I Want to Get a Dog: Part One

Over the last thirty years, as I have changed professions from veterinary technician to lawyer, I have been receiving the same phone call (or now, email), asking for advice on getting a dog. It is a big deal because the human is committing to an animal with a life span of 13- 18 years (those are my numbers). That translates to almost two decades of expenses such as food, medicine, toys, and of narrowing options for housing, relationships, job choices. It is also two decades of loyalty, joyous greetings whenever you return home, of babe or dude magnetism, and a humorous, comfortable home.

In rendering advise, the first issue to address is do you want a puppy or an adult dog. This blog will address only that question. Subsequent blogs will address selection of breeds, size, function, etc.

In my experience it is not true that an adult dog is unable to adapt to a new home. There may be a period of patient readjustment for both owner and animal but older animals are usually housebroken, non destructive, and acclimated to the working persons schedule.

I adopted my first dog from the MSPCA (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) about 20 minutes before he was to be euthanized because he had not been adopted during the period allocated for an animal turned in by its owner. He had been owned by a family of 5 young boys who had lost their home and could not keep him after having him for 5 years. He was totally street wise and knew the back streets of Boston. He would ride the subway, the bus, and in one instance traveled from Somerville to Roxbury faster than I drove the distance (taxi?).

Mr. Bojangles was a shaggy blonde, 30 pound terrier; the original Benji. He was kind and gentle unless he determined you were a bad person and/or planning to hurt someone he needed to protect; he transformed from a cute terrier to an attack machine able to back down both humans and animals twice his size. My friends and I still tell Bojangles stories. I had Bo until he died of cancer at the age of 18 years.

The point is that an experienced dog maybe able to acclimate to your needs better than a puppy. The choice of breed, your age and your life style influence that decision. Some breeds mature at 8 to 15 months of age, but others may still be destructive if left alone at 2 years old or older.

On the other hand, it is wonderful to have a puppy and to watch the transformation from baby to mature companion. Knowing the breed characteristics is helpful to coordinate what you want to what the puppy can provide. Research is your best friend. The American Kennel Club and its affiliated bred specific organizations are a wealth of information. Attending local dog shows to see your breed in action is a wonderful idea. Usually those showing the dog, whether in confirmation, obedience, or field trials, are proud and happy to tell you about the breed.

I have known many a person who saved a puppy stray of unknown origin right off the street, to have a loving companion for many years. It is amazing to see the level of abuse that a puppy will endure and still will be a grateful, loving and protective companion to another human. The human race has a lot to learn.

So first decide whether a puppy or an adult dog is the right option for you. But know that sometimes fate makes that decision for you and if so, whatever your fate you will likely have a companion par excellence.