Yesterday I was out for coffee with a new friend who I met through my favorite business networking group. Of course, as a dog lifestyle blogger and lifelong dog lover, I tend to bond with other dog lovers. During our conversation, my friend and I talked about her adult age son and his dog, who is an integral part of his life. She talked about what an amazing job he has done training his dog, and said that any worries that she had when he was a young man taking on this lifetime responsibility of dog ownership have since fallen to the wayside because of his unwavering commitment to his canine companion.
As you know, one of the goals of this blog and my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner, is to help dog owners be forever owners to their dogs before the dog is in a situation in which it is going to be surrendered. And so I could understand the concern that a parent would feel when their son, who was still getting established and settled as an adult, decided to become a dog owner.
After we parted ways and I started my drive home, I thought about this young man and his dog, and all of the things that I have written about preparing for the responsibility of owning a dog. Things like making sure that you are financially ready, that you are prepared for big life events like moving or getting married or having a baby, and also planning for unexpected things that might put a dog’s position in their home in jeopardy. All of that advice comes with the overlying theme of making sure dog owners understand that dogs are for life.
The concept of pivoting has become a trendy thing in the business world and describes what you do when you realize one strategy is not working and you change your path and your plan. Of course, I also cannot think about the word pivot without thinking of that now-classic episode of Friends in which Ross and friends tried so very hard to get an oversized sofa up the stairs to his apartment. And really, when you think about that episode of Friends, they were doing the same thing, trying a new strategy when the first one failed.
I started thinking that successful dog ownership for the lifetime of your dog is not so much a result of having everything planned out and perfect, but really the result of people who are willing to sacrifice, make changes, and problem solve. In other words, they pivot and find a new solution that keeps their dog with them. Forever dog owners do not necessarily have lives that are more perfect or less problematic. They do not have an endless source of cash or the perfect dog owner lifestyle. They simply make sure that the changes that happen in life still include their dog.
The fact is that this is really how I have been successful at keeping my own dogs with me through good times and bad. When I adopted my late Labrador Retriever Babe, I was in my late 20s. I was living with a longterm boyfriend in a soon to become an on-off relationship, we rented a small apartment that had a tiny un-fenced yard, and my income came entirely from a waitressing job and the tips I earned. My car was an old Honda Accord with well over 150,000 miles on it, I didn’t even have health insurance for myself, and while I knew that none of that was the lifestyle I wanted to keep, it was the lifestyle that I had when my Dad called me and said, “It’s too bad you cannot have a dog, my friend has the perfect one for you that he is trying to re-home for his neighbors!”
Even though my landlord had said that he did not allow dogs, I called him anyway and presented my case. I had grown up with dogs and had a lot of experience with them, this was a grown dog, not a puppy, I had been a model tenant for several years, and I would happily put down a deposit. He said yes, and I went to meet Babe.
I fell in love with her right away, she was beautiful inside and out with a classic Labrador personality and a tail that started wagging her entire body the moment she set eyes on you. At one point I stepped into a hole that she had dug and I fell backward onto the ground. She ran straight for me, tackled me further onto the ground, and licked my entire face with slobbery kisses. I was ready to take her home with me right then and there but told my dad’s friend that I needed 24 hours to just make sure that I was really, truly ready for dog ownership.
Once I got home I started to obsess. I knew I could afford everyday things like shots, food, toys, but what if she needed something more? What if she got sick or hurt? What if I had to move? Could I find another dog-friendly place for a 90 pound Labrador Retriever? What if she was unruly and destroyed the entire place? What if she wasn’t house trained? What if, what if, what if, what if?
24 hours turned into 48 and 72. A week went by and my Dad called me to tell me that his friend really needed an answer. He had been fostering the dog for an elderly couple that had gone through unexpected medical issues and really was ready to find a home for her.
Finally, I decided to take her on a trial basis. Once she was in my house for ten minutes, though, I knew there was not going to be a trial run. I knew she was mine for life, and she lived with me as my best friend and constant companion until she was fourteen years old and I had to help her to the Rainbow Bridge.
During those twelve years together, a lot of those what-if situations that I feared did indeed happen. There was a potential ACL injury at a time when finances were spread thin. A week of anti-inflammatories and rest healed her and we avoided surgery. I became single, moved to another state, and had exactly 2 options within a 20-mile radius of my office for housing with a 90-pound dog, both of which would push my budget to the limit. I chose the one with the shortest commute and for 6 months I lived very simply and cut out a lot of extras until I earned a promotion and a raise. My first summer in that same apartment, I had to work 60 hour weeks for the entire summer on an important project, which meant Babe was home alone for very long days, so I had to find dog sitters for midday potty breaks and to feed her her supper, and when I was not working I dedicated 100% of that time to her instead of doing social things like trying to meet human friends or going out with coworkers. It was not always easy, and sometimes I lived off of a lot of peanut butter and jelly, but we made it through and she was always happy and healthy.
I see so many situations on social media where someone needs a new home for their dog because they had a baby, got a new job, have to move. I try not to judge these people, as I do not know their entire situations, but I also cannot help but try to offer up suggestions and ways that they might pivot and change tactics or mindsets to help them keep their dogs. Some of them do not want the advice because they just do not have that forever dog mindset, that understanding that your dog is a non-negotiable part of life together. Others do find the advice helpful and find ways to keep their dog through creative problem solving and utilizing people like dog trainers or pet sitters.
And those of us who want to help? We keep pivoting and changing our message to try to reach out to the dog owners who might be struggling but who in their hearts know that they, too, can be forever owners to their dogs.