August 28, 2011

We Just Can't Decide

My wife and I are dog people. We both grew up with dogs in our families. During our married life we have had four of them. For the last 5 years, however, we have been dog-less.

Show us the picture of a cute puppy and we melt. Have a friendly dog near us and we will crouch down to scratch its ears and talk "doggie talk." Our youngest daughter was thisclose to getting an adorable puppy in June. But, circumstances changed and it didn't happen.

Every few months we revisit the same debate: should we get another dog? Some of things we consider when deciding to add a pet to our satisfying retirement lifestyle include:
  • as we lose our mobility in later years how does the pet get proper exercise and daily walks?
  • if eventually moving to a housing arrangement that doesn't take pets, then what?
  • the costs associated with owning a dog can be substantial. Can we afford it? Even a healthy dog will add close to $1,000 a year to our expenses.
Other obvious concerns are the limitations on longer term vacations. Kennels or pet sitter costs can add up quickly. Is it fair to a dog if we would like to be on a month long trip and it must away from its home and us? Even spur-of-the-moment long weekend get-aways are more complicated.

Of course, there is always the option of taking vacations with the dog. But that really changes the experience. Taking a dog restricts where you can stay, how you go out for meals, what attractions you can visit, and the times of year when such travel is possible. An RV would make it easier, but that isn't in the budget either.

On the plus side, the health benefits of owning a loving pet have been proven. Petting a dog or having one snuggled up against you on the sofa can lower stress. The companionship and unconditional love are welcome at any stage of life. The grandkids would love for us to have a dog. All that makes $1,000 a year sound like a bargain.

So far our back-and-forth on the subject has led us to either, "we'll discuss that again later," or " let's hold off while we still plan on making longer trips. A dog would be better when we are staying closer to home."

Both positions make sense. But, both mean waiting another 7-10 years. At that point we are likely to be moving to a condo or smaller place with no backyard and limited play areas. Is that fair to the animal? A dog would love the spacious backyard at our current home....should we take advantage of that while we can? 

Do you see our dilemma? This is not a simple decision of "we love dogs, dogs love us, life is short, just do it."  Or is it? Are we over-analyzing this decision?

I can't promise we'll follow what the majority says, but I would love you input. Pets change your life and are a major responsibility, but......

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  1. My friend is a "foster parent" to dogs. If you are interested- contact your local vet. With so many people losing their homes- fostering is a way to help other people out while they get settled into their new situation.
    In my neck of the woods -lots of people foster soldier's dogs as they go to war.
    Looking forward to your money mag, article.
    BTW- the ONLY reason we do not travel more is our two dogs. I love them dearly, but they will be the reason my husband will not be traveling until his 70's....Janette

  2. Good Sunday Morning Janette,

    There certainly is a need for foster parents for dogs but that must be tough on both the people and pets. How do you know what the dog knows? What about commands he responds to? A fair amount of patience would be required.

    Not traveling more because of the dogs..that's one of my major concerns.

  3. If you're still at the "I'd like to have a dog, but I really want to travel. . ." stage, you probably shouldn't get a dog. Travel while you still can; you can always re-evaluate later. In the meantime, you might get your dog fix by offering to pet-sit for a friend.

    NB: I love dogs, and have three. And cats. I can't imagine life without critters, but they do cramp your style.

  4. When our last daughter left for college, I got a puppy, and Molly became our "baby." We already had 2 other dogs and 4 cats on a 3 acre homestead. One year later, we trooped this group half way across country to live in the city.

    Since then, we are now down to 2 dogs and 2 cats. Since we aren't totally retired, our vacations consist of visiting family and the dogs go with us. The cats, actually, require more thought as I get my favorite pet sitter to come and check on them. We do need someone to get the mail, etc too though and she does all that as well.

    One reason we're getting an RV for retirement is because we want to travel with the dogs but I realize it will cut back on some things we can do.

    As far as moving into a smaller place or retirement setting, if you get a small dog, most places will let you have them nowadays. Ditto for moving into a condo. You can give them exercise by going for walks and don't need a big back yard.

    When we moved to Texas, we deliberately got a house with a big back yard for the dogs to run around in. Do you think they are ever outside? Hardly ever. They love their walks but they certainly don't run around the back yard at all.

