an animal is not neutered. Other factors include the unexpected daily time commitment, the “no pets” rule in many apartment buildings, and the fact that some cute, tiny puppies can grow to be large dogs with less appeal.

Shelters are excellent places to adopt a dog. Says Isom: “As many as 30 percent of dogs in shelters are purebreds, so if you are looking for a specific breed, you can find it at your local shelter. If they don’t have it, they can probably contact a breed rescue program to locate one for you.” But a dog’s breed isn’t the best indicator of the animal’s behavior, Isom continues. If, for example, you had a Golden retriever growing up, you may want to adopt another one, but nothing guarantees that your new dog will be anything like your former pet. For people who can’t decide on one breed, but still want to adopt, Isom suggests choosing a mixed breed.

Before You Adopt

You’ve thought about getting a dog — someone to share your life and give you unconditional affection. But are you prepared to give the same? You are about to enter into a serious, long-term commitment with a canine. To make sure your dog does not end up among those at a shelter, ask yourself the following questions:

You will likely have your dog for 10 to 20 years. Do you think you might tire of a pet quickly? Dogs need to be exercised outdoors. Are you willing to change your schedule to feed and walk your dog daily, regardless of the weather? Ideally, a dog should be walked three times a day to get adequate exercise. Some small dogs can sometimes get enough stimulation inside the home, but larger dogs need to be run outside.

Are you financially prepared to get a dog? Spaying/neutering, licensing, shots, and yearly food, toy, and veterinary bills all add up.

Consider your living quarters. If you live in an apartment building, are pets allowed? If you are buying a puppy, remember that it will not always stay that small. Are you prepared to share your home with a potentially large animal?

For more information about the realities of owning a dog, contact the Humane Society of the United States. But if you’ve considered all the challenges of having a dog in your life, and feel you can live up to them, you’ll most likely be rewarded by a cuddly, loyal, and boundlessly affectionate friend.