Dog ownership: Are you ready or not?

Staff reports Updated: February 11, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 11, 2013

The letter asking for a dog was written in the curvy, careful handwriting of a grammar-school girl wanting to make an impression. Crumpled drafts were on the floor of her room, explorations of different arguments to press her case. In the end, my daughter used them all.

And she ended the letter with emotion, signing it “with love and hope.”

Hope? How can a mother reject hope?

Still, it’s been 30 years since I’ve had a dog, our yard isn’t fenced and I thought my potty-training days were over.

How do you know if you are ready for dog ownership?

Experts say you need to examine your lifestyle, living arrangements and finances. Then, you need to find the right match.

“There is a home for every dog, but every home is not right for every dog,” said Kim Saunders, vice president of operations and communications for St. Hubert’s of Madison, N.J., which has two animal shelters and a dog-training center.

When deciding whether to get a dog, everyone in the household should be comfortable with the idea, experts say.

Once the entire family is on board, it’s important to decide who the primary caregiver will be — the person responsible for feeding, walking, training, exercising and enriching the dog.

The cuteness of puppies is hard to resist. But with that charm comes a big time commitment for housetraining, socialization and playing.

Dr. Meghan Herron, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences and head of the behavioral medicine clinic at Ohio State University, recommends puppy classes, where these young dogs are exposed to things they will see as adults — things that move, things that make noise, obstacles and more — so they won’t be afraid of them later.

“A novelty to an animal is potentially dangerous,” she said. “If we show it to them as a puppy, it’s not a novelty.”

Should the size of your living space be a concern?

Buchwald of the ASPCA said no. Dogs need exercise and enrichment, not big houses.

A fenced-in yard also isn’t necessary, according to Saunders of St. Hubert’s, who wrote “The Adopted Dog Bible” for Petfinder .com.

Some communities, however, have laws about how many pets you can have in your home, and landlords may have restrictions. Moreover, potential dog-owners should check their homeowner’s insurance to see whether coverage allows a dog or a particular breed of dog.

The cost of owning a dog, from food to medical care, can add up.

The ASPCA estimates the minimal cost of humane care in a dog’s first year to be $1,314 for a small dog, $1,843 for a large dog.

As for my daughter’s desire for a dog, I’m not quite ready. But her request has brought back wonderful childhood memories of our beloved golden retriever, who roamed the wooded area of our neighborhood and returned home when she heard us whistle.

If only dog care were still that easy.

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