By Samantha Randall, pet writer, podcaster and editor at Top Dog Tips.
“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She’ll provide personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue.
Pets are a huge responsibility, one that many potential pet parents do not understand. Pets, especially dogs, are a time commitment and a financial commitment. When you bring an animal into your family, you’re signing up to care for another being that cannot care for itself. Unfortunately, I know just how devastating it can be to adopt a pet that you’re not ready for.
I was young and living on my own. I had no pet, but was raised with dogs my entire life. I had always been more of a dog person. Maybe a cat would have been a better decision, but I wanted a dog. So I went to the local shelter and picked out a beautiful girl.
She was snow white and had the cutest little underbite. Yes, she was hyper, but I didn’t care. I took her everywhere with me (when I could), and I loved her unbridled happiness when I came home. Her neediness and energy were just part of the package – a great package in my eyes.
Unfortunately, I was working full-time to support myself and would be starting college classes in just a few months. I felt guilty all summer that I had to leave my dog, Maggie, home by herself, but we had lots of fun adventures on my days off. I told myself it wouldn’t be like this forever.
Then came the fall and college classes began. I had to switch my work schedule to accommodate school, but I also needed to continue working full-time hours to pay the bills. I went from having two days off with Maggie each week to only playing with her for two short hours each night before homework and sleep took priority.
I wasn’t the only one feeling bad about leaving Maggie home alone all the time with no attention. She noticed that the change in our routine was not temporary. Maggie showed me her dislike for our new situation by being destructive during the day while I was gone. What was I going to do?
I couldn’t leave her in the house and allow her to continue destroying my belongings. I felt too guilty to leave her locked in a crate all day every day. Pet sitters and dog walkers were out of the question. I could barely afford the bills I had already. It finally hit me – I wasn’t ready to give Maggie the care that she needed.
What would happen if she needed veterinary attention? If Maggie cut herself trying to escape from her crate, I wouldn’t be able to afford the stitches required to close the wound. What if she broke a leg, had an altercation with a porcupine, or worse, was diagnosed with a major disease? The smallest vet bill would leave me completely broke, so there was no way I was going to be able to afford to give Maggie the long-term care she needed; at least not until I finished college.
I tried to find her a home but could not. All my friends were in the same financial situation that I was in or they lived in the dorms on campus. My family members all had their hands full with the pets that they already had. I knew what I had to do.
I took the day off from work and skipped my classes. I took Maggie hiking on one of our favorite trails. I told her how sorry I was and how it was all my fault. I wasn’t ready to be a pet owner when I adopted her, and that was my mistake. This had nothing to do with her. Even though I didn’t think she could understand me, I had to explain the situation to her.
That afternoon I surrendered Maggie to the shelter that I had adopted her from just three months earlier. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I cried all the way home. One worker was nice and understanding, but the other wasn’t. She made sure I knew that she thought I was irresponsible.
It was hard, but I had no choice. I was in a desperate situation. It has been 13 years since that day, but I still think about that little dog almost every day. Some days I can forgive myself, but sometimes I am filled with regret and guilt. All the “if onlys” and “should haves” that come out of most hard decisions have gone through my mind a million times.
So, what exactly did I learn?
I learned that dogs are not a spontaneous decision. You should research, plan, and prepare to bring a dog into your home. Dog ownership doesn’t work if one person is a pet lover and the other person sees pets as a burden. You can’t care for a dog that you don’t have time for, and you certainly need to consider your budget before bringing home a furry friend.
Before you get a dog, if you are not an experienced trainer, you need to make sure you have the time and money for obedience classes. Just because a dog can worm its way into your heart doesn’t mean she is meant to become a part of your family.
A dog is a big commitment. You are responsible for a life. That dog thinks of you as her parent, her best friend, and her provider. Make sure that you are ready to live up to the responsibility before you bring a dog home.
People tell me not to feel guilty, that Maggie was a loveable and well-trained dog who surely found a good home. I try to imagine that she did. I hope that she found a home where everyone loved her and had lots of time to spend hiking and playing with her. Sometimes the bad thoughts still pour in. I have a heart for animals; I can’t just forget. I now have three rescue dogs and four rescue cats. Maybe somewhere, somehow, it makes up for the little dog that I couldn’t save.