Can we get a puppy?

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When our sons were 6 and 9, without too much resistance from their father, I decided to get them a dog. It wasn't exactly what they were asking for. This wasn't one of those situations where the children beg and the all-wise parent says, "When you're old enough to take care of the dog ..." I knew who was going to take care of the dog. Anyway, no one else was thinking about one. The older son had his hopes set on the newest Playstation. The younger son was afraid of dogs, which was the clincher. The grandson of a man who had served in Army Canine during World War II wasn't going to be afraid of dogs.

I started with the ASPCA and the Animal Rescue League. It was slim pickings for puppies that year, so I expanded my horizons to the classifieds. I found the litter about an hour from home - mongrel puppies, their father a yellow Labrador, the mother a Shepherd-something. There were 9 of them and they were $40 each. I wanted a female, I told the owner, would Saturday be soon enough? She thought that it would be since the ad had just run for the first time. Just to be sure, I left my phone number. I wasn't surprised when she called back the next day to tell me that the puppies were going fast. She'd selected a female for us and outfitted her with a green collar.We told the boys that we had a surprise for them. The older son hoped it was electronic. "It's black and it plays," I promised. The younger son and I drove down to get the puppy one spring afternoon. We named her Black Magic, which soon became Maggie, and she rode home on my son's lap in the backseat of the car. It was an exercise in approach avoidance for him. She was young and soft and she smelled like puppy. She had been ripped from her mother and litter and had a thing or two to say about it which touched his tender heart. She also had little razor-sharp teeth.

The monologue from the backseat went something like: "Oh, poor little puppy, it's okay, little puppy. Ow ow ow ow, Mommmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!"

By the time we got home, he wasn't afraid of dogs anymore. We could have returned the dog that day. We didn't. Maggie outlasted everyone. The do we fostered for NEADS went off to be an assistance dog. The marriage ended. The sons went to college. Maggie turned twelve, developed a sensitive stomach and became incontinent. It's still a love story. The younger son is home for the summer and actually takes care of her. It's the only thing he does that isn't convenient.

With many families cutting back on summer expenses, fewer days for kids at camp and abbreviated family vacations, one way to make the summer spectacular - in case your kids haven't thought of it yet - is a puppy.

If the family is going to be home more, summer is a great time to bring a new dog into the family. An older - presumably housebroken dog - can arrive almost any time of year but for a puppy there's no question warm weather makes the job easier. In terms of miles for your puppy purchasing dollar, a dog repays you over and over again. A few - very few - words to the wise.

If you're thinking about getting a dog:
  • Do the research. Breeds are really different. They have different temperaments and different vulnerabilities. A Border Collie comes when called (but needs exercise and work). A Retriever comes when he gets around-to-it or something smells really good.
  • Money! this is, afterall, Walletpop. The costs vary enormously from breed to breed and not just in the cost of the dog. Food costs. Medical vulnerabilities. Even grooming costs vary. Some breeds are likely to have longer, healthier lives than others. All need immunizations. Do the research. Get advice from a veterinarian. Check with local animal rescue groups and online for rescue groups for individual breeds.
  • Who's really going to be doing the work? If you're a parent, don't get a dog unless you're willing to do more pet care than you probably think is reasonable. Consider your existing stress level. Is a puppy is going to put you right over the top?
Is it worth the investment? Ask anyone who has grown up with a dog.
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