Monday, September 9, 2013

The Essentials

Recently, Two Pitties in the City asked their readership what they consider "canine essentials" - basically, what do you need to have to be a good dog owner? Now, it's no secret that I am a horrible, horrible dog gear junkie. I love dog stuff, and I'm much more likely to buy pretty things for my dogs than for myself (although I'd argue that buying pretty things for the dogs is very much like buying pretty things for myself). But after three years of working with Minneapolis and St. Paul's poorest dog owners, I've taken a more minimalist view of what is really needed to be a good dog owner . . .

1.) Purchase price: Probably the first price a new dog owner will pay is, of course, the purchase price of the dog (unless, you know, you do your research and buy supplies and whatnot before you get your dog, but who does that?). Generally speaking, the cheaper the dog is to buy, the more expensive that dog will be later on. You can get a German Shepard for $100 from the newspaper, but chances are that her hips will fall off in a year or two. You can get a dog for $50 from some shelters, but I wouldn't count on it being spayed or neutered or even up to date on its shots. That free puppy from your neighbor? Not so free when you have to count in the cost of vet care and supplies and equipment everything else that goes along with dog ownership.

"I am an f!ing expensive dog, but it's okay because I look like an alien."

2.) One time purchases: This is stuff that you'll buy once or maybe twice during the life of your dog, and it varies a bit from dog to dog. One item that won't vary is a good collar, leash, and ID tag. These three items aren't expensive (unless you want them to be), but as preventative items, they're worth their weight in gold. After that, this item list gets a little hazy. For example, the dog trainer in me says that you should get a crate, because crates are awesome tools for training and management, but what if your dog is an only pup and doesn't chew on inappropriate stuff? There are three dogs in my house right now who aren't crated on a regular basis, and they manage just fine (note: they're all separate when unsupervised, I don't want to come home to the aftermath of a dog fight, they're just not crated). Another example of home-specific purchases would be the fenced yard so many rescues seem to require. What if you live in an apartment, but you're really physically active and hike and run and everything? There are a lot of things that could fit into this category, but I think collar, leash, and ID are the big ones.

3.) Food, water, shelter: Food is a tricky one, and an issue it seems that everyone has an opinion on. When it comes down to it, I don't care what you are feeding your dogs as long as the dog is being fed consistently and its major nutritional needs are being met. You can have a good home and not feed raw or grain-free or super fancy. Your dog probably doesn't even care if the food is in a bowl. Clean water should probably be from a bowl, though. As for shelter, well, provide adequate shelter so that your dog is suffering from neither the elements nor loneliness.

4.) Routine health care: Core vaccines are cheaper than treatment for the diseases they prevent - if not in actual cost, then in heartache. It doesn't matter to me if you go to an exclusive private veterinarian or a low-cost shots fair: get 'em done. I'm also an advocate of yearly vet exams, but do I think you absolutely need to have them done in order to be a good dog owner? I suspect not. Heartworm and parasite preventative is usually a good idea, but I also understand why you might not want to put poison in or on your dog. Which brings up another subject: it's pretty easy the say that your should have enough money for routine vet care, but anyone who has owned a dog knows that they rarely need "just the basics" when it comes to healthcare. What is the minimum amount of money you should have in your bank account to provide for emergencies and unanticipated vet bills? The number I like the most is that you should have on hand the amount of money it would cost to have your dog euthanized. If you don't have the $1000 + dollars required for bloat surgery, at least have enough money to be able to end your dog's suffering humanely. Being poor doesn't mean you're a bad dog owner; it just means that you'll have more difficult decisions.

5.) Give a damn: When I look at the dogs around me, in classes or at shots fairs, I see a rather simple trend: dogs that are happy have people who care about them. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule (*cough*Maus*cough*), but in general, the dogs who seem to be enjoying life the most are the ones who have people to enjoy it with. The dogs don't necessarily need someone to love them. I've had plenty of fosters through my doors that I didn't love like mine own, and their quality of life didn't suffer for it. But if you care about your dogs, you do simple things like spend time with them, and work with them, and feed them, and try to make sure they don't play in the street. People who don't care about their dogs - well, I'll spare you the horror stories, but it's never pretty. Even if someone isn't caring for their dog properly, if they care about the dog, they'll try to change. We have someplace in common to start from. And that will go a long way.

So that's my list of essential items needed to be a good dog owner. What are some things you think are important to being a good owner to your dogs?

1 comment:

  1. Exercise. Tired dogs are happy dogs. The pack across the street never leaves the yard, and the desperate crazy swirls around them like a fog.