Should I get a dog?
October 12, 2020 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Should I get a dog? Lots of pros, a few cons. Some people in my life are extremely supportive, encouraging and wonder why I don't already have one. Meanwhile some other important people in my life strongly disagree, enough to give me some serious paws (hah!). Obviously I will make my own decisions, but I need an (relatively!) unbiased Nth opinion, which is where the awesome mefites come in!

Background - most people would classify me a "cat person", but really I'm an animal person. Up until earlier this summer I had 3 cats, when my heart-and-soul and much beloved Kilo crossed to the bridge after a long battle with IBD complications. Now that some time has passed there's hole in my heart and life (and pet budget) I cant possibly fill with another cat, but it might be time finally add a dog to my furr-kid family.

However, reasons why this might be a bad idea:

• 2 senior cats with almost zero dog experience who have also just lost their mommy cat (although i suspect they dont see it that way, I do). Their safety and well-being are my first priorities and are dog-blockers, full stop. If their safety, or even relative quality of life isn't maintained, this is a no-go.
• Its just me, and I work full time. Lots of caveats here…
• Itty bitty tiny yard. I mean, it is a yard, and it's even fenced, and I own the place, but its more a 100ft sq cement slab with a couple of sad unidentified green things struggling for life.
• Strata pet regulations (in BC a strata is our word for the more commonly understood HOA). Technically... I'm allowed 2 pets under 18" in height, this would bring the total back up to 3. I've had 3 cats since I bought the place 6ish years ago and have not had one issue. Technically, this could be a problem... but I sincerely doubt it. My neighbour in the complex has 3 dogs. I have no idea why that’s cool, but seems to be.
• Puppies are a lot of work, and I am already an anxious stress ball who works too hard. See:
• Covid times...
• I’m a strong believer in adopting, not shopping, but there are literally no dogs. At all. Petfinder is empty. The local SPCAs are empty. And my circumstances with the cats mean I need the absolutely right temperament small dog with zero prey drive, which isn’t as certain with a rescue. When the rescues come back, around here they’re typically flown in from other high-kill areas around the world, and there’s not many foster-to-adopt situations. A lot of the time you do not get an opportunity to meet the dog before committing, because rescues only bring them into the country after they have a place to stay. I’ve reached out a a few reputable mini-doodle breeders instead, and their wait lists are months-to-years long as well, but is probably the way I’ll go for the peace of mind, support and relative certainty of the temperament of the dog I’m bringing into my life.
• I have a bad habit of getting super excited about things, buying them, then having them sit in the garage never to be touched again. (I'm looking at you ebike...). Obviously, this is not possible with a dog. But it's a disturbing trend I'm wary off.
• Who knows what the future will bring? 10-15 years (ie puppy life expectancy) is a long time...

Reasons why this is a good idea:

• I’m a proven good pet owner! The financial aspect of pet ownership is understood and not a problem. I’ll probably spend more money than I need to, to be honest…
• I’m committed to making sure I have a well mannered, well trained dog, and understand the work that requires.
• It’s just me, and that’s not going to change any time soon. I need a walking buddy for all the trails I have around here! I also really really want a dog to accompany me on camping trips, etc. I just bought a camper van, it needs a co-pilot! I also could use an external force to get me out of the house.
• Because of covid, I’m working from home until at least March. If/when I go back, I work for an extremely dog-friendly office. We even have our own private off-leash dog run on the campus property. There's lots of opportunities for dog socialization at work!
• I’ve wanted a dog my entire life, love hanging out when them, am so jealous of those who have them, and it’s feeling like it’s finally the right time. And uh… I’m no spring chicken here either!

Reading all the above, if I was answering this ask.metafilter question I’d be like “the fact you’ve thought this much about it means you’re ready, do it!” but there are detractors in my life, so I'm not as confident with my own decision making process. Any thoughts from the mefite crowd? Thanks!
posted by cgg to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Senior cats, to me, are a pretty big reason to not get a dog, especially if those cats have zero dog experience. My boyfriend came with a 12 year old dog (with puppy energy no less) and while she isn't going to go after my 18-year-old cat at all, her baseline reaction to the cat is BORK BORK BORK and the cat is like, seriously, fuck all THAT. She would be fine if the dog would leave her alone, but the dog is not genetically capable of leaving her alone. When he's here with the Bork Dork we have to segregate them, which is low stress for the old cat but not ideal for the dog.

