You Don’t Need to Buy a House…or a Dog

DogsTwo weeks ago, our neighbors announced they were moving and proceeded to list a leather couch, some knickknacks, and their adult cat on our neighborhood social networking site. They wanted money for the furniture. The cat? They’d give that away for free. In the fourteen days that have passed, they’ve everything is taken…except the twelve-year-old cat.

When I see people post on Facebook that they have “puppy fever” or will “just die” if they don’t get a kitten, I can’t help but cringe. It has nothing to do with a dislike for animals. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. I love animals. I just can’t afford one – not because we don’t have the money, but because we don’t have the time.

Here’s the thing: there are lots of things that are peddled to people as part of the American Dream. A house, a nice car, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and Fido. If you’re going to call into question the American Dream, don’t forget the pets. No one has to have a pet. Wants are different than needs. And I know far too many people who get so caught up in the premise of what they’re told they want, want they’re told they need, that they don’t think through the decision for themselves.

Sure, adopting animals is a selfless thing to do — if you can actually give them a better life. Not everyone can. Finances are part of the equation, but I’d argue that time is an equally important consideration. In thirty years, I can tell you that I’ve never gone to a zoo or an aquarium with my dad. With my mom, yes. On school field trips, of course. But my dad firmly toes the line: “Animals don’t belong in cages.” While that may be extreme* — especially given the fact PETA activist he is not — there is some truth to that statement.

Virtually every homeowner in my neighborhood also owns at least one dog. Our next-door neighbors own three. On a typical day, they are away from home for twelve hours. Sometimes longer. They have no dog walker, but proudly joke that “the dogs don’t shit in the house too often”. When they are home, they don’t walk their dogs. Instead, they have a fenced-in yard, and they let the dogs out for twenty minutes or so each night. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. These fifty-plus pound retriever/shepherd dogs spend exactly 1.3% of their time outside. That’s it. The real issue is that these neighbors are not some weird anomaly. Many people in my neighborhood work 8-, 10-, or 12-hour days, and their dogs spend most of their time in houses, if not in crates in houses.

For every dog in my neighborhood that rarely sees the light of day, I am confident there are plenty of well-loved pets who enjoy long walks and fresh air every day. I’m confident that there are a handful of other people who employ dog walkers or doggie daycare services. I’m not saying no one should own animals. If you have the time, the money, and the heart, I’m all for pet ownership.

What I am saying is no one should feel obligated to get one. If the American dream of a home and white picket fence is might actually be an  illusion, it is possible that Fido is as well. Not everyone needs to own a home. Not everyone needs to own a pet. The pressure can be ferocious. There are conversations when Mr. P and I listen to people  imply that we would be unfit parents because we haven’t tried our hands at raising a dog first.

“You can’t have kids without a trial run first,” one friend joked recently. But you know what? We’re not caving. As an alternative, we donate regularly to shelters, visit and help with shelter pets occasionally*, and gladly volunteer to dogsit for friends and family. We get our puppy fix while still honoring what we can afford. Because when you pick out an animal, it isn’t just about how you spend your money, it’s how you spend your time.

*They know we’re not looking to adopt, just to give the animals some exercise.

So Tell Me…Do people you know anyone who has mistakenly given into pet ownership? Can you think of any other way for me to get my puppy fix without actually adopting one?

You Don’t Need to Buy a House…or a Dog

25 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to Buy a House…or a Dog

  1. “There are conversations when Mr. P and I listen to people imply that we would be unfit parents because we haven’t tried our hands at raising a dog first.”

    UM. OK. The world cannot have it both ways that a) this sentence is even a true thing that happened and b) parents still get offended when I compare my dog to their kids.

    I’m mostly joking, but what is *wrong* with people?! Even as a self-professed crazy dog lady, I do technically see the difference between a dog and a child. For one thing, people frown on it if you leave your child in a crate when you go to work (whereas I will say that if dogs are properly trained it can actually be safer and less stressful for them to spend that time in their crate during the day. Pending all the walks and love when you’re around, of course!)

    Sigh. I love this post and it’s the hands-down best “You don’t need a dog” post that also appeals to me 100% as a crazy dog lady. I’m sad that it had to be said, and especially sad for that poor cat, but man. Great post.

