The very first day I moved to be with my husband Ryan, we went to an animal shelter with the hopes of adopting a puppy. We were doing a lap, looking at all the sweet animals in their cages when I realized Ryan was a few feet back, eyes locked with one particularly excited pup.
Ryan looked up at me with the same puppy eyes as our soon-to-be new family member and begged, “Can we get him, please?” Half an hour later, we were officially first-time dog owners to a deceptively adorable five-month-old black Labrador named Jackson.
Neither of us fully realized the responsibilities that come with owning a puppy. Within a month, Jackson had chewed up our floorboard, ripped apart our rental couch, and had a field day with my bridal magazines. He constantly needed attention, whimpered while I tried to get work done, and he was never satisfied with the lengths of our walks or time playing catch.
Luckily for me, the pros outweighed the cons. Jackson became my best friend, who intuitively knew when I was having a rough day. He kept me company during my five-month long job search and helped me adjust to a sometimes lonely lifestyle. I slowly became attuned to the needs and wants of a dog and took the time to educate myself on how to train one. Six months later, we even adopted a second puppy named Hazel to keep Jackson company, and now neither of us can imagine a life without a couple of fur balls cuddling at the opposite end of the couch.
But that’s not the case for everyone. I’ve seen far too many military spouses post on social media about “rehoming” their dogs and then see those same dogs being rehomed again. Sometimes it’s because the person was blindsided when they realized puppies really do grow up or that there really is a substantial amount of work and money required, and sometimes it’s because the person is moving or having a baby or just doesn’t have the time that an animal as dependent as a dog demands.
I understand circumstances do change, and rehoming is a far better choice than abandoning a dog, but the best option is to fully recognize what you’re committing to before taking in a puppy.
1 | Do you have the money?
Dogs are expensive. They need food (preferably a brand with natural ingredients), vaccinations, flea, tick and heart worm treatments, a training crate, a bed, collars, leashes, toys, and maybe training classes or pet health insurance. Plus, there’s a good chance your pup will end up destroying at least some of the aforementioned items or even your own personal items (e.g., your favorite shoes, your favorite undies, your brand new couch or carpet, etc..)
If you know you and your spouse both work long days, you’ll also have to find a good pet-sitter who can take your dog on walks or out to go potty. And if you like to travel, you might have to find a dog boarder. To date, we’ve spent at least $3,000 on our pups, both of whom we’ve had for less than a year.
If you’re not financially stable, or if there is a chance you won’t be in a year from now, it’s probably not a good time to add a furry friend to your family. And even if you do have money, it’s a smart move to set aside a pet emergency fund just in case. A visit to the pet hospital can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, and you never know when your pup is going to get seriously sick or hurt.
2| Are you starting a family?
First off, you want to make sure your spouse is 100 percent on board with you taking in a dog by asking some important questions. Are you both equally committed to caring for another life? Do you have a schedule for who takes the pup out on walks, feeds them and plays with them? Are you both ready to take the time to train your pup if behavioral issues arise?
And if you’re planning for a family, are you ready to commit the necessary time to helping your dog adjust to living with a baby? There’s a possibility your dog could respond aggressively, and you might need to find a behavior expert or professional dog trainer, both of which can get expensive.
3 | Where and when will you be moving?
Most people have a pretty good idea of where they will be in a year, but that’s not quite the case for military families. If you adopt a dog and then get stationed to another state or even another country, you need to be prepared to deal with moving your dog along with you. Relocating is stressful for your pets too, and you’ll need to devote some extra time to helping your pup settle in their new environment.
However, if you and your spouse are both in the military and have upcoming service commitments, there are resources. Dogs On Deployments provides an online network for you to locate volunteers who are able to board your pets for a limited amount of time.
4 | Do you have the time?
Other than money, your biggest expense when giving a puppy a home is time. Want to sleep in? Too bad. Your dogs will be your personal alarm clock with their whimpers and wet kisses. Can’t wait to get home from work and relax? Well, your dogs will want a nice long walk and attention first. Got plans during the weekend? Better make sure they involve coming home every so often to check on your dog, especially if they’re a puppy.
Suddenly feeling like broke and ridiculously busy? Then there’s no harm in waiting a few years until you do have some extra time. There will still be plenty of puppies who need homes in five months or five years.
5 | Are you prepared to make a life commitment?
There are dozens of other elements to consider when it comes to adopting a dog. What type of breed are you looking for? Do you want an energetic dog? A small one? Is your neighborhood dog friendly? When you adopt a pet, you’re making a life-long commitment, just like you would if you were having or adopting a baby. If it sounds like a lot of responsibility, it’s because it is, so give it a some serious thought before you walk into an animal shelter and fall in love with an adorable, tiny puppy with big eyes and floppy ears like I did.
And remember, if you do have to rehome, make sure you charge an adoption fee. Doing so may keep those with bad intentions from taking in your pup, and the people who can provide a good home won’t be discouraged by a small fee. You don’t need to feel guilty either. Rehoming can be painful, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons, you’re being kind and responsible by helping your pet find its forever family.