It's A LOT and you've already committed to these cats. Outside of the possibility of the Perfect Small Dog, I don't see how this works for the cats. They will probably be stressed and upset. And dogs are so. much. more. work. than. cats. Really. I love Bork Dork but I'm glad my bf is primarily responsible for her. My life with my cat is a LOT less involved.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2020 [15 favorites]

the fact you’ve thought this much about it means you’re ready, do it!

I was almost in this same position two years ago. The dog and older cat don't get along great, it's been a lot of work, but at the end of the day, I'm so happy with the choice.

If you have a small yard, it doesn't matter much (Many dog owners have no yard! It's not a requirement). But, especially in puppy times, expect a lot of walks and a lot of going to the dog park (over 6 months ofc).

For timing... well... I personally would prefer to get a puppy in spring. Winter is a little difficult for potty training. If I were you, and I was on the fence, I might "let the fates decide". Wait for the shelter to get some dogs and work with that. However, we went through an AKC breeder (which I regret slightly, because, well, shelters, but at least it wasn't a puppy mill) and breeders may have pups for you if you don't want to "let the fates decide".
posted by bbqturtle at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Have your cats spent any real time around dogs before this? There's a chance they won't like it at all.

If it's possible, consider fostering a dog to see if the cats will tolerate it. At the start of quarantine, my roommate fostered a kitten as a possible companion for her senior cat, but it stressed the senior cat out, so after a few weeks when someone adopted the cat through the foster service, the roommate just told them that would have to be the only time. Easy peasy, and at least we got to help socialize a kitten for its new home.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:11 PM on October 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

Yes, I think you should get a dog. I think it is easy for a lot of people (possibly the detractors in your life) to overestimate the negative aspects or potential issues with dog ownership and underestimate the awesome parts. Dogs are great. You sound like an excellent dog owner. Get the dog.
posted by mjcon at 1:12 PM on October 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

How do your cats respond when friends with dogs visit?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:21 PM on October 12, 2020

In terms of the cats, could you dog sit for a night or two (ie, borrow a friend's dog) to see how it goes? Normally I'd suggest fostering, but it seems like that won't work in your situation. However, if you have a friend with a chill, low-prey-drive dog that you can borrow, that might be a good way to test drive this. IME, cats, even senior cats, are very good at handling dogs. (My friend rescued a 60 lb almost-feral village dog who tried to eat her 5 lb 15 year old cat the first weekend. The cat shut that shit down but quick and they reached an understanding immediately).

I don't think the yard is an issue. I have a very energetic collie-spaniel mix and only had a yard the first year of his life. The yard was nice for potty training, but if the dog is energetic, a yard is not really going to help much (energetic dogs tend to need either more space than is available even in large yards OR the stimulation of other dogs, people and smells, or both) and if it isn't, then the lack of a yard is no problem. The fact that your dog would have opportunities for socializing at your place of work seems more important than having a yard.

It sounds like you want a dog but probably won't be able to get one right away, so I would sign up for the breed rescues you're interested in now, and spend the intervening time getting ready for a dog (ie, testing out dogs in your home, fostering if the chance ever comes up, etc).
posted by lunasol at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is there some reason you need your dog to be a puppy? I got my senior* dog last fall from a rescue who got them from a high-kill shelter. My dog is a cat-sized, cat-friendly dog who is expected to live another 5-10 years. And came pre-trained. And is THE most well-behaved dog I have ever spent any time around. For example, I literally had to train them to mooch. Also, my dog is portable. I got one with a long nose because squish-nosed dogs are more prone to breathing problems and I wanted a dog that could keep up on walks. My dog is an external force that gets me walking. If I don't walk my dog, my dog becomes an anxious dog. I got a dog whose top priority in life is to be a "lap" dog (which apparently has nothing to do with laps - it means I have an extremely codependent shadow). When my dog ages out of keeping up, I'll be able to just carry them with me!

