How to be good pet owners when the situation changes?
September 26, 2012 7:50 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I believe in being responsible dog owners, now the situation has changed and we're not sure how to continue doing what's best for our dogs. Complicated details (e.g., our long distance marriage) inside.

My husband is a cowboy, he lives and works on a very large cattle ranch while I live and work in New York City. We own two working dogs (an Australian Kelpie and a Border Collie) both of whom are very well trained and love working livestock. As the dogs are accustomed to working, enjoy working, and frankly need to work (or they will go bananas) it made sense for them to stay with my husband on the ranch when I moved back to the city. On the best days they run around with my husband from 5:30am to 7:30pm while he fixes fences or irrigates fields -- it's a really, really, really big property. On the worst days they'd only get out of the pen for 45 minutes around the middle of the day, if my husband was doing something where the dogs couldn't be around (like doctoring calves).

This arrangement was fine but now there's been a management change (which is too complicated to get into) and my husband is no longer allowed to have the dogs with him at work, which means they'd be in the pen (or the basement) for about twelve hours a day with no one to let them out.

Bathroom breaks aren't even my primary concern as the pen is outside or worst case scenario we could use those pee pads in the basement. What I really worry about is the dogs losing their minds because they'd be getting zero mental/physical stimulation. When my husband gets home from work he's simply too tired to play with/walk the dogs for two hours. Since the change he's been playing ball with them for about 20 minutes after work, and then making them run behind the car part of the way while he drives home slowly (dirt roads, no traffic -- 2 ish miles).

I can't help because I'm not there. What should we do? We would never own working breeds if we didn't think we could give them the environment they needed to thrive, but this was very unexpected. If we lived in the same place this wouldn't be a problem, I'd just take care of them at home.

The only thing I can think to do is break my current lease on my no-pets-allowed apartment (which is a problem in and of itself), move into a pet friendly place and have him ship the dogs to me. Since my hours are flexible and I mostly work from home I could do my best to keep the dogs happy with play and exercise. Breaking my lease is potentially not possible and potentially very expensive even if it is possible.

There are no neighbors nearby who we can pay to look in on the dogs during the day, take them out, play with them and what not. I really feel like having them confined for 12 hours a day with no real opportunity for play or exercise is a bad idea.

Our situation will also change in around two years so in the long-term we should be able to give them a better environment but the short term is a problem. Is there a better solution to this that I'm just missing? We don't want to get rid of these dogs, we love them and they're like our family. We just want to do what's best for them.
posted by blue_bicycle to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
Are there any dog daycares or dogwalkers available near the ranch? That would almost certainly be cheaper and less of a hassle than breaking the lease on a NYC apartment.
posted by treblemaker at 7:54 PM on September 26, 2012

No, this is a remote location. The nearest big town (with more than a post office in it) is 50 miles away and has no such services. If dog daycare or dog walkers were available we'd use them in a heart beat, but they are not.
posted by blue_bicycle at 8:07 PM on September 26, 2012

Is there any possibility of having someone adopt the pups until your situation changes? This is sort of heart breaking....
posted by HuronBob at 8:16 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say the dogs are well-trained? Is it at all likely that another local rancher would like a couple of working dogs around during the day? Kind of like how Google rents their lawn eating livestock out, only in this case the guy/gal wouldn't have to pay.

What about organizations that do service work for hospitals, schools, etc? A Canine Good Citizen cert isn't tough to get, and I know that many of the animals visiting the hospital my aunt works for aren't actually owned by the handler bringing them in.

Perhaps you and your husband could contact a breed rescue organization and set up a co-ownership or fostering situation. One of the breeders our family is friends with regularly fosters dogs on a long-term basis for a variety of reasons--illness, death, short term employment/deployment out of the country, etc. Their interest is in dog happiness and they generally have strict requirements for foster families, and not all of them require you to surrender a dog, particularly if you are paying for food, vet care, etc.
posted by xyzzy at 8:16 PM on September 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Is your husband moving to a different ranch where he's able to work with the dogs a possibility? The management change must be pretty bad for the managers to not allow trained working dogs to be with the cowboys.
posted by quince at 8:18 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Has your husband tried talking with the new managers? Perhaps explaining the use function that the dogs provide, and offering contact information for folks who have seen the dogs out with your husband before, would make a compelling case for why he could continue to bring them out on the job.
posted by phunniemee at 8:18 PM on September 26, 2012

You could see if your local purebred rescue organizations would do a short-term fostering situation.
posted by availablelight at 8:21 PM on September 26, 2012

Sorry to thread-sit, but just to clarify: My husband is in Montana so nearest "local" rescue group is six hours away (and by the looks of their website I'm not sure it even exists anymore). The next closest group is in Wyoming. We really don't want to give the dogs to someone else, even to short-term foster. I'd rather go through the hassle of moving myself than have the dogs living a state away with people we don't know.

