I have wanted a dog for a long time, but I have a full life already, with plenty of obligations to a husband, two grown children, two cats, a large and constantly evolving garden, and — oh, yes — my job. And I look forward to traveling again post-COVID. I fostered a rescue puppy over the holidays (while our daughter and her grown dog were also staying with us), but found it a pretty awful experience: up multiple times every night, soiling in the house, etc. But I am hopeful the experience will be different with another dog. I put a deposit down with a breeder for a puppy that will be a much smaller and calmer breed, but I am really wondering about going through with it. Should I get the dog, or should I just keep my life as it is.
Dear Possibly Puppy:
The question of whether to commit to getting a dog is a good one to consider. It’s easy to presume it’s a feel-good choice: What’s not to love about living life with your own personal fluff ball dedicated to your well-being? Plus, everyone’s doing it. Pet adoptions and purchases are at an all-time high, with actual shortages of animals to adopt in certain areas. But the reality includes a lot more work than many people anticipate, including the up-all-nights and the house messes you yourself experienced while fostering.
I cried a lot in those first two weeks asking, “What have I done to my life?’
I think you are wise to pause and wonder, instead of ignoring that little voice in your head. I do know of three different families who ended up surrendering their adoption several weeks after bringing home their new companion and realizing the dog they wanted so badly just wasn’t a fit for the reality of their lives — and each family found coming to terms with the fact that they could not keep the dog very traumatic. When you are choosing a rescue dog, it is a little like choosing from life’s box of chocolates: You never know quite what you are going to get, in ways both good and bad.
Because you are adopting a dog from a breeder, you can at least be relatively confident that your new pup won’t be coming into your home toting along trauma issues of its own from having had a rough start to life. But the disruption of bringing a new puppy into your home can’t be overstated. When I adopted my beloved Jake, a lab-mystery mix from a shelter in Tennessee, he was just 8 weeks old and cute as a button. (The cutest puppy, ever, naturally.) And yet I spent the first six weeks in a sleep-deprived delirium I wasn’t expecting, and I cried a lot in those first two weeks asking, “What have I done to my life?’
Jake was my first dog, and I simply did not grasp that a new puppy is pretty much exactly the same thing as a newborn where the night shift is concerned. Up and down and up and down; in and out and in and out till dawn’s early light (at least babies wear diapers). And Jake also had a passion for chewing. Even with lots of dog fences in my home to keep him secure, I think I lost 11 Birkenstocks total in the first two years of his life. Then there was the bag of potting soil he found and opened, on my white TV room carpet, and the meditation cushion he destuffed in six minutes flat. And the many dozens of times he squeezed himself out from under my fence and took off running down my long dirt road, resulting in extended chases that he quite enjoyed. (Me? And my neighbors? And my neighbors’ dogs? Not so much.)
Sigh. But do I have any regrets? No. No, I don’t. But I was at a point in my life when I was sure I wanted the commitment of a dog: I worked from home, I had a 9-year-old son for Jake to run and play with; I lived on a quiet dirt road where I could take him for long walks. And for my son, I very much wanted the experience of a puppy. For you, on the cusp of being vaccinated and thinking about getting to travel post-COVID, and with grandchildren to visit in other places, I do wonder if now is the right time. Maybe after this year of being forced to be home almost all the time, you would be better served by having a break from being home: Give yourself permission to come and go as you please and to take short or long trips without having to arrange a kennel stay.
And then, after 18 months or so of coming and going at your pleasure, you may find yourself sure, at last, that now is, indeed, the time to tie yourself to a dog. And you always have the option to adopt an older dog who will be trained and more settled, for an easier on-ramp. Or you may choose a little fluff ball puppy who will pour a little bit of chaos into your home — as well as a whole lot of love into your heart.
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