Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An open letter to those considering becoming dog parents...

Dear Prospective Dog Moms and Dads,

There is truly nothing like the joy, affection and softness a good dog can bring into our lives. Everyone (OK, maybe not the deathly allergic) benefits from being around a dog who is well balanced and happy. A dog's ability to stay in the moment and love life, takes us away from our human tendencies of stress, worry, or hustle. Having a dog can bring about a world of happiness and companionship like you've never known, but not planning for a dog, not anticipating the demands of training or financial challenges, not properly socializing, or addressing potential health concerns, can result in a most miserable and frustrating relationship for all.

I wish to encourage you to look at dog adoption holistically, as there is a big picture to take into account for both now and later. There are ever so many breeds to choose from with varying energy levels, temperaments and dispositions; their life expectancy, ease of training, and compatibility with children or other pets, are all details you can generally pinpoint by researching and matching one that compliments what you're all about. Mixed breeds will be exactly that, a mix of those general traits and the same information can be guesstimated and anticipated. Best to not put you, or your potential pup, through the strain of a poorly planned union, instead look honestly at your ability to meet a dog's needs, your expectations for your new furry friend, and make a calculated decision that will be mutually beneficial for the entire family. As you make your decision, consider seeking council from professionals who can assist you with temperament assessment or energy evaluation, and invite solid feedback from them on dogs you are specifically considering. These individuals would be people who can assess you, your family, and the dogs you're drawn to, with helpful insight and support to make the best possible match.

Consider the difference between a rescue group vs a shelter.

The vast majority of dogs currently located in rescues or shelters are there not because they weren't a cute puppy at some point, but because someone didn't plan for the bigger picture, wasn't educated or informed about what comes next, and we now owe it to these pups to plan better than anyone before. If you're not familiar with dog training, evaluating dogs, or struggle to be objective in your selection (because they're all so dang cute!), a rescue group is a gold mine of information and support. Rescue groups who are breed specific are most capable of selecting adopters well suited to said breed, they can educate you if you're interested in a type of dog you've never actually owned, and they can help you narrow down the exact qualities you're looking for among their available dogs. Many rescue groups operate with foster homes and available dogs are currently living with families or individuals who walk them, play with them, test them with real world challenges, and even train them. As foster parents for over a decade, we have seen firsthand how beneficial this type of transition can be for both adoptable dogs and their prospective families. We share tremendous detail of daily life with a new family, what to expect from our foster pup during the first few weeks in their new home, how to handle any behavior quirks that may come up, and so on.

Shelters can provide more or less info on how available dogs walk on leash, respond to seeing a dog or passing a cat, but they are generally very limited in their ability to evaluate and test dogs with the same level of real world stimulus. This is not a hard fact, many shelters are extremely progressive these days and have implemented some phenomenal evaluation techniques, as well as active socialization programs where volunteers walk and interact with dogs in their care regularly. In fact, if you're not ready to adopt, you might consider volunteering at your local shelter to both help the dogs with human contact and get yourself a dog fix! Any progressive shelter programs aimed at thoroughly evaluating dogs is a major bonuses you should take note of when choosing where to adopt from and when assessing the degree to which you are being informed about your new/prospective dog. Foster families (for rescue groups) however, take the cake in their ability to share the most about an available dog and his/her pros and cons. Most fostered dogs will be available for proper introduction to your existing dogs and in a way that is more intentional and calm, compared to removing a shelter pup with pent up energy and no recent social interactions, then asking them to calmly greet his potential new siblings.

Don't just fall for a look or a story.

We are emotional beings, we tend to choose animals based on look, feel, mannerisms or personality (which we often misread). Instead of an impulsive or emotional decision, seeking a dog should involve careful, objective planning and consideration. Puppies require hours of attention, training, socialization and exercise per day. A puppy brought home to a working household, with only a short time each evening to be tended to, will absolutely develop issues and create much stress and frustration for it's owners (as well as the general public). If your puppy has pack mates he/she will have a better chance of growing into a solid dog, but the possibility they will develop learned behavioral problems form other neglected dogs is also very great. Make sure you are not looking to add a young puppy to your pack for fun or to simply provide companionship to your existing dog(s), you will still need to train and lead ANY dog in your home. Empathizing with a shelter dog and wanting to give him a place to lay his head isn't enough. Your new dog will be unhappy if brought into a home without a well rounded care and training plan. Feeling bad for a rescue dog's circumstances or history does not make it an appropriate dog for you. You are in fact, likely to provide a weak energy and lackluster leadership if you begin a relationship with an adopted dog merely based on feeling sorry for it. Focus on the hard and true facts: is he/she the right size, age, energy, temperament and personality for me? If you've been objective in your decision, you will enjoy the rescuing that comes mutually between two well-suited pals.

