Out of all the stupid stuff I did in my 20s, being a bad pet owner is what I’m most ashamed of. Right around the time I was signing a lease on a brand-new apartment at the tender age of 22, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to get a dog too. I was an adult, after all.
While I loved my little pup (named Killer) to pieces, I didn’t treat her very well. In retrospect, and especially after becoming a parent, I’ve realized the error of my ways.
I know new pet owners, like any overwhelmed new parents, are bound to make mistakes, but I can only hope that anyone considering their first pet will learn from where I went wrong. In an attempt to better the lives of pets and new pet owners, here are my biggest pet-parenting regrets.
Since I was totally green in the ways of owning a dog, it would only make sense that I purchased my pup, a terrier-poodle mix (or “terripoo”), from the first eligible-looking breeder that I saw on craigslist. I now know that this kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants purchasing of a pet is not a good idea in the least. Today, my older self would strongly urge my younger self to consider pet adoption first of all, or otherwise, find out more about a puppy’s breeding and medical history before agreeing to pay $250 on the side of the road.
What is doggie custody, you ask? It’s what happens when two young people in a relationship decide that, instead of having a child, they want to get a pet together as an expression of their love. While I will concede that it was a fantastic idea for me not to have a baby at that time, it was also an extra-dumb idea to attempt to share a dog with a boyfriend who didn’t live in my apartment. To this day, I still can’t tell you what we were thinking. Ah, young love.
This was my worst pet owner mistake by far, and I’m happy to tell you why. While I did own a small breed, the way that I kept my dog cooped up in an apartment for the majority of the day was not at all fair. Working at a restaurant and going to school meant that I probably didn’t have time to be a responsible dog owner, if I’d taken a moment to think about it objectively. My dog was confined in my room most days (so as not to bother my roommates) and was lucky if I took her for a daily walk. I still feel guilty whenever I think about it.
Piggybacking off my irresponsible apartment-pet ownership comes my lack of pet potty training. Since my poor little dog spent most of her time in my room, without the daily exercise and bathroom breaks she needed, I opted to have her use puppy training pads in my adjoined bathroom instead. (I know, I know, I am the worst.) Let the record show that I’ve since repented of my ways, have managed to potty train two human toddlers and have taken them on lots of daily walks.
This one was just plain old stupidity. Being the young 20something that I was who was more focused on work, friends and fun, I didn’t take much time to put away my valuables before closing my dog up in my room for the day. Ultimately, I paid the price to the tune of a few thousand dollars when I lost my security deposit after my dog destroyed my apartment’s new carpeting by eating more than one ballpoint pen.
You’d think at this point I would have run up the white flag and asked for outside help, but that would have made too much sense. I continued on being a jerk pet owner who kept my dog inside all day long and barely made an attempt at house training. I also didn’t put much effort into managing poor behavior, like barking and nipping — which, come to think of it, might explain that simmering undercurrent of tension I always felt with my roommates. I was a bad pet owner and a very bad roommate indeed.
This could be considered a blessing in disguise since it forced me to rehome my poor pup to a loving family. At the end of my lease (after I paid out the nose for new carpeting), I stayed temporarily with my sister until I could find a new apartment. Of course, I failed to do the responsible thing and talk to her landlord first. When I found out I couldn’t keep my dog at her house — and had been keeping her there illegally for a few weeks — I cried buckets of crocodile tears as I realized I had to give her up for good. I was lucky enough to find a family with kids who desperately wanted a fuzzy little friend, and she was lucky enough to move on to someone who could actually take care of her.
While this was an embarrassing period of my life that I’d prefer to block out, I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes. I no longer treat animals like toys or accessories that I can shut in a room whenever I feel like it. And as much as it hurts to admit that I was a dumbass in my 20s, my big fail as a first-time pet owner was the kick in the pants that I needed. I've realized now that obvious truth that all pet lovers hold so dear — I try to treat my dogs the way I want to be treated.
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