    A lot depends on the dog you get as to how it fits into your life. You have to be ready to take it to obedience classes and spend time making it into the dog you want it to be. But to me, that's part of the great experience of having a dog in our lives.

    One of our dogs is 13 years old, on thyroid meds (who would have thought of such a thing) and she's arthritic so I have to get homeopathic joint stuff and glucosomine supplements for her so expense as an animal gets older is definitely an issue you have to decide on.

    Still, there are so many dogs who need good homes that I know I'll always have a dog in my life until I absolutely can't anymore.

  5. That other Jean,

    Are we ready to have our life changed by adding a pet and limiting some of our empty nest freedoms? That is the key question.

    We aren't traveling all that much right now for a variety of reasons, but we have the ability to. One question I have been asking myself after the comments from Janette and you is whether I'm protecting the ability to travel versus the reality of travel. If I am protecting an unexercised right, then is that a legitimate reason to deny ourselves the pleasure of a pet?

  6. Hi Joan,

    Thank you for your excellent overview. You have answered several of my concerns.

    I hadn't thought about obedience classes but I know they are part of the process. A dog that doesn't obey or tears up things and soils everywhere can ruin the experience pretty quickly. Of course, those behavior issues aren't the dog's fault, but the result isn't pleasant.

    I've always wanted an RV. Maybe I could use the dog as my excuse!

    Well, you know my vote because I'm your youngest daughter and think the love outweighs the concerns =)
    Plus, I think someone in our family would be able to watch her while you're traveling. And if we're ALL gone at the same time, I believe house/dog sitter would not be out of the question for some of your/my friends.
    Just saying =)

  8. We adopted a 1 1/2 year old small dog last December from a rescue group after 8 years of no kids/no pets. We picked a dog who is small so we could pick her up as we age together. And we did take her to obedience training through our Humane Society which offers it at a great price. The downsides include everything you listed although I think you underestimate the costs especially if you have to provide tick and flea meds as well as all other vet care, food, boarding, grooming, etc. The upsides are lots more smiles on our faces, the fun of having a dog as companion and playmate, a reason to take walks year round, etc. So although we aren't as spontaneous in our getaways including long day trips, we are glad we got her. We are late 50s and early 60s so we feel she will be our last dog.

  9. I had a cat for 15 years-max was a friendly,loving pet who would greet you by the door when you came home. In old age he was diabetic and required insulin shoots. He was worth all the care and money that was spent on him. However,I do like the freedom of not having a pet. Only you and your wife know what is right for you-but I think if this was the right time you would have already found a dog you loved and brought him home. Maybe you should take a few trips first. You could get a small dog when you are older.

  10. Alison,

    Well, I'm not surprised with your sentiment in this matter! The good news is we're leaning in this direction due to the factors you mentioned.

    Besides, as a daughter, your vote counts extra.

  11. Hi Juhi,

    I probably aired on the low side for costs. I am remembering what it cost 4 or 5 years ago and those expenses certainly have risen.

    If we get a dog it will be small. Not so small it can fit in a purse, but small enough to pick up easily.

  12. Donna,

    Two reason we may be leaning toward getting a dog now: we have old carpeting that is to be replaced later this year so now is an OK time for puppy accidents. And, we have a daughter who is moving back in with us for several months, giving us an extra set of hands for care and training.

    If we get one, you can guess it will be the subject of several posts.

  13. We've had dogs for fifteen years plus.

    OUr dogs have NOT been expensive overall. At least by my definition. They get an annual exam, rabies shots every three years and I spend ten dollars on flea and heartrwrom meds monthly. I did pay one time expenses with my sixteen year old beagle died. Their food is very basic. Your costs will increase dramatically if you board them when you travel (which we did for long trips in Europe but not shorter ones).

    I now have one dog. Since I rarely fly, he travels with wherever I do. In the car. I have no problem finding pet friendly hotels. When I go to germany or the caymans he must be boarded or have a family member baby sit. You can leave a dog in apet friendly motel and go out to eat by yourselves,just as you could at a restaurant at home.

    It is true and I have joked more than once about having to get home to feed and let the dog out. I have grown children, but still have to be home by a certain time. That said, I have been looking for a second dog to replace said beagle and will never be without a dog ever again.

