How Not to Adopt a Dog

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Of all the items on my 100 Things Challenge list, I thought adopting a dog would be one of the least challenging tasks. I'm an idiot. Winston Sleeping

As you may have read, I adopted a dog yesterday. His name is Winston. There will undoubtedly be a period of adjustment, it's only been a little over 24 hours, but I've rarely felt more stress. Worst of all, I'm starting to think I've made a huge mistake.

Two days ago, on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 at 5:55 p.m., I went to Toronto Animal Services to meet a dog named Ralphie. TAS identified him as a Pembroke Welsh Corgi / Jack Russell cross, so I did some research on the breeds. The information I found online suggested that Jack Russell's are very energetic and driven. "I can deal with that," I thought, "it would get me out to the park, time to spend with Winston playing and having some fun." Pembroke Welsh Corgis are described as "very affectionate" -- sounds great to me! -- and "tend to follow wherever their owners go" -- I work from home, so no problem there.

I spent about 15 minutes with him in a 12' x 14' room. We took to each other instantly. He laid down beside me, put his head in my lap. This dog is great! It's too late to do the adoption that evening, to fill out the paperwork and setup the tags, so I have to come back the next afternoon. Yesterday afternoon (Friday, Jan. 20, 2012) I went to the TAS and adopted Ralphie Winston.

Here Are The Problems

He is very energetic and driven. He's tiny but strong and he pulls me when we walk, something I'm trying to keep under control. Not a big issue, we could work that out with some training. He follows me everywhere! I go to the bathroom, he follows me there. I go to my bedroom to get a sweater, he's right on my heels. I go to bed, he jumps into bed. I remove him from my bed, he lays on the floor next to me. He literally will not leave me alone.

He is extremely affectionate -- a double-edged sword. He likely has abandonment issues and issues with having been stuck in TAS for a month. He also seems to have separation anxiety. Couple these with the neediness of the Corgi and Jack Russell breeds and he is worse than the clingiest ex-whatever you've ever had. I work from home and he keep trying to jump into my lap while I'm working. (Note: he's not a laptop, so he doesn't fit at all.) "He just needs some love," you might be thinking. He's getting love, and he is loved. "You need to get into a routine," and yes, that's also true.

He kept me up all night -- and that's saying something. Last night, I barely got any sleep because Winston woke me up at 5 a.m. to go to the bathroom. Since I don't have a backyard, I can't just put him out to go. I had to get up, get completely dressed and take him for a walk in the freezing snow. Because it takes me about 5-10 minutes to get out of bed, put on some clothes, put on my winter clothes, get my boots on, get his harness and leash on, he had already taken a pee on the kitchen floor.

We went for a half-hour walk and came back. Then I cleaned up the pee and mopped the floor, got back into bed at 6 a.m., didn't get back to sleep for two hours because Winston was walking around or trying to jump into bed with me (which I don't like), slept for about two hours, woke up, got dressed, took him for a walk, came back, sat for 15 minutes trying not to fall asleep before walking to my training centre to teach a class for noon.

Worst news: I might actually be allergic to Winston. I grew up with a Great Dane in the house, but I haven't had a dog in my life as an adult, so this may be a new allergy development. (Side note: I think I started to develop a hay fever allergy last year, as well.) By noon this afternoon I had a lot of trouble breathing. I was completely congested and had trouble drawing breath, I had to open a window and take in the bitter cold air to open my lungs a bit. Winston had a quick groom this afternoon at PetSmart and is dander free. I've been fine most of the evening but am currently finding myself getting congested again. Apparently, there's been a nasty cold going around Southern Ontario, but since I work from home, my exposure to the outside world has been minimal this week. I'll know more by the end of the weekend.

Here's the Real Problem

I was not as prepared for this situation as I thought I was and -- for lack of a more apropos term -- I fucked up.

While I'm sure a lot of my stress is due to this decision's impact on me, I think most of my stress is my concern for him. I didn't just screw up and have to bear the consequences. I screwed up and an innocent life has to bear the consequences. This is something I normally give a great deal of consideration; at work, almost every decision I make affects many people, sometimes many dozens of people.

Is this doubt talking? I'm sure that plays into it. I also don't want to be the asshole that adopts an abandoned dog only to abandon him a second time. If I do have to give him back, though, the sooner the better, so the impact on him is minimized. People say we look happy together. The truth is he is super happy and I am super stressed and worried about my ability to cope.

Since 2012 is supposed to be the year of my personal development, I am concerned this pup may actually impinge on that. I have already missed two days at the gym and am unsure as to whether or not I'll be able to go tomorrow. I know he would contribute greatly to my life, but being the health nut I currently am, I monitor my pulse and blood pressure regularly, both are well above their norms, indicating a lot stress on my system. My resting pulse is normally in the low 60s, but has been in the mid- to high-80s all day.

Yes, this is selfish, but that's kind of the whole point of the 100 Things Challenge. It's about bettering myself as a person. Adopting a pet won't necessarily make me a better person, it might have just forced me into a situation of greater responsibility that I am, admittedly, probably not ready for.

Make no mistake: I love this dog. He is great and amazing and right now is keeping to himself in his little bed I picked out for him. If he could be calm like this all the time, that would be amazing.

So whose fault is it? No one's. And by that I mean no one person. TAS is at fault, and many of the "adopting a dog" articles I read online before going into this are at fault, both for not providing detailed and realistic information about the impact on a person's life that a pet like this has. Mostly, though, I am at fault.

I am at fault for not realizing and accurately recognizing my own personal limits, abilities and scheduling restraints. I am at fault for not thoroughly acknowledging the temperament of the breeds from which Winston comes and understanding what that might entail.

So Now What?

I just don't know.

I know I will give him a couple of more days, but if it continues to stress me out, rather than makes us both happy, he would be better off in a home that could care for him more easily, more stress free, than I can. Also, if it turns out I am allergic to Winston, I will have to send him to a new home.

He would be better off in a home with access to a backyard, as he likes to run around and, being a hound, likes to hunt and sniff about investigating everything in sight. If I lived in an apartment with a backyard, I might feel a lot less stressed, but I don't and I don't know.

What I do know is that I need to do what's best for Winston. Maybe that means I need to step up and be more responsible, more mature, more open to taking care of him. Maybe that means giving him to a home that can provide the things for him that he needs that I currently cannot: time, lots of attention, room to run.

An Ounce of Prevention

If you're reading this article, I hope that you take a bit of extra time and make sure that the time is right for you to adopt. On Thursday evening, I was 100 per cent, absolutely sure. Thirty-six hours later, my heart was beating out of my chest as I sat on the edge of my bed trying not to hyperventilate, taking in the reality of the situation, 100 per cent absolutely sure I had made a mistake.

Adopting a dog is not easy, and frankly, it's not the instant idyllic partnership that adopt-a-pet literature makes it out to be. Those pamphlets and websites have the life of the animal and its best interest in mind. A few more responsible ones might suggest you don't adopt unless you meet a certain set of criteria.

The Final Word

If you are thinking of adopting a dog, I whole-heartedly think you should... but only if the circumstances, timing and environment are right for both of you, otherwise it's the dog that will end up paying the price in the end.