    1. I completely agree that crates can become a pet’s happy place. My husband’s parents have a dog that loves to chill in his crate when company is over. They leave the door open and it’s his own little hideaway. But to leave them locked up all day and never let them outside makes my heart hurt. Last summer, our neighbors’ dogs jumped through the screen in the window to get out, tearing a huge hole in it and bending the frame. I was so proud of those pups 😉

  2. This really makes me crazy. When you get a pet, you commit to that animal for life! My fourteen-year-old dog is blind and deaf, but I would never abandon him. Not for a million dollars.

    I do feel bad when pets are crated all day, but it’s fine as people as people let their pets exercise when they’re home. Weird thing, our next-door neighbors have four giant golden retrievers that we almost never see. They live indoors. I bet those dogs only go out once or twice per day.

    I don’t feel too bad for them, though. Their owners are home with them all day, so they aren’t alone or crated up. I think they just lay around on couches all day.

    1. As long as the dogs are really that chill and are getting attention, I think that’s great! Sadly, most people in our neighborhood work away from home. Our neighbors’ dogs are really loud and aggressive when they’re outside, and I imagine part of that is because they’re never outside and can never burn off any of their energy. It makes me really frustrated. Totally not the dogs’ fault.

  3. Kim from Philadelphia says:

    Love your blog (though I don’t always comment).
    Great article. Sadly, I have a friend whose kids “needed” a dog. Bought a puppy from a breeder. The dog was out of the house one year later. “We just didn’t have time”. Mom worked part time, kids were preteen age; totally old enough to help out. Oh yes, 17 years ago when they were engaged the same thing happened. They got rid of that dog, too.

    I’m an animal lover. We gave 2 rescue pets (dog and cat) and most of my exercise is waking our dog. It’s inly fair to him, and no matter the weather he gets his exercise.
    In addition, part of the responsibility includes monthly heartworm/flea and tick medication, good quality food, regular vet care and shots…as well as making sure your pet is spayed or neutered!!

    Don’t friggin get a pet if you cannot take care of it properly!

    I won’t even get started on “buying” dogs from breeders when shelters and rescues are filled with great pets. I just don’t understand that one.

    Thanks for writing about this

    1. Glad you chimed in, Kim. I had waited on this post for a little bit, but last night a friend flipped out on FB, insisting it was too expensive to have her dog spayed. When others started supporting her, I came over here and clicked post! 🙂

  4. As an owner of two beautiful rescued dogs, I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many people insist on owning a dog. I understand the companionship part of this. Yes, they are cute. They are fun to play with. I get all that. But they are also living and breathing entities that are entirely indebted into your care. These creatures should never be some “trial kids” setup. If you can’t handle kids, you probably won’t be able to handle a pet. It’s that simple.

    In fact, even thinking about it this way is probably an indication that you should never, under any circumstances, accept the responsibility of bearing and raising a child. God help that child.

    1. It’s so confusing to me, too! When I walk around my neighborhood and see all these new dogs appearing (300+ houses in my subdivision; I’d wager less than 50 are dogless), I can’t help but wonder if people are even thinking. It’s almost like they’re operating on a checklist – bought a house, check; bought a dog; check.

  5. I wanted to get a dog, and worked with a rescue that made me take a nice boxer on a temporary basis before placement. That was a great idea, because after a few days I realized I did not have the time available that the dog needed and that it was not fair for him to be in a crate (no matter how huge) most of the day, and my work schedule wasn’t going to permit anything else.

    I’m in a different place now, and I think the three of us could handle a dog much better than I could on my own. But I still like the idea of a trial before placement to make sure that the dogs and the owners fit.

    1. Trials would be a great idea. Unfortunately, I know a handful of people that treat pet adoption as a trial even if it isn’t intended to be one. One friend in particular has given back two adopted dogs…and still adopts others!

  6. “You can’t have kids without a trial run first”
    This drives me nuts, because I know more than a few couples who get a dog, have a great time with it, then have a kid and the dog suddenly gets ignored, left in the backyard, or worse, taken to the SPCA.

    Dogs are not kids, dogs are not a trial run. Only get a dog if you really enjoy having a dog, because guess what? The dog is still going to be there when you have a kid! You’re still responsible for walking it, bathing it, and giving it affection on a day-to-day basis!