    My experience is that if I fostered a dog it would be mind. bonding with a dog and giving it back is not something i would recommend for the average person.

  14. Barb,

    I wondered about becoming attached to a foster pet. Thanks for your input.

    Do motels charge extra for pets? I would think there are extra expenses for cleaning the room.

    We are't night people. Coming home to take care of a pet wouldn't be a problem.

    Good insight..thanks, Barb

  15. Barb- where are you getting those meds? I am paying WAY too much for my doggie meds- heartworm and flea!

  16. I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
    Dog sitter San Francisco

  17. Doug and I are in the same place, love dogs but also love freedom. I only made it halfway through your comments, though to figure out what I'd do. Hint: if I had a daughter that would take care of my dog while I was on trips, I'd run, not walk to the animal shelter right now and adopt!

  18. Sydney,

    Having our daughter available to help train and care for an animal is probably going to be the deciding factor, Both she and her mom are allergic to many breeds so we have be careful. But we watched the series Dogtown last night about the incredible animal shelter in Utah and by the end of two episodes I was pretty much hooked.

  19. The ideal thing is to have kids with dogs - and offer to dog sit when the spirit moves you - or when they want to take a vacation which will probably not be at the same time as you go - or have kids with dogs and share the responsibility - you dog sit theirs and they dog sit yours. Where there is a will there is a way. Also, don't forget, there are lots of "mature dogs" who would love "mature owners". Think dog rescue groups.

  20. Hi Pat,

    Our dog-loving daughter actually works once a week walking dogs at a rescue shelter in the area. That experience really pushed her to push us in this direction.

    I'd love to get a dog from a shelter, but as I noted in the comment above, Betty and our daughter are allergic to many breeds. Those they can tolerate, like cockers, don't usually find their way to a shelter. But, we will certainly check those out first if that becomes our final decision.

  21. JBO-first let me say that I mispoke. Im paying around twenty dollars a month for one dog. I get my flea meds from 100petmeds with a discount. My sentinel is about ten dollars a month. With regards to traveling, I'm still learning as I go, Bob, but yes there is usually a pet deposit. If you were a drive until you drop type one would Have to change their plan.

  22. Found you from Morrison's blog! Money Magazine? I'll have to look for you!!

    After our golden died, I wasn't sure if we should get another dog. They are restricting (i.e. vacations) and they don't like to be alone for long. After about a year, we got another golden. It's like having another kid, only better! My dog doesn't talk back! Dogs can live up to 15 years, so you have to take that into consideration. We are thinking about getting Ben (our dog) a brother when he is six, so that we can still have a dog in our 60's. We LOVE the companionship.

    As long as the dog is healthy, it's only the dog food and treats. If a dog gets sick, it can get very costly.

  23. I hear you! My current canine buddy is getting more senior by the day. I know I will be faced with this decision in the next year or so. I have always had a dog and can't imagine being without one. I am not a traveler anymore, so that is not really an issue, but I do think about the activity level and the training demands of puppies. And the skyrocketing costs. I am guessing that rational reasons will be abandoned when the time comes, and I will come home with another dog.

  24. Hi Sharon,

    Thanks for checking out the blog. Morrison says what she thinks and is a regular read for me, too.

    We always had what we called an "emergency backup dog." When a pet became 10 or more we'd get a new puppy. She would learn socialization from the older dog and be with us to soften the blow when the older animal died.

    The expenses involved with a sick or injured dog can begin to equal a human. I wonder if pet insurance is worth the money, or are there are so many exclusions and loopholes it isn't worth it.

    BTW, your blog "My year of spending less and living more" looks fascinating. Expect to see me as a regular visitor!

  25. Galen,

    With a grown daughter moving back home for awhile, I think my last real excuse is crumbling. She will be a huge help in training and being with the dog.

    The cost scares me a little, but can you put a price on unconditional love?

  26. A price on unconditional love? No kidding. Like the prayer says, Lord, help me see myself the way my dog sees me!

  27. Galen,

    As the commercial says: priceless.

    We seem to be moving toward a new addition to the Lowry household after we return from Hawaii in the middle of October.

