Is the bar too high for dog lovers?

20:00, Jul 30 2014

If you want to adopt a dog, then be ready to face scrutiny. Be ready to fill out forms that ask you about your work, your lifestyle, your exercise habits and what kind of fences you have.

 Having a dog is fun. But it's a life-changer.
Fair enough, many people say. A dog has certain needs that you can't ignore if you want the dog to be healthy and the people around it safe. It needs a good home and a good owner. Negligent owners produce flawed and sometimes dangerous dogs.

But does that mean that dog ownership should be seen as an exclusive club, the preserve of those who happen to tick every box on those bureaucratic forms? There need to be rules, sure, but is it possible those rules and requirements sometimes come laced with judgmentalism?

A blog reader, let's call her Milly, raised those issues in an email she sent me. She says she has inquired about adopting a dog, and been daunted by the tough questions she's been asked. She hasn't felt ready, yet, to put through an adoption application form.

Here's what Milly said.

"I consider myself to be responsible, well adjusted, financially secure. My husband and I own our own home, have no children and two spoilt cats. Plenty of our friends have dogs and despair at my procrastinating about adopting a dog. Just get a dog, they say. You don't know what you're missing, they say. The cats will adapt - honest, they say. You'll be great parents, they say. A dog would be lucky to live with you, they say. We started to believe them. Get a rescue dog, they say. Save a life, they said. I thought that would be a great idea. 


"Until it came time to deal with the people who hold 'the dog leads', shall we say. 

"We work fulltime. Both of us. That's how we afford our own home. Of course the tradeoff is that we aren't home during the day. First big cross. Automatically, whether intentional or not, you are made to feel unworthy.

"Nearly everyone I know who owns a dog works fulltime. By all accounts I'm not aware that their dogs have huge behavioural issues. Don't get me wrong, they have chewed their fair share of shoes and dug the occasional hole, but I also know someone whose puppy ate a hole in the carpet while her parents were sitting in the lounge with it watching TV. 

"'Where will the dog be during the day?' Outside. Second big cross. You can just hear it in their tone. Condemnation.

"'Where will it sleep at night?'  Well, depends on the dog and the weather. Maybe outside in its kennel, or maybe on a mat in the lounge. I don't know, it depends on the dog. 'Oh well, our preference is that the dog sleeps inside.' I sigh. My preference is to live in a brand new, palatial house, but I've adapted.

"'We will have to do a site inspection.'  No problem.  'We need to make sure there are no rose bushes or sharp objects that could injure the dog.'  In my head I'm thinking, is the dog blind? Do I have to ensure my backyard is CYFS approved for toddlers to ensure it is suitable for a dog?

"Apparently dogs can no longer cope with being home on their own during the day. Nor can they cope with being outside. Maybe if I provided a fully insulated, double-glazed kennel with Sky TV, committed to Doggie Daycare two or three times a week and provided a contingency plan should the daycare close, I might just get it across the line.

"I appreciate that the holders of 'the dog leads' are trying to ensure the best home is found for every dog. But quite frankly I don't think I can live up to the expectations or deliver on the requirements that these people have. Should I just tell them what they want to hear and be done with it?  

"In actual fact, what I'm offering is a home where it will be loved. It will be fed and watered. It will be sheltered and it will never have to worry about being cast away 'because our circumstances change' or 'because our landlord won't let us keep it' or 'because it requires more training than we can bothered with'. But apparently those things don't appear to be enough anymore.  

"You know the dog could quite possibly end up sleeping at the foot of our bed (or in front of the fire - because we are one of the lucky few who have a fire and can heat their house in event of a power cut). It could be in day care three times a week to ensure it's not lonely. If $8000 was needed for some horrendous vet bill, the funds would be found. It will be provided the best food. Time will be spent with a dog trainer, for our benefit and the dogs', but as a parent these decisions will be made as and when I see fit.

"I take my hat off to those who have been able to make it through the adoption gauntlet. Maybe I should just find a dog I like, find a reputable breeder, hand over a whole heap of money and take my dog home. From the discussions I've had, they appear to be a more pragmatic in their views of how a dog fits into a family."


I'm keen to hear your views on what Milly says.

Here are mine.

  Choosing a puppy from a breeder can be costly.
Having a dog is different from not having a dog. Having a dog doesn't fit your lifestyle, it changes it. You have to plan for dog ownership and you have to take it as a commitment of a decade or more.  

There are rules you have to follow, such as keeping your dog registered and under control and not subjecting it to cruelty. These are fair burdens and most people are happy to bear them (it's the people who don't who cause most of the problems). The state and local councils, I'm glad to say, don't get too far into legislating the quality of dog ownership; they don't pass bylaws requiring that puppies get to sleep on mum's bed. Dog owners have a lot of freedom about how they raise and train and live with their dogs, and that's as it should be.

But this is where welfare groups come in as promoters and, if you like, enforcers of good dog ownership. These groups can help educate and encourage would-be owners to do what's best for the dog, rather than what's second best. But mainly, their role is to ensure the wellbeing of the dog. After all, these groups have taken ownership of the pet, often looked after it for a considerable time, and invested money and effort in finding it a home. They're acting primarily for the pet, not for you. They have a right to try to get the best possible home for that pet. They have a right to find out what kind of owner you might be, and to say yes to you, or no.

None of this, though, would excuse arrogance or judgmentalism on the part of welfare groups that adopt pets out. Those groups would soon find themselves short of potential adopters if they were seen in that way. They have to be friendly and encouraging enablers, not rigid bureaucrats. And by most accounts, friendly is what they are.

Milly, you could indeed look around at breeders and choose a puppy under less stringent conditions than welfare groups might impose. (This is what my husband and I did, though not because we worried about adoption procedures.) You might feel more free but, as you note, you'll be paying for that freedom. You'll also be taking on the burden of ensuring that the breeder is reliable and the puppy is in good health. If you follow this route, then I wish you all the best and I hope it works out for the dog and you.

But before doing that, Milly, why not rise to the adoption requirements instead, as much as you can? Don't bristle at the impertinence of people asking questions of you, because you're the one under consideration here, not the dog. Your rights are not paramount. You're the candidate, not the customer. And if you are turned down, consider the possibility that it might not be the right time, yet, for you to have a dog. But put through an application and do your best!

Any other thoughts?

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