It sounds like my dog would be perfect for the situation you're describing. so I recommend:
- cat-sized dog (~10 lbs)
- senior dog

Note: I checked out a bunch of dog training books when I got my dog, and the books I read were pretty insistent that any dog can have any personality, all dogs are trainable, and buying a dog based on breed typically isn't the way to go. My dog looks like a Papillon, behaves like a Chihuahua, and when people ask, I say they're a Scottish Fold.

*They came with peeing issues that were clearly not about housetraining, and which cleared up with a change in diet.
posted by aniola at 1:50 PM on October 12, 2020 [9 favorites]

I think you should enjoy your cats and reconsider getting a dog once they pass away.

I love my dog to pieces, but she’s A LOT of work and very expensive. The caretaking burden is very high. Also, she is gentle and has no prey drive with cats, but of course cats still don’t want to be around her and are very stressed out by her presence. I’ve had cats all my life previous to adopting my dog, and I doted on those cats...but having a dog is entirely different. Entirely.

In terms of the time and money and just plain old caretaking commitment, think of it less like adopting a cat and more like adopting a kid. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I’m serious.
posted by rue72 at 1:50 PM on October 12, 2020 [11 favorites]

One consideration that is not on your list is, "Do I have time to provide enough stimulation and socialization for a dog?"

Letting a dog run around in a backyard (no matter the size) is not a substitution for the kinds of exercise and social stimulation a dog will need. Dogs are pack animals they need interaction with their humans and with other dogs to keep them happy and healthy.

A dog that does not get enough walks, or opportunity to play at a dog park, or have a ball thrown, or work on agility drives or whatever will become bored and sad. A bored and sad dog will start chewing on things you don't want them to chew on, peeing where you don't want them to pee, whining, digging, and all sorts of other behavior you will not enjoy.

If you aren't willing or able to provide enough exercise and stimulation for a dog (whether you provide it or pay someone else to provide it), then you shouldn't get a dog.
posted by brookeb at 1:53 PM on October 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

My only hesitation would be the senior cats, since older kitties are frequently less easy-going about change. I have a dog living happily with three cats, but none of the cats were very elderly when the dog arrived. (Also the dog was a foster, and if things had gone badly, I had options.)

I wonder if asking a friend who has a proven good-with-cats dog to come over would get you an idea of how the cats would react. It's perfectly possible that they'll be fine with it if the dog is not intrusive, but on the other hand they may decide to pee everywhere, which is no fun at all.
posted by PussKillian at 1:58 PM on October 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

My dog died last April, and after having had him as my shadow for 16 years it's rather empty without him. But it's also rather liberating. There are a lot of places I couldn't go, trails I couldn't hike, things I couldn't do with a dog. My family and I loved him but although it's lonely hiking by myself now I'm probably not going to get another dog.

Which is to say, think over the things you do and figure out how having a dog will fit. Dogs are basically pack animals and are unhappy being alone. Can you be the companion your dog will need?

(Personally, I think your cats will be fine with you having a dog even if they don't actually like dogs; they'll make some kind of relationship and you don't need to take their feelings into much consideration .. pace the cat people.)
posted by anadem at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

You don't want 'a dog'. You want the right dog under the right circumstances. I see no reason not to start looking now for a super-chill, loves-but-doesn't-harass-cats dog. Put feelers out internationally, tell all your friends you're interested but not in a hurry, and maybe the right dog will come along.

If you put a lot of work into finding a really perfect dog, but the cats can't warm up to it, it sounds like you'd have a pretty easy time re-homing her (although that will be heartbreaking). I know you'll do the right amount of research to find the right dog temperament.

I would _not_ get a puppy or buy from a breeder. Since you're kind of on the fence and not in a hurry, you can be creative about finding the right one.