Calculate the costs.

Fewer challenges can bring you to your knees like financial hardship. It is very important to plan for the expected financial commitment of dog ownership, as well as the unexpected. Routine vetting can be anticipated (vaccines, wellness exams, dental cleanings, nail trimming, etc.), but emergency vetting is nearly a guarantee at some point as well, and ever so many dog owners are not prepared for when it does. Will you have the resources to handle an unexpected bill for a potential injury or illness? What if the food you plan to feed causes allergies or other health issues, will you be able to switch to something different, better, and potentially more costly? Flea control, shampoo, toys, ear cleaner, supplements or first aid supplies, are all potential (and likely) monthly expenses you should anticipate. The cost of those reliably routine needs will vary based on how big or small your dog is, but you should plan for an average $75 or more for those items above and beyond your food expense. If you seek out a dog with a substantial coat to maintain, you might call a groomer in advance and inquire on the costs to have your potential pup cared for once or twice per month. A large breed dog with a short coat is approx $50 per grooming, but Shepherds, Poodles, Chows or American Eskimo type dogs all require a great deal more work and thus the cost is increased. Grooming is essential to these dog's health and well-being, you will either need to have the ability to do it yourself, or hiring it out will be a necessary budgeted expense. You can't escape expenses with dogs, they are guaranteed, but you can plan for them and be realistic about what your budget allows. Having a designated "dog fund" is a huge relief to many, a place to tap into when surprises come, and pet insurance has grown to be quite useful as well.

 Ask yourself, "Are you alone in this?"

This point is easy, if the entire household is not on board with the adoption of a dog, you should heed the warning signs of this venture and reevaluate your plan. All of those unexpected expenses I mentioned are exponentially more painful if you're facing them alone. Your pup's exercise requirements, socialization and training, become increasingly more difficult if you are singularly responsible to fulfill your pup's needs every single day, without backup or relief. What if you get sick or injured and aren't able to walk your dog? What if you want to go on vacation? Having a support system for yourself and your dog is nearly as important as if you are raising a child. Make sure to take a team approach when planning for a pup, everyone should be on board and feel good about the decision as a unit. Sharing responsibilities and committing to necessary sacrifices will ensure your pup has the lifetime commitment they deserve, and you will be happy to provide it with your tribe cheering you on.

Make sure your energy, and that of the dog you desire, is compatible.

Your new canine companion should match your energy level and lifestyle, comfortable and happy with the amount of time and focus you can provide him/her. Without daily exercise dogs develop any number of unwanted behavioral issues and you will have to work far harder to coexist with your pet, or take them out into the world, once anxiety or boredom set in. If not provided structured exercise every day (walks!), our pups become stir crazy just as you or I would if made to stay home for days on end. Your home, your yard (if you have one), they are not enough for the mental and physical needs of a dog who is migratory by nature, young, or especially if he/she is a working or sporting breed dog. Be prepared to provide daily walks or runs that will be equivalent to the age, energy level, and health status of your adopted dog. Are you working full time? Will you commit to coming home, tired and ready to relax, but dedicated to lacing up the sneakers and taking your pup outside for an hour? Will you do that in the rain? Will you keep it up when it's hot and you have to get up early to beat the heat? If you are a less active individual or you work full time and like to have free time to go out in the evening, avoid young, active dogs who needs a great deal of mental stimulation and physical energy drain. Being tired and driving Fido to the dog park to run off steam is not acceptable, this is where behavioral issues develop due to the chaotic nature of many pent up and untrained dogs running free. Adopting a dog with the dog park in mind as the main source of exercise is a big no-no, please realize this is not a healthy plan or goal for most dogs, let alone rescue dogs who often come with unique baggage. 

Thank you dear adopter, for your open heart and home. I wish you the very best in your pursuit of a pup who truly inspires and delights. To those who face up to the challenging pups, you have my utmost respect. To those who recognize their limitations and sacrifice a 'want' for a 'need,' you are the shift in consciousness the world of rescue dogs is looking for. The intentional, the committed, the honest adopters who don't get in over their heads and repeat the surrender cycle, but rather embrace their best match and give to it wholeheartedly for life. Thank you for knowing your limits and honoring them, your patience (if necessary) in finding the perfect match, will pay off. I promise.

All my best,

Cam Thompsen

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