Ideally there is some way for them to stay in MT without going insane, otherwise it seems the only other option is for me to move. I was hoping there was some obvious solution I was missing...
posted by blue_bicycle at 8:36 PM on September 26, 2012

Check your MeMail.
posted by HotToddy at 8:40 PM on September 26, 2012

Are you so very remote that you can't get a high school kid or someone else (trustworthy, with references, etc.) to stop by in the afternoon and water them and run the hell out of them? If I was within a reasonable distance, I'd take it on as a modest part time job.
posted by availablelight at 8:56 PM on September 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

In that case you'll probably have to move. Be very careful about shipping your dogs, though. Animal death on airplanes is a problem.
posted by xyzzy at 9:00 PM on September 26, 2012

[Sorry, I just saw your "no one within 50 miles" clarification]
posted by availablelight at 9:02 PM on September 26, 2012

I was hoping there was some obvious solution I was missing...

Consider giving up the dogs entirely.
posted by 6550 at 9:12 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are there teenagers or elementary school students in the area? Truly loaner dogs are surprisingly popular -- if a teenaged cross-country runner can borrow a dog to take longer runs while her parents feel safe because she's got a dog with her, that's good news for everybody. I have two little boys who are becoming dog crazy. We can't own one because of allergies, but I'd probably pay YOU to have your two well-trained dogs come herd my children for an afternoon, and everybody would get to run off energy.

The old lady who lives behind me, there was a family who got a dog but their schedules changed so nobody was home to take care of the dog in the daytime and the dog got bored and lonely and they didn't know what to do, and the lady behind me, who'd been recently widowed, offered to take him during the daytime to keep her company because she was lonely. So she and this dog go walking three times a day, and he runs around the yard while she reads in the sun, and he goes and naps on her legs while she rests. And then at night he goes home to his "other family" which is a rambunctious house full of teenagers across the street. She doesn't feel able to care for a dog full time, especially at night, but to have him as a companion during the day has been really wonderful for her, and kept her in good health because of all the walking she does with the dog. It's worked out really well for both families and for the dog, who has tons of companionship and exercise because he has TWO families.

Unusual, for sure, but wonderful. Perhaps some craigslist hunting might find a teenaged girl looking to learn to work dogs with her hobby sheep or something, but who doesn't want them all the time. Some park districts use borrowed collies to run off geese from parks. Think a little creatively about who might like to borrow your dogs in ways that would be good for the dogs -- joggers, hobby sheepfarmers, parklands during goose season -- and you might find some workable things.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:12 PM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Very strange for a ranch manager to say no to dogs. I spent a lot of years working ranches and feedlots and always found that a good dog was worth at least 2 trained people on horses. Are the new managers city people? If so, there might be the possibility of showing them what the dogs can do and how they help your husband do his job. If they don't understand cowboying, I'll bet they understand the concept of increasing productivity and could be swayed into a more pro-dog outlook.

I hesitate to suggest moving jobs in this economy, but back when I was cowboying if someone had floated the idea that my dog was no longer welcome on the ranch I would be packing my gear in a heartbeat. Cowboys who know their trade are rapidly becoming a rare breed; I've since switched professions but this was true ten years ago and I don't see any reason to believe it's changed.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 10:42 PM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

You know your dogs and I don't, but I'm somewhat skeptical that real working dogs in NYC is a viable option. If you want to get any of your own work done your dogs will not get the attention and exercise they need. From my understanding daily dog walking service in NYC is not cheap. And you'd probably need someone to commit to running them to exhaustion in Central Park for two hours a day at least and even then if they are used to working 12 hour days, they will probably make it impossible for anyone nearby to work as soon as they've had a drink and a nap.

If your husband is not easily replaced, I would suggest he play hardball with the new management -- or if he can seek out a new ranch quickly before the dogs go too crazy. Really don't know the market for professional cowboys.
posted by rocketpup at 6:59 AM on September 27, 2012

There are great dog jogging services in nyc. You'll get a discount for more than one dog. You may need to extend the time to give them sufficient exercise.

A leashed run is less than ideal for a working breed, but it sounds like situation isn't forever so this may have to do. I prefer the previous posts' recommendation to see if you can do a long-term "loan". Great timing for a high schooler who wants a dog but will be off to school in 2-3 years.

It should go without saying, and I'm sure you won't, but please don't put the animals to sleep. I would think this beyond comprehension for a pet owner, but a friends' parents did this to two healthy GSPs a few years ago. I wish I had been aware and intervened. There was apparently no pet-friendly housing in all of Atlanta. I still have no words for the rage this evokes in me.
posted by keasby at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2012

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