Try Before Your Buy: It’s For (Their) Life

Is Your Lifestyle Really Ready for a Pet?

It seems during COVID with the outbreak of everyone being able to work from home, or simply being stuck there, a lot of people decided they should get a dog. Whether this was from loneliness or thinking, hey, now I’m home more I can look after one, the result has been the same. A boom in demand for pedigree dogs.

But it seems for many, the honeymoon is now over and record numbers of dogs are presenting at shelters and pounds (I should note upfront I am based in Sydney, Australia, but there is plenty of evidence to show this is an international phenomenon). Whether this is because people didn’t do the proper research on the correct breed for their circumstances or they just didn’t understand what it really means to take full care of another sentient being, is not clear. The cynic in me whispers we live in a consumption-centric society and maybe pedigree dogs were seen as the latest expensive must-have or spoiling gift for the kids’ latest whim, to be disposed of when the next shiny thing came along.

While I don’t pretend to have a solution for our consume-and-dispose driven society, I would humbly like to put forward some (not exhaustive!) ideas for anyone thinking it’s time they purchased a pooch: some strategies to ensure you 1) fully appreciate what looking after a dog involves and the impacts it will have on your particular lifestyle, and 2) what sort of dog would be the best match for your lifestyle and personality.

Option 1 — Fostering: I have friends whose staffy passed at the end of last year and they are not ready to commit to another just yet. They are also wary, now they are older, of committing to a young and energetic dog. Their interim solution to test things out, has been to foster a dog. Some organisations looking to match dogs with owners offer this service and it is a helpful way to extend the animal’s time ‘on the list’ maximising its opportunities to find the right owner. Offerings will vary, but my friends advised that for them, the dog’s expenses were all paid and all they had to do was look after him. They also told me that the preference is to rotate the animal to other foster families every few weeks wherever possible, to ensure minimal attachment. Of course, if you fall in love, you can stop the merry-go-round and keep it.

Option 2 — Housesitting: After growing up on a farm seeing smart working dogs running free, I could never have a dog cooped up in a flat all day while I worked. Apart from being cruel, this is how dogs can end up shredding all your stuff — a not unnatural boredom and/or stress reaction! I do believe in the mantra that a dog may only be part of your life, but to the dog you are their life. When I retire, I’ve promised myself, but I also want to make sure I’m prepared and make the right choice.

Currently, I am between ‘real’ jobs and seeing my novel through to publication and (theoretically) writing number two. To make this lifestyle affordable, I’ve listed myself on a housesitting site. It wasn’t long and I was fully booked for four solid months for a variety of locations and animals. I am a month into my second sit and I can happily list these advantages:

- You are minding animals in their own homes

- They already have their routines set up, you just have to keep them going

- Everything is paid for

- You get to observe what works and what doesn’t and take note

It has also been educational to see where my lifestyle will have to adjust if I do get my own pet. I have friends and family I visit who are out of town, so I would like to have two dogs ideally, so they can keep each other company when required, and also be relaxed enough to spend a night on their own in a pinch. The dogs I have been minding have been very needy, either because they have suffered abuse as rescue dogs, or maybe because they have been over-indulged: they don’t like me even being out of their sight! That’s okay, I figure, I’m providing a service, and for a fixed period, but when a sit is two months’ duration, that starts to feel a bit limiting, at least when you’re someone who has spent a life being answerable mainly to yourself. All factors for consideration when you look at age and breed options for your new pet.

Having said all that, it’s been fine so far; better than fine, actually, the dogs have been lovely company and have encouraged me to have more structure in my days and get regular exercise. I love how for dogs, every day is a new day and each walk they leave the house for is the most exciting thing they’ve done in their lives. But I have smiled to hear myself say to friends, ‘Oh sorry, could you come to me instead? I have the dogs.’ Or, looking at my watch a lot, ‘Sorry, I’ve really got to get going. I have to get home to the dogs.’ And worse, ‘Here’s another funny/cute thing about my dogs…’ Which means I have quickly become one of those people.

Housesitting and fostering are both great opportunities to see how different breeds behave (and you will meet lots of others dog-walking and get to know many more) and housesitting particularly, allows you to observe how others have trained their animals (or how the animals have trained them!) and say to yourself, ‘hey, that’s a really good idea, I’ll do that too’, or ‘seriously? They allow their dog to sleep on their bed? No way would I allow that.’ Then you can become one of these people:




Novelist | Blogger | Traveller | Teacher @ . . . Debut novel Something Else released October 2021.

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Alicia Thompson

Alicia Thompson

Novelist | Blogger | Traveller | Teacher @ . . . Debut novel Something Else released October 2021.

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