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Posted on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Welcoming a new pet into the family is a process that extends past Christmas break - are you up for that?

By Lorrie Shaw

23ampuppy.jpg

flickr photo by 23am

The event of bringing home a puppy — or even a new-to-you adult dog — is an exciting time. Anyone who has done it can tell you that it’s pretty daunting as well.

Typically there’s a lot of preparation that goes into making sure the pet has a chance to get acclimated into his new life. I know that most of you have been through the experience of welcoming any four-legged friend, so surely you can relate to how much a challenge the process is.

It’s not a process that really has a timeline.

That’s why I’m so puzzled when someone tells me that they are going to get a dog over their Christmas or winter break because that’s when they have the time to deal with a new animal in the house.

Is a 10-day period really enough time for a dog to become adjusted to his surroundings and his new people before an everyday schedule returns everyone in the household to everyday reality?

No. And anyone who says that’s true is off his or her rocker.

It’s a lot to expect of a dog of any age to go from a breeder or a shelter to his new home and settle in — and when it’s expected on “fast food” schedule, as I call it, it’s a recipe for disaster; ultimately, the pet is the one who pays.

A pet requires a lot of consideration on a daily basis — regardless of what is going on in life or how the humans are feeling.

But, sadly, the following scenario occurs all too often: a person decides to get a dog… and picks up a leash, a bed, a few treats, a couple of cute bowls and a bag of food.

With that preparation and the idea that Christmas break will be a great time to do it, they come home (or worse yet, surprise their kids with a puppy) and everything is great — for a little while. Said dog owner wants to go away for the day but realizes that the pet's needs aren't line with that sort of thing. In other cases, Mom and Dad are fed up with the kids' natural tendency to not pitch in, the accidents, the chewing, etc.

Oh, the frustration!

On top of this, after the newness has worn off, and everyone goes back to their lives with work, school, dance class twice a week and sports practice three times a week — while puppy has to sit home alone. No one realized how much time and care a puppy needs to become a well-adjusted member of the household. Nor does anyone have the time or patience to carry out the consistent job of age-appropriate training and housebreaking. (Let's not forget how challenging it is for a pet to make the shift from your being home most of the time for two weeks to your regular schedule.)

Puppy then grows into an unmanageable adolescent dog that isn’t so cute anymore. Or, a re-homed adult dog becomes too much to handle.

I am contacted by several people every year and asked if I can recommend a dog trainer or a puppy class because they are in this very situation. (It’s usually in February, mind you, the time of year when shelters nationwide are flooded with relinquished pets.) I do have real professionals I am comfortable recommending, but sadly, in many cases, people do not want to spend the money to pay a reputable professional, let alone invest the time and effort that these trainers recommend is needed to work with the dog.

"What about this book by a famous trainer with his or her own television show?" (No.)

So, then the pooch is given away to someone else because the family just can't manage the responsibility anymore. Hopefully the new family will have the ability to give the proper amount of time and attention the dog needs. Hopefully. Can you imagine how confusing and sad it is for that dog to be shifted from one home to another like that?

Having a companion animal is an extraordinary experience. However, there are no pets that are "low maintenance" — period.

Welcoming any new pet into your family takes a lot of consideration, research and preperation, regardless of the animal's age, species or breed. Here are some issues to consider:

  • All breeds of cats and dogs are different, from their dietary needs and behavioral attributes to health issues. Did you know that some breeds of cat actually like to play fetch like dogs do? Some pets are more prone to cardiac issues, liver dysfunction or disorders that require maintenance medication.

  • Is everyone in the house 'on board' with the decision?

  • It is a considerable financial obligation, too, over the life of the animal. Do you have the financial means to pay for the food? You need to get your pets spayed or neutered, and that costs money too. What about vet visits every six to 12 months for vaccines, check-ups, medicine… what about more serious medical issues? (We've personal experience in the area of serious medical problems that required surgery.)

  • The life expectancy of a pet is important to consider as well. Depending on the breed, dogs can live anywhere from 7 to more than 16 years. Ditto for cats, but their life expectancy can be upwards of 20 years. (Yes, really.) Ditto for exotic birds, but it’s more like 30 to 70 (or more) years.

  • What is your lifestyle like? What is your life going to look like in seven or eight years?

  • Your living situation: What is it like now? Do you own, rent — will that change?

  • What is your schedule like? How many hours do you work? Do you have a solid support system set in place as a backup to provide care, like a reliable relative, friend or a pet sitter?

  • Are you one who has a tendency to have a more laid back, sedentary lifestyle? Are you a runner? Somewhere in between? Some breeds of dog absolutely require a good vigorous run outside everyday to keep their behavior in check. They need lots of playtime. Yes, true playaholics!

  • Exotic pets have special needs. Environment requirements, specialized food/feeding schedules, enrichment toys/time, not to mention a veterinarian who deals with exotics or pocket pets — and not all do!

  • Do you like to travel? Can you take a pet with you to the places that you typically like to go? Who will care for your pets when you go away for any length of time?

  • Are you married, single… do you have kids — have you had kids yet? What will life be like once kids go off to college? The people in your life (or who will be in your life) should be huge deciding factor with regard to your consideration of a pet.

Pets aren't accessories: They're living, breathing beings who require serious consideration at all stages of their life. They count on you to provide not only for their basic needs to survive, but also for companionship, enrichment and fun to keep them whole.

So, after all of that — do you still think that the idea of bringing a pet home as a holiday gift is a swell idea?

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for AnnArbor.com and is a professional pet sitter. Connect with her on Google + or e-mail her directly.

Comments

jns131

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 2:26 a.m.

