Sometimes, impulse decisions are the best ones. The pair of shoes you really couldn’t afford but put a spring in your step every time you wear them. The last-minute vacation that turned out to be an unforgettable adventure. The impromptu night out that led you to a new partner, friend or lover.
When it comes to pets, though, impulse decisions are generally frowned upon. Search the web for advice on buying a pet and take your pick from thousands of articles saying the same thing in thousands of different ways: Don’t be an ass; take your time; a dog’s for life, not just for Christmas, etc.
It’s all good advice. If you’re a flaky sort of person who’s likely to bring a pet into your home and then change your mind five minutes later, you should probably take a moment and really think about what you’re doing. But if you have a good heart and try to do the right thing, an impulse pet could be the best thing you ever do.
My kids are obsessed with animals and would have a house full of rodents and reptiles if they had their way. We compromised on a kitten, which kept them quiet for a few minutes. As much as they love her, it wasn’t long before they started requesting another four-legged friend. We had a few dogs when I was growing up and I always thought I’d get one of my own, but there always seemed to be too many reasons to put it off. I’ll wait until the kids are older, so they can take more responsibility. I’m not sure if I can afford the extra cost. What would I do with a dog when we go abroad for three weeks every summer? And, of course, what if the dog tries to eat the cat?
So having a dog was always something we spoke about, but it never went any further than "someday."
Until a month ago, when a relative who could no longer look after their dog asked me if I wanted to take her. She’d already been rehomed once before and needed a stable family. I don’t know what it was, but something stopped me from saying no and justifying my decision with all the reasons it wasn’t the right time for us to add a dog to the mix. She came to visit, I fell in love, and she never left.
It was a complete impulse decision — but one of the best I’ve ever made.
It wasn’t smooth sailing right off the bat. She was nervous around the kids. The cat was understandably pissed that a dog had encroached on her territory. We had several days of negotiating a stair gate to keep the animals apart, and several nights of nonstop whining, barking and howling.
But it got easier. She's slotted perfectly into the family, and I think that's partly because we approached the change — which is undoubtedly a huge one; I don't dispute for a second that a dog is a huge commitment and responsibility — with a relaxed attitude. (I say we; my kids were as relaxed as possible for 5- and 8-year-olds who have a brand-new best friend with a wet tongue and a wagging tail.)
If I'd made a list of pros and cons of having a dog at this stage in our lives, the cons would definitely have been longer. A dog is expensive, and we're a one-income family. A dog needs regular attention, company and exercise, and life is already pretty hectic. A dog can be smelly and messy and leave mucky paw prints all over the carpet. Dogs need you in a way that cats simply don't. (Plus, cats really, really don't need dogs.) In the best possible way, a dog is a burden.
I didn't make a list. But if I had, the single pro would have kicked the asses of each and every con. This dog makes our lives better in endless ways. In the short time she's been with us, she's taught my children another type of love and responsibility. They don’t complain about going for a walk, because they know she needs exercise. They’ve learned to consider the needs of another creature in our home, recognizing if she’s hungry, tired, bored or playful.
This little pooch has made me step out of my thoughts and walk in the fresh air twice a day, taking the time to appreciate the beauty in the little things I too often take for granted or don't even notice. A sunny day, a smile from a stranger, a beautiful sunset. As a work-from-home freelancer, I have no face-to-face interaction with colleagues. I’ve always been fine with working alone, but I had no idea how comforting it would be to feel the warmth of a dog lying by my feet, under my desk. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
If you're weighing up the pros and cons of getting a dog, my only advice is this: ditch the list and go with your gut feeling. If I hadn't acted on impulse, I'd be missing out on so much.
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