    Clearly, I’m a dog person. I have one dog and two cats in a two-bedroom apartment, and you’d better believe I’m not the kind of person who walks her dog for five minutes a day!

    1. Jordann, your pets are lucky to have you! A dog few houses down from us is totally ignore now that the couple had two babies two years in a row. They used to take the dog out to play. Now it sits inside and cries while they take the toddlers out in the yard.

  7. PREACH. It’s not only that society thinks having a home and a dog are the American Dream, but they also think you’re crazy if you don’t want that.

    I am not an animal person, and I feel like I sometimes am judged for not wanting a pet in my house. My comeback in those situations is just what you lay out in this post – I simply don’t have time for one, and it’s not fair to the animal to be stuck inside alone all day. I am sometimes gone for 12-13 hours during the workweek and am gone at least one weekend every month. Heck, in March I was gone for 3 weekends straight.

    I feel like I already have a lot on my plate as it is, and owning an animal is a HUGE responsibility that I don’t want to make the time for. Selfish of me? Maybe, but hey, it’s honest.

    And as for the person who said a dog is a practice run to having kids? Well, it’s amazing any of us are here considering a majority of our ancestors didn’t own pets either. Glad you addressed this topic – good stuff!

    1. Thanks, Brittney. We get the side eye from people for being dogless, as well. I truly love dogs, but there’s no way we can be home enough with clubs before school and coaching/tutoring after. And I actually think it would be selfish of you to get a pet that you don’t have time for…not the other way around 🙂

  8. I agree completely. I have seen people get pets who couldn’t afford them financially, others who couldn’t afford them time-wise, and yet others who couldn’t really afford them space-wise. Getting a pet shouldn’t be about your daily dose of cuteness and entertainment, and certainly not about making a trial run. They are living, feeling creatures who deserve a certain standard of living…if you can’t provide for their needs, you shouldn’t get them, period. Once in a while my wife and I talk about a pet, but it’s just talk because we know that’s really not right for our situation and wouldn’t be fair to the pet.

    1. Oh and I forgot to mention, there are several apps (like Bark N Borrow) where dog parents, dog sitters, and dog playmates (human ones) can sign up and you can make arrangements to play with someone’s dog or take them for a walk. That might be another idea for your puppy fix, although I think taking shelter animals out for a walk is a great solution for you and for them!

  9. I found myself nodding while reading this article. I couldn’t agree more! I rescued a poodle while I was in graduate school. I wanted a bigger dog but didn’t get one because I lived in a small apartment and it wouldn’t be fair. Since I was in graduate school I had a flexible schedule and spent a lot of time with my dog both on walks and in the apartment.

    When I got my first job I was going to be away from the house for 10+ hours a day. I knew that wouldn’t be fair so I had 2 options find Patti another home or figure something out. I ended up taking Patti to daycare Every Single Workday for 5+ years. Sooo expensive but it was the right thing to do for her. Once Steve got a work from home job we stopped putting our then 2 dogs in daycare since they go on walks and hangout with their dad all day. That’s the life!

    I had a lot of people tell me how jealous they were that I had a dog those first few working years. My advice was to NOT get one. The hours we worked did not equate to being a good dog owner, and going out with friends after work was not an option. I successfully talked a number of people out of getting a dog. Some later got one when their life settled.

    We’ve rescued both of our dogs and wouldn’t change a thing but it IS and SHOULD BE a Huge Responsibility. No one needs a dog and no one should get one without knowing what SHOULD BE expected of them.

    Thank you for writing on this important but often overlooked issue!

  10. Perfectly put Penny! I love pets, especially cats, but between the expense and not being able to take trips at the drop of a hat, I’d rather be pet-free. I’m sorry if that makes others unhappy, but they don’t live my life and I don’t live theirs. 🙂

  11. Morgen says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said here… but disagree with something that has come out in comments.

    I do not particularly like dogs and would not be able to have one in my home regardless because I do not have the time or energy. However, I adore cats. Cats, cats, cats for the win! … But I still do not own a cat. About 10 years ago I had to let my cat go to a shelter because I was borderline homeless and could not afford food for either her or for myself. It ripped me apart.