If Craigslist operates in your area, look at the pet listings there, and do a little research about adopting a dog from a private owner (get a vet to check the dog out, etc.).
posted by amtho at 2:06 PM on October 12, 2020 [7 favorites]

FWIW my dog is a lot more expensive (in dollars, effort, time...) than my cat.

Other than the senior cats, I felt kinda neutral about both your "why yes" and "why no" sections. A couple of things I think you should add to your considerations are: how much time you've spent taking care of a dog -- not just visiting or hanging out, but have you spent extended time with a dog? Also, I don't know anything about designer breeds (sorry if that's not the correct term) but what if despite going that route, you end up with a dog that has at least some of the traits you're trying to avoid, or you just don't "gel"?
posted by sm1tten at 2:08 PM on October 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would probably wait until your senior cats died, unless you know that you could rehome the dog if it does not work out. We have a passel of senior cats and two dogs and we have the house completely separated in half and rotate between animals that have access to the downstairs because simply having dogs around stressed one cat out to the point that we ended up getting over a grand in vet bills. The solution? Keep them completely separate. Always.

If you do get a dog, I would not go with a doodle. They do not have a standard and it is an extreme crapshoot on what comes out both in terms of size and temperament. I’d stick with a reputable breeder that breeds health-tested, registered dogs that participate in some sort of training or dog activities. Many show breeders retire out their breeding dogs or failed show dogs to pet homes, there are several Facebook groups dedicated to this. Going with an older dog is going to give you the best outcome- you know what you’re getting, the dog already has some training, the dog isn’t a crazy puppy that is going to drive your cats up a wall.
posted by shesaysgo at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Your reasons for a dog are compelling. But you already have the cats, so I'd look at how specifically disruptive a dog would be to their lives. How would their routines need to change? Do they have safe, comfortable, accessible spaces out of dog reach in each room? Many dogs find litter boxes delightful and a source of disgusting treats, how will you protect your cats' comfort and access to litter? Will your cats need to be fed in a different location or manner to prevent food theft? Where do your cats spend most of their time now, and how would a dog alter those spaces? If the dog and cats need to be kept separated for more than a day or two how will that work?

Try setting up your place with those questions in mind. Give your cats a few weeks to adjust, without any dog, and give yourself time to come up with other specific considerations. Good luck!
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Re the doodle thing, after growing up with a beloved family cockapoo I was looking at doodles and found out most people say not to buy them because of what is mentioned above- no reputable breeder will give out their prize poodle for breeding mixes. Therefore your resultant dog is a bit of a crapshoot. I will probably get some sort of pure bred poodle eventually (or adopt).
As for everything else, just seconding the amount of work a dog is, even though I think you have compelling reasons for getting one. I too would probably wait until your cats pass away. And then just be prepared for your dog to follow you everywhere, staring at you. The aforementioned beloved cockapoo is 15 and still will get up from his cozy spot on the couch to trail me into the kitchen every. single. time. I get up. They are such weird little creatures.
posted by clarinet at 2:35 PM on October 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Normally I would say GET A DOG, but I agree with others saying wait. Your senior kitties should take priority. Introducing a new entity into their lives, however well behaved, could upset the apple cart and cause unnecessary stress to their systems.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 3:07 PM on October 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughts so far, really really appreciate it. Just to clarify - when I say senior kitties, they’re 11 and they don't act like senior cats, they're just in that age range designation. They could have another 2-3 years like their mommy cat (who was sick her whole life), or another 10. Does that change the thoughts of those suggesting wait?

Thanks again all.
posted by cgg at 3:33 PM on October 12, 2020

In addition to all of the reasons above, a dog will fundamentally change the energy in your home. I'm a dog person through and through and I think your two senior/older cats have earned to live out their years in the cat-vibe home they've lived in all their lives.
posted by headnsouth at 4:15 PM on October 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think a upper-middle-aged small dog is going to be your best bet, if you can find one. aniola's points about size and temperament and ease of training are all very valid and true, in my experience, and (not knowing how spacious your home is), my elder chihuahua is generally fine to hang out in a closed room or a crate if I leave the house for a few hours and I have any concern at all how he'll act when I'm away.

