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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Animal House – Part One: Is Your Home Dog Ready?

As soon as I sized up the situation, I knew, despite my selfish reservations, what to do. Someone had once done the same for me.

I got a confirming nod from my husband, DC, then said to the kids, “We’ll take the dog.”

DC’s son and his wife were in a tough spot. One year ago, they had their second child. About that time they also rescued an eight-week-old puppy, one of a litter of ten born in a foster home to a mid-sized mamma mix, who’d also been rescued. A puppy, a baby and a toddler seemed like a Made-for-Hallmark Movie -- at first.

Fast forward one year. The baby is starting to walk. The oldest child is three, and the dog, Luke, whose dad no one knew, but who we now surmise was the LeBron James of dogs, weighs more than the two tots put together and can leap a picnic table in a single bound. His warm-hearted exuberance and his 50 (and gaining) pounds of pure canine muscle were knocking the little ones – among other things – over like bowling pins.

Attached as the parents were to this lovable galoot, he was too much for this young, two-working-parent household to manage. DC and I sensed the stress. We felt for the family and the dog.

Though Luke is not a dog I would have picked – I’m partial to small, non-shedding breeds -- a gate in me opened, and I stepped through. True, DC and I already have two dogs, a good dog routine (four walks a day and lots of attention), and no small children, so are set up to help. But that was only part of it. This was also my chance to pay a debt of kindness forward.

I flashed back 25 years. I was a new mom and had a beloved sheltie named Bonnie, who was not a fan of the baby. She raised her lip when the baby got close, occasionally snarled and once or twice nipped. I kept hoping she would adjust, but one day in the kitchen, I handed my daughter, who was starting to walk, a peanut-butter cracker, and as I did, Bonnie bit her arm. Though she didn’t break the skin, she left a ring of red teeth marks and no doubt where this was heading.

Sobbing, I called my parents, who both picked up on the house landline: “Bonnie bit the baby,” I cried.

In classic fashion, my practical army nurse mother said, “Wash it with soap and water,” while my father magnanimously said, “We’ll take the dog.”

Years later, I thanked them again for stepping in. Dad brushed it off, like it was all part of the job, and said, “That’s what families are for.”

Two weeks ago, DC and I took Luke to boot camp to see if this 13-month-old, motorized pogo stick could turn into a nice family member. At dog boarding school, Luke is learning basic manners, like not to put his paws on your chest when he greets you. (Men, are you listening?) He’s learning how to get along with dogs from all walks, and that when a girl says grrr, she means grrr. He’s going on guided field trips, and has so far been to The Home Depot and Wawa’s. He attends cotillion class, where he learns to sit like a gentleman and stay, sort of, and he’s getting his yayas out through lots of yard exercise.

We’ve brought Peapod and Pippin out to meet their new brother, and start welcoming him to the pack. And I’ve explained to them what I’ve said to you: Homes are elastic. They flex in unexpected ways, expanding and contracting as kids, parents, siblings, grandchildren, and, yes, pets come and go.

Because, well, that’s what families -- and homes -- are for.

Now, not every home can or should take in a dog. Before you open your door or heart to one, ask these 10 questions:

  1. How stable are you? Though you don’t always know what’s coming, if you’re planning to get married, move, have a baby, or downsize into an apartment, you may want to hold off getting a dog until you get through your transition.

  2. Is the breed a good fit? Certain breeds (bichons) are couch potatoes while other breeds (border collies) need lots of room to run. Know what you’re getting.

  3. Will your house and routine let the dog get out enough? Dogs need to get out several times a day. Can you take the dog on frequent walks? Will he have a play area or yard?

  4. Does your landlord or homeowner’s association allow dogs? Some communities don’t allow any dogs, others restrict by weight (over 25 pounds) and breed (no rottweilers or Dobermans, for example).

  5. Who will care for the pet when you travel? Do you have a pet sitter or a boarding facility you trust?

  6. Can you afford it? Food, pet supplies, shots, neutering, routine care, heartworm medication, regular grooming, it all adds up.

  7. Are you home enough? Don’t get a dog if you work all day and often go out at night. Dogs were bred to be companions. If they don’t get enough daily interaction, they will develop behavior problems.

  8. Will you get training? Dogs aren’t born with manners, and, to be welcome members of the household, they need to learn “petiquette.” Owners need training, too.

  9. Are the other household members on board? Every household member, human and non-human, needs to buy in and get along with the new pet.

  10. How’s the dog’s temperament? Unless you want a guard dog and accept that they could be a liability, make sure your dog is good with people of all ages, and other dogs.

Join me next week as Luke graduates from boot camp and comes home to the Happier Yellow House.

CAPTION: A dog’s life -- Daily dog walks are a necessary part of a healthy routine for pets and their humans. Photo courtesy of Laurentiu Nica for

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