    Financially, I’ve recovered. Emotionally, I may never own a pet again. Whenever I consider getting a nice sibling pair from the shelter I remember the phrases about ‘forever home’ and because I cannot guarantee that I will always be able to support a pet, I do not get one. Those of us who are in the same position, unwilling to guarantee something that cannot be guaranteed, are often deterred from adopting. I often think though that it would be better for 100,000 pets to find homes that will only last 3, 4, 5 years then not to find homes at all. 🙁

  12. Great post. I love when you take a stand. That comment about not spaying because of the cost… I don’t even know the adjective! Neglectful? Short-sighted? Asinine?

    I have so many comments. I’ll limit myself to like 3.

    Some pet owners don’t realize how these pets will truly affect their lives until they’re in the thick of it. My parents became first-time dog owners at age ~6o and they opted to get not one but two puppies of the largest breed in the world. WTF? They can’t leave the house for more than a couple hours. Visiting me across the country is out of the question because the boarder bill would be huge. They’ve shelled out tons in vet care, too. Thankfully, they have the money and spend on the dogs happily (spoiled pups!). But, I’m not sure they realized how much of a toll it would have on their social life.

    Don’t get a pet if you travel a bunch. My former best friend made me dogsit for her for 6 weeks while she went on a cross-country roadtrip. We were best friends and I dogsat without pay, but by the end, I was resentful that she imposed this on me a little presumptuously. (She said yes to the trip first, then asked if I’d do it… guilt trip!). Just because YOU love your pet, that doesn’t mean everyone else loves them that much.

    My father-in-law is really poor but has a poodle. I got really upset when I heard him say last week that it was time to take the dog to the groomer again because last time, “They said I waited too long between appointments and they had to shave his hair off.” You have a f’ing poodle. You have to see that it gets groomed regularly because matting can be painful. Wake up. If you can’t afford the care, don’t get the pet!

    I’m holding out on pet ownership for a while longer, if at all.

  13. I think volunteering to walk dogs at the shelter is the perfect way to get your puppy fix! I do it even though I have dogs at home because I’m a little allergic to dogs, and that way can still hang out with big dogs without bringing home their fur and dander. (We have tiny dogs with short coats, which bother me a whole lot less.) And I agree — not everyone should be a pet parent. When I hear about people giving away pets, I get pretty angry, actually. Anyone who can treat a living creature that capriciously is in serious need of a come to Jesus moment. A pet should be treated as a member of your family, and if you can’t offer that commitment, then you shouldn’t adopt them in the first place. If only puppies and kittens weren’t so cute, we probably wouldn’t have so many people giving up pets later on, after they’re past the super cute stage! 🙂

  14. Kenny started asking for a puppy recently (one of his buddies has a dog), but I am firmly in the no pets camp. I can manage taking care of children, but I gain no happiness from being around animals. I think it’s much better for companion animals to have loving owners which means, not me!

  15. Jo says:

    My partner and I have just moved in together… I have a nine year old daughter, and he has 2 German Shepards. Until he moved in, I was a single mother on a budget, getting by on a simple and somewhat frugal lifestyle, and he was a bachelor earning six figures- the financial expense that comes with the dogs is insane. Grooming, food (oh my gosh- so much food), and hiring a teenager who lives down the road to walk them twice a week (for my sanity), combined with the time cost- walking, grooming, the extra vacuuming of the house, running a lint roller over my clothes every single time I leave the house… I have essentially lost almost two hours each day.

    I work full-time, doing the 9-5 Monday – Friday, he works away on a two weeks onsite, one week home roster.

    This leaves me with two big dogs, a child to raise, a home to maintain, a job to invest in, and a partner who does what he can and means well- but just isn’t physically available for two out of three weeks. This is all new to me (I’ve had a fish- once), and am seriously questioning my sanity…

    And having a child and raising her own my own for nine years, and then having two dogs- one is definitely not a practice run for the other in either form, I totally agree with you there!

    P.S. I’m LOVING your blog. I found it today through Pinterest and have begun to follow xx

    1. Wow! You have your work cut out for you. This opens my eyes even more to the issue of having time for pets. Thanks for sharing. So glad you found the blog! <3

  16. This hits me square in the gut. I love dogs, but I know that I don’t have the lifestyle for them. I don’t have the spare money or time a dog deserves right now. I get my fix by dog-sitting and asking strangers if I can pet their beloved dogs.

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