It’s the time of year where working in a veterinary hospital, we start to see an influx of new pets, mostly puppies or sometimes, adult dogs. Stretching from Christmas to Valentine’s Day, during winter and holiday school vacations mostly, families are welcoming a new furry friend into the family. Most, but not all, are usually gifts, or spur of the moment ideas, that come about when people are going to be home for a few weeks, and this that it’ll be the perfect time to acclimate to a new pet. These cute and cuddly little buggers steal their hearts and before you know it, some new owners feel that they are in over their heads. Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of taking some calls from prospective owners BEFORE bringing a new pet into the household, and I wanted to share some things that all new (or old) dog owners could take into consideration before bringing Buddy home that may prove helpful in the long run.
A big factor is cost. Cost to purchase a dog, cost to adopt a dog, cost of all of their supplies and food. Not to mention routine and non-routine/emergency medical costs. Should you get pet insurance? All of these are factors when adding a living breathing being to your household who is strictly dependent on YOU! A pet that you will not be able to look into the future and know if he or she will have an emergency requiring emergency care. Your pooch may or may not get diabetes, need surgery for a torn ligament in its’ knee. Maybe it’ll develop dry eye and need drops for the rest of it’s life. You may come home to find that Molly has eaten a few socks and needs surgery to fix the obstruction she now has. Hopefully none of these scenarios will ever happen, but the reality is that they do. I see owners faced with tough financial decisions when urgent care needs arise, and they aren’t sure what to do. One tip I like to tell 1st time dog owners is to have a savings account for their pets. Even if at the moment their finances aren’t an issue, in tough economic times like these, anything can happen. If you never have to dip into the money you put aside for your pet then great! Splurge and get yourself something nice. But create an “in case of emergency” fund. I had one client tell me that they started one years ago, and when their dog developed kidney failure they worried where they’d come up with the extra funds to cover diagnostics and special diet/medication needs, as things were tough for them at the moment financially. Then they remembered they had created that special little savings account that had now accumulated quite a bit of cash in it, and it took their worries away. Of course, I can’t exactly tell people how to manage their money, but if you can create a savings account for your pet, by all means do it. (Side note – pet insurance does NOT work like health insurance for people. There are no co-pays. Pet insurance companies reimburse you, not us, after your pet’s vet visit, after you pay your bill. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it to get, because it’s just that, insurance in case something happens. Take it into consideration when planning your new additions future).
Secondly, I would tell people research as much as you can about the type of dog and personality of dog that would fit yours and your families. Far too many puppies and adult dogs are dumped in shelters and abandoned because their owners didn’t research enough about the type of dog they want. People who like to sit home and read, are mildly active homebodies should think twice about getting say, a border collie just because they like the way they look, or because they met one once who was super mellow and liked to sit around the house. When looking for puppies, if you have the chance, do a few puppy tests with them. Cradle a pup on it’s back in your arms like a baby; see if it relaxes into the hold or fights you tooth and nail to get back up to a position it wants to be in. Hold the pup up and make eye contact. Are you getting a strong stare down? Does the pup never make eye contact and tuck its tail or does it hold contact momentarily and look away gently, at ease with what you are doing, not trying challenge you? Try to find the right balance between too submissive and too dominant. Remember that all dogs are individuals, regardless of their breed. Sure there are breed traits to take into consideration when researching what breed may be best for your family, but keep in mind individual dogs personalities and just that, individual. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover and choose a pet based entirely on looks. You may be missing out on a dog you’d never dream of owning, but that pup’s personality and behavior may be just the right match for you.
This brings me to where to get your new family member. It amazes me with all of the information available to people online, (not that all of it is true, but for the most part – a few clicks and as long as you’re on the right website, you’ve got a lot of answers about most subjects) that people are still choosing pet stores to get their pets. Pet stores = puppy mills – no bones about it. In my mind, NO legitimate breeder who is breeding for quality, not quantity (aka all about making money off of their poor breeding female) would let one or any of their puppies go to a pet store where they have no idea what type of person is going to buy their pup. Pet stores will tell you anything you want to hear to make their sale. Reality is, what people pay for a pup in a pet store is a lot of time, MORE money than what they would pay for that same dog, purebred, from a true breeder, one who is looking to better the breed, not churn out puppies every few months. Somewhat new here on the east coast as far as I’ve seen, is pet stores selling their puppies out of baby cribs. The tactic is working, which is baffling! Because puppies that aren’t in cages or crates but in baby crib’s means that the store cares more, or that it somehow makes them magically come from breeders, not from brokers who purchase these pups for pennies all over the midwest and part of Pennsylvania, only to turn around and sell them for thousands at pet stores? Give me a break. Anyone who does a little research can trace some of their puppies information when bought from a pet store to numerous “breeders” in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. There are have been enough specials on puppy mills for people to know what the parents of the pups are forced to endure, so in short I’d say avoid the pet shops. If you want a purebred, do your research. Call or email breeders in your area, study the breed you’d like and make sure it’s for you. Not only do you typically get to the meet the parents of the pups you’d like to see, you also get exactly what you pay for. Quality (in most cases, should you have done your research. Health guarantees for one, especially in breeds prone to some genetic disorders.
The other great option is adoption! Thousands of puppies and adult dogs are in rescues are shelters all over the country, just waiting to be adopted. There are breed specific rescues, shelters and rescues that have their adoptable pups in foster homes so they are getting even more one and one care and learning how to behave in a home environment. Not all dogs in shelters are “broken.”A dog is given up through no fault of it’s own, and you can be the one to give it a second chance. Maybe you want to bypass the puppy stages of teething and housebreaking. Go right ahead an adopt an adult dog; they make wonderful pets! Great shelters and rescues love to have you come and meet-n-greet potential new additions to your home. You are able to arrange for pets you already have to meet them ahead of time too, make sure you are making a perfect match (or close to it) and avoid squabbles. For me, I am all about adopting-not shopping, for your new furry friend. But if you are looking for something very specific, and know you want a pure bred pup, they by all means find a wonderful breeder. Yes it takes time, and isn’t as speedy a process as walking into a pet store and back out in 30 minutes with a puppy, but you aren’t food shopping or buying a new pair of jeans. It’s a living being, that I think deserves a little more thought time, certainly if it’s intended upon being a permanent member of the family.
There are a number of other things to consider when getting a dog. How much time you can devote to training and grooming needs. How much space your home and/or yard has for your newcomer. Preparing the rest of the family, and your already established pets for a potential new comer is great too. I think it all comes down to taking a little time and doing your research, and understanding what you’re needs are, for yourself or for your family. Ask questions of your vet, rescues or breeders. Education and knowing what you are getting yourself into sets you up for success, especially if you are a first time pet owner, and helps secure that you and your new pet will have as many happy, long years ahead of you as possible.