Puppies are Cute . . . But Should You Adopt One?

Yes, they're irresistible, but they're a big responsibility too.

Puppies are fragile babies with many physical and psychological needs that must be met.

Are you sure your home is the right home for a puppy? Your lifestyle? If you can answer "Yes!" to all the questions below, then by all means, find yourself a pudgy puppy to love. If not, you need to check out some other options.

Perhaps an adult dog is a better choice for you. Animal shelters are crowded with adult dogs who need homes. You might even discover that you'd be better off with a cat or goldfish as a new pet - or no new pet at all.

Do You Have Time for a Puppy?
Puppies need to be fed three times a day, played with frequently and taken out often to eliminate. Can you commit to one night a week for training class and three 20-minute training sessions a day, plus playtime with your pup?

If your pet has to be left alone for more than two to four hours at a time, or you have a very active social life, you might consider adopting an adult dog who is already housetrained. If you tend to be gone overnight, think cat or goldfish. If you go away for days at a time, head for the pet rocks.

Can You Live With Puppy Messes?
Housetraining mistakes are inevitable. Dogs chew, shed, track mud, jump and knock things over. If you have a low tolerance for dirt and disarray, you should think twice about taking in a canine companion.

Can You Afford a Puppy?
You'll need to provide regular vaccinations and worming, heartworm and flea-control products, spay/neuter surgery, license tags, supplies, toys, food, training and boarding or pet-sitting when you go on vacations or take business trips. Don't forget replacement costs for all the things that the puppy destroys, including the new carpeting that you'll need to buy as soon as she is fully housetrained.

Consider also the trips to the emergency clinic for snakebites, foxtails up her nose and gastrointestinal distress after she eats all the chocolate bunnies out of the Easter baskets. The total expense will vary depending on the size of your dog and where you live, but you can figure on an amount well into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year.

Does Your Landlord Allow Pets?
One of the most common reasons people surrender their dogs to animal shelters is "Landlord won't allow pets." Even if your current landlord allows pets, what happens if you have to move? (With today's transient lifestyles, this is not an idle question.) Are you willing to live in your car or pay to board your dog until you find a new place to live?

Is a Puppy the Best Choice for All Family Members?
If you're adopting a new puppy so that the dog and your new baby can grow up together, save it. By the time Junior is old enough to appreciate having a puppy, the "puppy" will be spending most of her free time sleepily reminiscing in front of the fireplace. And those needle-sharp puppy teeth are excruciatingly painful and harmful to tender baby flesh.

At the other end of the spectrum, a senior may have difficulty managing the antics of a lively pup. One false step could mean hip surgery for Grandma Matilda. Puppy teeth and claws can also tear the fragile skin of an elderly person. If you have a baby or a senior in your household, an older, settled dog would be a better choice.

Will the Puppy be Well Cared For?
Children can learn about responsibility by sharing in the care of a new pup, but the final responsibility belongs to the adults. "Getting rid of Fido" because Junior didn't feed him only teaches your child that life has little value. If you're getting a puppy because you believe that Junior will feed and clean up after him, opt for the pet rock.

Are You Ready for a Lifetime of Commitment?
If you are - and if other family members support the idea of a puppy in the home, and you have the resources to meet the puppy's needs - by all means, go for it. If not, you are only being selfish by taking a puppy home. That puppy's chances of long-term success in your home are slim. Wait until your circumstances change and you're ready to make the commitment before getting a puppy. Meanwhile, you can get your "puppy fix" by volunteering to walk the homeless dogs at your local animal shelter. They need all the love and attention they can get.