Gazette Vet: Finding the Perfect Pet

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By John Andersen, DVM

You’ve decided to get a new dog. A puppy. You’ve researched this topic for the past six months. Your productivity at work has plummeted. You’ve chosen the perfect breed for your family’s lifestyle. It will be active. It will love children. It will play fetch. It doesn’t even shed. The parents are from champion bloodlines. The breeder is highly regarded. This will be a dog for the ages.

It will sleep through the night and be potty trained in days. It will have firm poop once a day. Its health will be abundant. Its personality will be winning. It will save your family from intruders and fires. It is hypoallergenic. It can be claimed as a tax deduction. It won’t bark. It can’t bite. It trims its own nails. It will be…the perfect dog.

And then…it’s not.

It won’t go to sleep unless you are sleeping on the floor next to it, with your arm in the crate. It has a little spot on its face that turned out to be mange. It won’t eat its food unless it’s softened with chicken broth, heated slightly, and topped with grated cheese. It has diarrhea. Two of its baby teeth never came out. It’s allergic to chicken. At nine months of age it was still peeing on the carpet. At one year of age it got its first of many ear infections. At four years of age it ruptured its left ACL, and then ruptured the other a year later. It sheds like someone keeps dumping your vacuum bag on the rug. How did this happen???

My apologies for the exaggerated opening there, but if you’ve ever gotten a puppy before you’re probably either laughing or crying. Getting a new dog is a great and exciting experience, and I certainly don’t want to dissuade anyone from doing such. But there is definitely a humbling side to it—knowing that there is no guarantee that yours will be the perfect pet.

I regularly have clients who seem more than a bit disappointed when I tell them their new (and expensive!) puppy has a problem. And it’s understandable. With the Internet as a tool, people are able to research everything about different types of breeds and their breeders to make very educated decisions about the type of dog they get.

But those darned genetics. That chaotic mixing of DNA, churning out mutations, popping up recessive genes…all leading to a result that is a one in 64 trillion outcome—your dog.

That’s right. You and your pets are very special. When DNA from a male and female combine to form a fertilized egg, there were 64 trillion different ways it could’ve come together! If you’re having a bad day, remember that you were created as a very unique and special person!

So yes, you did pay for an English-style black Labrador retriever. And yes, at 3-4 years of age, both mom and dad were free from any major health problems and had winning personalities. So, the odds are pretty good your new girl will be a winner right? Well, yes! But, 1-in-64,000,000,000 odds say don’t be too disappointed if your dog turns out a bit different than you had planned.

Now I know this is almost sounding depressing, like I’m suggesting no one should ever purchase a puppy because it won’t be what you thought. Not at all. You’re definitely going to get an English-style black Lab. And by the time you’ve had her for two days you’ll never be able to let her go. That bond forms quickly and dogs can fill voids that you didn’t even know you had. So it really won’t be such a big deal if there’s a little mange. Or some worms. Or incessant barking. Just realize that you’ll never know exactly what you’re getting until you’ve had her for about 13 years.

You’ll soon realize that she definitely has ADHD, but that she is a great companion for your 9-year-old boy. You’ll find that she sheds an incomprehensible amount of hair, but also that she makes you feel like a celebrity every time you come back home. You’ll ultimately have to replace the sofa, two end tables, all your rugs, and a dining room table, but you’ll never forget how she was always right by your side when you were so sick. And one day you’ll find again just how quiet a house can be without a dog.

So if it’s come time to look for a new pet, by all means do the research. Try to think what your family’s lifestyle is really like and how a dog will fit in. And be flexible. Look at the breeds, check out some puppies. But also don’t forget about the SPCA, rescue organizations, and other places that might have some free, “imperfect” dogs, young and old.

But mostly, get ready for a wonderful experience with a new best friend.