When my husband and I agreed to grant our 11-year-old daughter's request for her "very own" dog, we knew ultimately that the responsibility for the care of the dog would rest on us. So, when we gave her the green light, the agreement came with conditions. My experience as a pet owner had taught me some things I knew to be important in considering an addition to our household. Our English Setter was large, by my standards, and one large dog was enough. English Setters are feathered down their legs and have very fine hair on and behind the ears. She was constantly bringing in dangling debris and keeping her feathers clean and untangled was a chore. She was first and foremost a bird dog. She was a sweet and gentle lady, but a bird dog she was. Off leash, she could be up and over the hillside in the blink of an eye! Lots of calling and huffing and puffing taught me we didn't need more of that. Fortunately, in her formative years, she got plenty of exercise in our small fenced backyard, merrily hunting and pointing birds all day long. When we moved out of town, she was then a senior and her roaming needs were satisfied on our larger property.
A dog for my daughter: It needed to be small enough to pick up, but not so small it was threatened with severe injury by an accidental misstep. It should fit in the laundry tub for bathing and have a short coat that did not require grooming. Nothing "yippy" or "prissy" - no hair bows or fancy haircuts. I am a gardener and wanted a dog that would be happy with me while outdoors. It should be small, but hardy, and fun.
So, when my daughter opened up her dog book and mused about what dog she would like, I guided her through the process with my preferences and stipulations. The above criteria ruled out most of the toy breeds, and all of the large breeds. When she came upon the dachshund, it struck a chord. As my daughter and I continued reading about the breed, it became evident that this was the dog for us. The miniature dachshund is a big dog in a little dog's body. It is a hound, has a deep-chested bark and a lively disposition. It loves the outdoors and was originally bred to hunt badgers. They are known for wreaking havoc in the garden, but we are surrounded by woods, which I imagined would be their hunting grounds. I use the plural tense here, because we ended up bringing two of them home, but that is a story for another time.
The choice we made was perfect for our family and we gained two more because of our love for the breed. My daughter has been out of the house for years now and one of her originals is still with us. At 16 1/2 years, Millie can no longer walk up and down stairs, but because she is under 20 pounds, I can easily carry her. To my great surprise, she recently dropped a mole at my feet so she is still a hunter! In her younger days, she and her sister, Annie, would spend hours in the woods, taking turns digging and sitting on a critter hole. Those little legs never took them far away from the house and their muddy paws were easily cleaned in the laundry tub. The breed description was right on, and we got what we expected.
When you decide you are ready to bring a dog into your home, do the research. Avoid impulse decision making. Puppies are all small and adorable at the outset, but this common beginning branches off in every direction immediately at birth. You can't ignore their DNA. Dogs are bred to hunt, to guard, to herd, to rescue, to work, to compete, to provide companionship. They are high and low maintenance, long- and short-haired, environment sensitive and come in every size. Size is significant. A large dog is more expensive to own than a small one. They eat more, cost more at the vet's office (vet procedure costs are often determined by weight, as are the cost of medications) and everything you need to care for them is on a larger scale. Some breeds are prone to be noisy, others quiet, some are known droolers, most shed their hair. Some may need lots of exercise or need to "work" to be happy. Others are happy indoors on a lap or the couch. There are breeds known to get along well with other dogs and even cats while some are not. There are those described as hardheaded, requiring extensive training to be suitable companions, while others are easy going and will respond to a raised eyebrow. It's in their DNA.
Last summer, I met an older gentleman in the park during Augusta. The cutest little dog was lying at his feet and I had to go up to say hello. It was a French Bulldog, a breed I wasn't too familiar with. The man told me his previous dog was an active terrier variety, but now as a senior, he moved at a slower pace. Referring to his current companion, he laughingly said, "One lap around the couch and she's done for the day." French Bulldogs are bred for companionship, are easy-going, not especially active, are good with kids but can become very devoted to an older owner. It appears he chose the perfect dog for himself. Read further and you will discover that they are not good swimmers, so if your family lived near and played in water, this would not be a good choice. If you want a dog to go hiking with you or want a jogging partner, this obviously would not be the dog for you. Because of their short noses, they are also known to snore quite loudly, so not a good choice as a sleeping companion!
This is just one example of the importance of research.
Go online or to the library. There is a great book written by David Alderson, "The Dog Selector: How to Choose the Right Dog for You." When we bring a dog into our home, we need to know what we want and need in a companion and make a conscious choice based on our needs. While all dogs are unique in personality and the environment is important in shaping their behavior, their DNA cannot be ignored. Too many animals end up in shelters because the owners didn't take the time to make the right choice for their family.
When we decided to allow our daughter to have a dog, I was not yet aware at a "conscious" level of the animal shelter world. We found our dachshund puppies through an ad in the paper. We have since adopted two senior dachshunds from the Randolph County Humane Society. I will never again bring a non-rescue dog into our home.
There are rescue organizations throughout the country for almost every breed you might consider. Check in with us at the Randolph County Humane Society. We might have just what you are looking for. If not, you can do an online search and chances are you will find a rescue organization within hours of where you live. These rescue organizations are often quite accommodating.
Mixed breed dogs should not be overlooked. While we take in a surprising number of purebred dogs at the shelter, I walk lots of mixed breeds each week and can say they are all unique, loveable and would make great companions when matched with the right owners. We often know their breed backgrounds which can help us predict suitability. Our older dogs offer the advantage of informing us "how they turned out" and we have many I could recommend to a variety of family types with confidence that it would be a good match. If you consider bringing a dog into your home, give me a call and I would be happy to work with RCHS staff on your behalf, to help you find a good match for your family.
Like the older gentleman I met in the park, I am a senior. Because of my acute awareness of the great need of adult and senior homeless animals, I know that any dog in my family's future will be from that population. There is certainly a place for puppies in the world, and I understand the desire to raise a puppy into adulthood. It is a great family experience. Unfortunately, there are just too many.
Spending time at the RCHS animal shelter has made that vividly clear. Please spay and neuter your pets and encourage your friends, co-workers and family members to do the same. It is the humane and responsible thing to do.
(Author Ginny Zuboy is vice president of outreach and volunteer coordinator for the Randolph County Humane Society, and the owner of Montessori Early Learning Center. The views reflected in this article are those of Ginny Zuboy, and may not always reflect the views of RCHS.)