Throughout the entirety of high school and the first half of college I worked at a local veterinary hospital. While I made minimum wage and picked up blood and feces for a living, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. However, we would offer our kennel and services to local rescue organizations as a place to house animals who didn’t have foster homes yet. Day in and day out I would see these animals, and some of them would be there for months. There were two dogs who lived in the kennels for almost two years.
Imagine an existence where you spend every single day in a metal cage barely larger than yourself, surrounded by the smell of blood, urine, feces and fear. You get to go outside two times a day, maybe three if it’s sunny. If it’s raining you are only outside for as long as it takes to use the bathroom, and then your handler brings you back in.
These two dogs came from the same home, and part of the reason they weren’t adopted was because they were so attached that it didn’t seem right to separate them. They were two tri-colored beagles named Barney and Ron, and they had been given up for adoption two weeks after their owners graduated from George Mason University.
It’s something I saw a lot. College kids or young adults struck out on their own and, without their parents to say no, adopt a dog or kitten. When they move for their job, the new apartment doesn’t allow pets. Or they have to move back home and mom is allergic to cats. Or suddenly, without the cushion of college life, they realize how staggeringly expensive their animal is to take care of. And then the animal would come to us.
Barney and Ron were the lucky ones. They had been picked up out of our local pound by a rescue organization that would routinely save dogs who were on euthanasia lists. Animals are not put on these lists because they are old or have medical ailments; at many kill shelters, animals are placed on these lists because they have been in the pound facilities for an extended period of time and the pound needs to make more room.
The unfortunate truth that you need to understand is that 2.7 million animals are put down in U.S. shelters every year. That is one pet killed every 11 seconds. That is the pet you just left in
A majority of the animals put in these shelters are put there because their owners didn’t realize how much trouble they would be. They didn’t do research, they didn’t anticipate the costs, and they didn’t think 10 years down the road.
I adopted my best friend from an adoption fair, and it was the singular greatest thing to ever happen to me. I will only ever get animals from rescue organizations or pounds for the rest of my life. But before I adopt, there are things I need to consider.
1. Am I prepared to have this animal in my life for several years to come?
People see animals as a “now” companion. Few consider that dogs can live to be 15 or older, and cats can live to be as old as 25. Adopting a pet is the same time commitment as having a child.
2. Can I afford this animal?
Petfinder has a great breakdown of the estimated costs of owning an animal per year. According to Petfinder’s estimates, the cost of owning an animal for the first year can be anywhere from $766–$10,350. For each subsequent year you own that pet, expenses can be between $526–$9,352. If your dog lives to be 15 years old, a modest estimate is that you will spend at least $8,100 on that animal over the course of its life, excluding medical problems.
3. Can I guarantee pet-friendly housing for the next 10–20 years?
Am I willing to sacrifice nicer living arrangements in order to bring my animal with me? You need to have a conversation with yourself about what happens if you get that nice job across the country and have to move. Can the dog go with you, or will your mom be willing to take it? And if you foresee no available options, are you OK with the knowledge you gave that dog back to a shelter?
4. Can I dedicate time each day to feeding, grooming, playing and letting the dog out?
If you are gone from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m, you need to be prepared to let the dog out when you get home, be it via a walk or in a back yard. Younger dogs cannot go 12 hours without using the bathroom. If you have a puppy, it’s almost like taking care of a baby. You can’t trust a puppy to stay home all day by itself, and crating a puppy for 12 hours will lead to accidents, pent up energy and empty stomachs. This might mean you need to invest in a dog-walker to help you out during the day to put in the energy and time to let the dog out when you can’t be there.
5. Am I prepared to handle pee, feces, possible worms, torn-up possessions, muddy paw prints on white clothing, dog hair, slobber, and the occasional vomit in my bed?
Dogs are gross. I love them, but they are disgusting. And you need to be prepared to handle the less than adorable parts of your new canine friend. Dogs will get sick and go in the house, and sometimes all the training in the world can’t prevent that. As they get older, their teeth can get bad which leads to disgusting breath and rotting teeth. They can go blind, or become incontinent. You need to be prepared to handle this. But it’s a two way street—if you crawled over and puked in their bed, I’m sure they’d be fine with it. Though they might try to eat it.