Like, if you have a studio apartment, I'd say no dog. But if you have a few rooms with doors you can close to keep your animals in separate compartments when you're not there to manage them? Absolutely go for an older small dog. My old man chi is the light of my life, and I would hate to go another 2-3-10 years without meeting him while I waited for my other pets to pass away.
posted by knotty knots at 6:18 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Don’t do this to your cats. They’re not used to dogs and unless you know for sure that they’d be cool with a dog, it’s too much stress for them.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:21 PM on October 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

Maybe - since you'll be home for the next 6 months, and then dog can go to work with you - the right small, calm dog would work. Probably an adult raised with cats, but MAYBE a calm-breed puppy that you can crate train just in case you absolutely have to leave doggo alone with cats for short times. (Mine was not a calm-breed, but turned out to be a calm, cat-friendly puppy that didn't annoy my cats too awful much. He's just Not A Barker and Not Crazy Hyper.)
posted by stormyteal at 9:09 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

posted by KayQuestions at 9:56 PM on October 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

You have two elderly cats, can't have another pet under your home association's rules, and you haven't had a dog of your own before.

I would not recommend getting a dog. It would be terribly irresponsible to get a puppy and then have to rehome it because of a rule that you knew about before you got them.
posted by winna at 5:02 AM on October 13, 2020 [5 favorites]

I can't speak to the kitties issues at all, just to dog adoption during the pandemic.

I'm in a major metro in the US, one where there are no dogs in shelters or every dog that's listed by a private agency gets 20 applications. When we adopted our adult dog a few months ago, it was an annoying process - we filled out applications with at least 8 organizations for a total of 25 different dogs. Some of them rejected us outright because they had limited the area they served due to the pandemic. Another said that if we fostered 5 dogs they would consider us as adopters, and we politely said no because that didn't fit our needs. A third said they had a match but then we did more research on the organization and decided that we weren't comfortable with their health screenings and backed out of the adoption. Being willing to rent a car and drive a bit outside of the city to meet dogs in foster really opened up our options, and eventually we found a couple of agencies who had a reasonable number of dogs coming through their doors and we just had to wait until the right dog showed up. A friend of mine who started with the same agency as us adopted a puppy from them within 3 weeks and had a great experience.

We're now 3 months into life with a small, 7 year old terrier mix who has no prey drive and no interest in cats except their food. We got to meet her before committing to the adoption, and she's turned out to be one of the laziest dogs I've ever known, true to what her foster mom told us. While I can't speak to the specific dog adoption situation in BC, I think it's probably possible to adopt a dog that will work out for you - it will just take a lot of time and effort to find the right agency and then the right dog.
posted by A Blue Moon at 9:17 AM on October 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Its just me, and I work full time.
Puppies are a lot of work, and I am already an anxious stress ball who works too hard.

I would strongly suggest that you do not get a puppy. A puppy is like an unruly child. Your home will be a disaster area. Perhaps adopt a mature dog from a shelter.
posted by Splunge at 10:13 AM on October 13, 2020

You should get a dog! It’s going to be great, and I say this as a long time owner of two (now) senior cats who don’t even particularly like dogs and have been living happily with the dog I completely unexpectedly rescued two years ago.

I did not plan to get a dog. I thought the cats wouldn’t tolerate it at all and planned to wait for the end of their lifespans. But then a dog found me and they were surprisingly chill about said dog and so I kept him. And he is the absolute joy of my life and I will never be dog-less again.

You sound so well equipped for a dog! You have a dog friendly office and dog friendly activities you enjoy. You even have a fenced in yard, which sure, is small, but many many dogs live in apartments and don’t have any yard at all.

Most importantly, it sounds like a dog would bring you joy; you mention the need for the motivation to get out the house and indeed a dog is so good for that. And good for mental health in a way my (still extremely beloved) cats can’t quite replicate.

So you’ll have to take steps to make sure your dog and cats can cohabitate, but yes, you should get a dog.
posted by nancynickerson at 5:12 PM on October 13, 2020

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