Shelters and animal care organizations are full of dogs in need of a home because many dog owners do not prepare in advance for the arrival of the dog, or due to a lack of research before making the decision of taking in a new dog, or as a result of a combination of factors. The best way to become responsible for a dog is to consider those factors and to be in a stable enough situation that allows you to make a long term commitment, thus preventing the shelter dog population from increasing. However, many of us live in a fast moving world and being able to make a 15 year commitment of caring for a dog might not be an option.
This could be the case for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: you might be going overseas for a few years to fulfill some personal or professional goal, you might consider that becoming a parent in a few years’ time will be incompatible with owning a dog, you might want to relocate to a place where living with a dog is not possible, or you might have a health-related reason.
In this small text I will go over a few options for those of you who still want to experience the pleasure of sharing your life with a dog, but that for some reason find it more prudent to not make a long term commitment. Dogs are obviously not disposable objects so you have to make sure that if for some unforeseen reason plan A does not work, you will be able to find an adequate alternative plan B. Here are a few options with respective pros and cons.
Raising a dog for an Institution that places them with people living with an impairment (blind, autistic, etc.)
Many Institutions place their puppies with families to raise them until they reach an age when they are brought back to the Institution for more serious training and testing, specifically directed at the dogs’ future job. For this purpose, you can apply to become a puppy raiser.
· You get to be responsible for a dog for 1-2 years;
· You will be helping a very noble cause;
· Labradors, Goldens and other working breeds are usually the option and these breeds are typically easy to train;
· You get to bring your puppy with you inside stores, on the bus/tram and other options where pet dogs are not allowed in;
· The institution that you partner with will provide a lot of support: training, vet care, information, etc.
· You will eventually have to say goodbye to the dog at a moment in time in which your bond will be very strong;
· Labradors, Goldens and other working breeds might shed a lot;
· You might have to stick to a schedule (e.g. you may have to be at a certain place every Saturday for training class);
· If you have an extremely busy schedule it will be very difficult to offer the puppy the necessary socialization;
· This option is not available everywhere (easier in big cities).
Adopting an older dog
Shelters and animal rescues are packed with dogs from all ages and backgrounds. Young adults and puppies are usually easier to place in new homes, but adopting an older dog could be a great option.
· You are helping a dog with lower chances of being adopted (puppies are more popular);
· Older dogs are usually less time and attention demanding than puppies or young adults (older dogs sleep a lot);
· If you are very busy, a low energy person, or not outgoing, an older dog could be a great match.
· If you adopt a 11-13 year old dog you will soon have to undergo the emotional roller coaster of witnessing his/her demise;
· Older dogs are still highly trainable, but there are limitations (e.g. if you want a dog to do agility with this is not a good option);
· You might face increased veterinary bills.
With so many dogs in need of a home, many shelters and animal rescue organizations are at maximum capacity. Many of these will happily place the dogs in temporary families until they find them a new permanent family.
· You will be helping the dog to find a loving home;
· You will be helping the animal rescue organization stay alive by cutting some of their expenses;
· If you do this often you may get to know the personality of several different dogs;
· It is a joy to find these dogs a loving family.
· Sometimes, you might only get to keep the dog for an extremely short period of time;
· It might be emotionally demanding to say goodbye to the dog;
· Some of these dogs can have some behavioral baggage;
· You might take in a dog that takes very long to get adopted and that will mean that you have to adapt your original plan.
Pet siting has become very popular over the past few decades, especially in developed countries. In some places this is mostly taken as a hobby while in others it is a professionally competitive market. Whether you want to do it as a part-time occupation for family, friends and neighbors or as a professional endeavor, this is also a good option to share your life with dogs without the long-term commitment.
· You get to meet lots of different dogs;
· You do not have any financial obligations towards the dog;
· If you are doing it professionally you will get paid to do this;
· You do not get too emotionally attached to any of the individual dogs that you pet sit.
· Sharing time with dogs will depend on the dog owners’ needs and not yours;
· There might be scheduling constraints;
· If you decide to do this professionally there will be a lot of responsibility on your hands.
I hope that I have presented some helpful points, especially for those of you considering sharing your lives with dogs on a non-permanent basis. I think that it is our responsibility to determine if we can keep a dog for 15 years or if a more short or medium-term solution is more appropriate. This reflects my opinion today and I am sure that when I look at this text a few months from now I will want to change a few things, but that is the beauty of animal behavior: it is always changing and at a given point you can only click and reward what is happening at that moment in time.