Bringing in a dog or puppy into the house is like bringing a baby into the house. You take care of it, get up for its 2:00 feeding and/or business time and then back to bed. I loved getting up in the morning and having someone with a dum look on his face saying play with me before you leave look. Ours smiles all the time. Then you watch it grow up and well, with a baby it moves out, we hope by 18. As with a puppy? We grow old with it and then we adopt another after the old one has passed. Sad concept but we are on dogs number 4 and can't wait to adopt more.

jns131

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

If I had time? I'd write a book. Maybe after retirement.

Lorrie Shaw

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 4:18 a.m.

Jns131, that's what I love to hear! What a life your dogs have! :)

jns131

Sat, Dec 22, 2012 : 3:38 a.m.

Lorrie? Most times because of the age of a dog we adopt? It will be 5 months before we go on vacation or camping or other outings with our furry four footed friends. All of our dogs have seen the Great Lakes. Traveled west and as far as Toronto and the Georgian Bay.

Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

Oh, you are so right, jns131 - it is like bringing home a baby. The effort, time, lack of sleep, patience, etc. that went into unfolding Gretchen as a puppy was enormous. I should add that we did not travel (without her) until she was well over a year old. That, we felt was the right time and age to leave her in the care of others that she felt comfortable with for a few days so that she would not be stressed. Before that, we only traveled to places where she could comfortably accompany us. I think that she was 5 months old, then and already housetrained reliably. We were rewarded with dog who has been free from behavioral issues and is calm and a joy to be around. I always appreciate hearing about your experiences with your pets. Thanks. :)

treetowncartel

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

@Jessica, best time to get a puppy that has to be potty trained is late spring/summer. Taking a puppy out on a leash in the middle of the night to so he or she can do her thing is much more enjoyable during that time of year as opposed to a day like today. This article is spot on. Most discplinary problems can be attributed to lack of enough activity, both physical and mental. And as always, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.

Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

treetowncartel: Your statement has some truth to it, but with one caveat: there are puppies born at all times of year. So what happens to the dogs born in the fall and winter months? The fact is, so long as a prospective pet owner has it in their head that they need to always keep the canine's well-being and comfort in mind, successful housetraining and the unfolding over the months and years can be very smooth. I brought Gretchen home on Feb. 2, 2000. 10 inches of snow on the ground, colder than all get out, but I made the commitment to do what needed to be done and without complaint. I agree - most disciplinary issues stem from the human factor. The things that you talked about help avoid that. Thanks for adding your comments!

KathrynHahn

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 4:47 a.m.

I think you guys are reading too much into this. When folks bring a new pet home for the holidays, they don't take into consideration how many other holiday activities-parties, dinners, family visits, etc. are cutting into your time. If you have the time to commit to crate training, potty training, and all the other considerations a new pet needs, then any time of year is good, preferably if you have some vacation time, but too many people bring home a puppy or kitten, expecting it to be "ready to wear" for lack of a better term. Think about all the stupid "Bunny for Easter" gifts people used to do. I think she's just thinking along these lines, a pet is a serious commitment & if you have the time, go for it!

Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 8:55 p.m.

Yes, you're correct, KathrynHahn. That was indeed my intention. I appreciate you chiming in!

northside

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 11:39 p.m.

Excellent and very timely article, Laurie. If you don't mind I'll offer one suggestion for next year's pre-holiday article. Run a photo of an ugly, aging, disheveled animal instead of that absolutely adorable young dog. The ugly animal might deter some bad owners from getting one. That cute dog will have everyone running to the nearest shelter or pet store. :-)

Laura

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

Guess I should send our new puppy back to the breeder. Man he's going to miss all of the love, the warm bed he wakes up in, morning, afternoon and evening play time, walks, treats and snuggles. But I work a 9-5 year round....perhaps when I retire I'll have time for a puppy.

Lana

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

Lorrie is secretly a dog hater, and is trying to scare responsible people away from getting a dog. What a depressing article for the holidays!!

Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

Lana... I'm far from being a dog hater. What I hate is to see pets - who because of the lack of forethought and education of humans - end up re-homed several times or at a shelter. I find *that* depressing. And wrong. And avoidable. My hope with the honesty of this piece is to save the lives and the sanity of animals, not to offer a warm, fuzzy, heartfelt head-in-the-sand story. I'll wager that responsible folks who want to get a dog or already have one wouldn't find this piece depressing - they nod their heads in agreement that the utmost care and consideration needs to be taken. Thanks for commenting!

RunsWithScissors

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 10:05 p.m.

The reality of Lorrie's article breaks my heart every time I think about it. So many pet owners treat their dog or cat like a bookend - something to be admired from a distance and dusted every week whether it needs it or not. Any time is a good time to bring a loved pet into your life. Provided you are fully invested in it's care and are prepared to prioritize its needs appropriately instead of letting them fell off the bottom of the "to-do" list.

Jessica Webster

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

So assuming one is ready to care for a dog long-term, when is a good time to bring him (or her) home?

Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Dec 21, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

Jessica, A great time to bring home a pet is when the family as a whole is ready to take on the responsibility of unfolding said dog, regardless of the season, the age of the animal and busy life that so many of us have. With communication between the humans, mindfulness , some sacrifice and the lack of the "me factor" as I call it - a dog can be successfully allowed to unfold naturally. It totally means putting your own needs as a human aside in a lot of ways for a little while because as I remind people, the dog did not ask to come to live with them. It was the conscious choice of the persons involved. :-D

skipfreely

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

So only unemplyed and/or retired people should be dog owners?

Hmm

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Two days after the vernal equinox when Saturn is still in Jupiter's fifth house