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To Dog, or Not to Dog?

If and when to get another dog

By Joyce Alla

My phone pings with a new email notification. “You have three new matches.” I giddily click to review the possibilities of my next relationship.

“What has you so engrossed?” my husband inquires as I scroll with avid concentration.

“Oh, nothing really.” With a sigh, I set my phone aside and pretend to busy myself with other tasks. No, I’m not perusing dating sites…I’m on Petfinder. I admit it; I’m a dog stalker.  I spend inordinate amounts of time scouring dog rescue sites, following dog social media groups, and navigating Petfinder whenever I’m notified of a new match.

My dog desires are all over the map. One day I’m prowling for puppies, and the next I’m ogling older dogs that need less training and exercise. One day I’m craving the calm demeanor of a large-breed dog, and the next I’m Googling photos of Queen Victoria and her pack of impish corgis.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), over 60 million households in the United States own a dog

You see, we are dogless right now, and I’m struggling between my need for a dog and my recent freedom of managing a cat-only household. It’s a dilemma many empty nesters face; just when we have the freedom to achieve all the exciting items on our bucket list, do we really want more responsibility?

It’s hard to get dogs off my mind when they are everywhere. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), over 60 million households in the United States own a dog, and the number grows annually. From farmers’ markets, to cafés and breweries, and even in the office, dogs have infiltrated every aspect of society. They are welcomed and often catered to in many establishments, and some workplaces have “Pawternity” leave, so that new dog owners can take time to get their newly acquired pups acclimated. Just recently, The Boston Globe reported, “There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be a Dog Owner…”, listing numerous dog-friendly residences, businesses and activities across the city. But for someone who wants to take advantage of her newfound freedom of a less stringent work schedule and fewer at-home responsibilities, there are other considerations.

Our last pup was a sweet and soulful Yellow Lab who I miss dearly, but I don’t miss cleaning my house so much. 

The author with her Yellow Lab, Indy

While I stare into the adorable eyes of a Pyrenees/Chow puppy on my computer, I’m also remembering all of the chores that come with dog ownership – especially cleaning.  Our last pup was a sweet and soulful Yellow Lab who I miss dearly, but I don’t miss cleaning my house so much.  Dog ownership goes hand-in-hand with cleaning, whether it’s muddy paw prints, wet dog scents, or dog hair.  I know a lot about sweeping and vacuuming up fur. (Back then I spent my online time researching vacuum cleaners.) My next dog might have to be one that doesn’t shed, I decide.  But then it will need frequent grooming, won’t it?

And the cleaning doesn’t stop with our home’s interior; it extends to the yard as well.  There is no breed of dog that doesn’t require poop patrol – the often disgusting, very necessary, and inexorable task of trying to rid the yard of all dog debris. It’s been really nice to walk barefoot in my back yard this summer. Am I really ready to revert to a dog-friendly yard/latrine?

Trying to talk myself out of adopting another dog, I recently decided to research the financial aspects of dog ownership. According to the American Kennel Club, the lifetime cost of a medium-sized dog is over $15,000. But, this does not cover inevitable medical emergencies or travel/boarding costs. (see sidebar) Not to mention the havoc and destruction a puppy can cause, a.k.a. property damage.

The research is indisputable; dog ownership is good for us.

So with all of these negative aspects of dog ownership, why do I still find myself searching for my perfect “match”? Quite simply, for the companionship – for that indescribable friendship, mutual adoration and security that only comes from having a dog in my life. The research is indisputable; the benefits of having a dog are many. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the many benefits of dog custody– from decreased loneliness and increased happiness to multiple health benefits. Spending time with a dog can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower stress and increase fitness. Yes, owning a dog can actually help you live a longer and healthier life! 

“Having a dog brings structure and activity to our lives,” explains my recently retired friend, Barbara Schlanger. “Before my husband Rich retired, he didn’t spend much time with the dog. He was more of a dog owner’s husband!” She continues, “But now, he walks Zara every afternoon. He’s gotten to know the neighbors better and he’s becoming acquainted with other dog owners.” She adds, “The dog has truly become an important part of his life.” And while I miss having a dog as part of my life, I’m still hesitant.

Further research has alerted me to more unconventionals path to dog ownership. Surprisingly, there are dog-sharing arrangements popping up everywhere, from NewYorkdogshare.com to the West Coast’s Citydogshare.com. It’s an interesting concept – having a part-time dog and dividing custody and costs with another owner — and it may work for some, but it’s not for me. I think I would always be wondering how my dog was when she was at her “other” owner’s house!

Should I get a dog? I can recite an endless list of pros and cons. I can continue to deliberate over my future dog’s breed, age and size. But deep down I must admit the real reason for my puppy procrastination. Embarrassingly, my explanation could be lifted from the script of a cheesy romantic comedy, “I’m afraid to open my heart again to love.  I’m afraid I’ll be hurt… again.”

“I’m afraid to open my heart again to love.  I’m afraid I’ll be hurt… again.”

There is an unwritten contract we accept when we adopt a dog, one we are aware of in the recesses of our minds, but not consciously thinking about when we bring our new puppy home.  It is the knowledge that we will most likely outlive our dog. Everyone knows that one year for us, is seven for our dog. And while we teach and house train our new puppy, we also intuitively know that in the end, at the very end, we are committed to being there — to holding a paw, to stroking a soft ear, and to whispering, “You’re a good dog.” And honestly, the pain of seeing a furry best friend take one last breath, again, may be more than I can bear.

It’s been a year since I said goodbye to our pup. I still see her around the house, sleeping on the sofa when she shouldn’t, lazing in the back yard, watching me eat. I even see her in the eyes of some of the dogs I stalk on the Internet. Maybe I’m just waiting for a sign from her to know when I’m ready. For now though, I’m not quite ready. I’ll continue to daily peruse the dog rescue sites, keeping an eye out for “the one” and waiting for the ideal time to adopt. Until then, I’m content to sit and dream about adventures with my someday dog, as my cat happily curls up on my lap, purring and unaware of how our lives will eventually change when our future family member arrives.

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About the Writer

Joyce Alla, Bucket Age 33, is a freelance writer working on her first novel and blogging at AllaMartinis.com

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