  28. Wow! Two books? Did I miss something?

  29. Hi Sharon,

    I wrote an Arizona travel book about 18 months ago. The Building a Satisfying Retirement book was given away as an e-book download earlier this year. The response was strong enough that I've re-worked it a bit and will have a 2nd edition available as a Kindle download within the next week or so.

    I also put together a Countdown to Retirement e-book for folks who aren't quite there yet but wanted some pointers. That book is no longer available.

    I'm hoping Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt want the movie rights!

  30. Thanks Bob,
    I guess you can tell I was half asleep when I posted, because I meant to put this question on your last post! Thankfully I remembered what I did to find your response! Good grief.

    I'm looking forward to reading your 2nd edition! :)! I like Tom Hanks better.

  31. I really enjoyed your post and all the comments. My husband and I have two black labs (one a year and a half, the other just over 2 years). We are approaching retirement age in a few years and taking them with us is a top priority.

    We recently purchased a vintage class A motorhome (27ft.) to make for easy traveling with them. We are currently busy checking out pet friendly places so we know where we want to visit. For us, pet friendly doesn't just mean we can bring them along, we are checking out places that have dog swimming areas, play areas, running tracks and lots of nature trails that allow pets.

    I'll be 55 next year with 35 years in the company I work for and will begin counting down my years, retirement, here we come!

  32. Anonymous,

    Let me know what resources you discover for the type of pet-friendly sites you describe. That would be great information to share.

    My wife and I are getting closer to a decision about the dog. I imagine we'll come to a conclusion while we are relaxing on the beach on Maui in a few weeks.

  33. Yes, I'll share, my name is Annette. Right now I am in Wisconsin, but plan to retire someplace a little warmer, like the carolina's, kentucky, tennessee. I don't want to go too far down because we don't want the extreme heat.

    I know what you are saying though about being unsure. We figure out puppies will be about 8 years old when I am 60 and my husband is 57, and what would we do when their time comes, Labs live I believe 10-12 years. Our plan right now is to enjoy them, planning our traveling around them, we'll have plenty of time to do it the other way, without pets, later if we choose.

    What area are you in?

  34. Annette,

    I like Wisconsin, but not in the winter. If our family was back east the North Carolina would probably have been our choice for retirement.

    Our first thought was travel now and get a dog when we are more likely to stay closer to home. But, that means missing lots of years of love. And, we have family in the area plus dog sitters we know to take care of things if we decide to hit the road,

  35. I am a new 'empty nester' who has 2 wonderful corgis. Although they restrict me somewhat, coming home to their love and devotion is priceless. As I speak, we are 'hanging out' in the den.
    I think you should get another dog. Love is for sharing, the more you share, the more you get back. Dogs will enrich your life far beyond the 'hassles'.

  36. Anonymous,

    As I write this I'm watching an episode of Dogtown. There is no way to see those stories and not want to save and love a dog.

  37. I just have to know Bob did you get a dog?

    1. Sue,

      We are working on it but the breeds we want are in very short supply around here. Because of allergies we need either a cocker spaniel or a cockapoo and it must be a female (we've had bad luck with males). We've been actively searching for a month and so far, no luck. The side yard as been all set up and we just need a dog!

    2. Bob,
      Did you not know you can get a toy poodle or a miniature schnauzer? Also considered "hypoallergenic". They both have hair, not fur, so they don't shed, and shedding is what puts the dander all over the place. My husband and I adore miniature schnauzers and I plan to adopt one from one of the wonderful mini schnauzer rescue sites in many states - you might want to look one up. They are in foster homes after being surrendered or rescued, so they are brought to good health and the foster parent knows their temperament and quirks. I see many adorable ones of all ages - hard to choose!Also, why not a grown dog? Then you really know what you are getting and you give a deserving dog a good home. Surely they also have cocker spaniel rescues. I know there are many poodle rescue groups who also rescue poodle mixes - so I hope you will give this a try. Anne in Ca.

    3. Before deciding on Bailey, a cocker-king spaniel mix, we did check the cocker rescue organization but they only had older males. Our experience with older dogs have not been as positive as with puppies.

      Bailey has now been with us for a little over 2 months and is turning into a great pet. Thanks, Anne.

    4. I'm so glad you're happy with your dog! That's what counts.

    5. She is turning into an excellent young lady (or soon-to-be-spayed young pet)!