Ask Sassafras: Should My Girlfriend And I Get A Dog?

Ask Sassafras: Should My Girlfriend and I Get A Dog?

Ask Sassafras, for all your pet related questions!

Dear Sassafras:

My girlfriend and I have been thinking about getting a dog – how do we know if we’re ready? How do we know what kind of dog is right for us?


Dogless Dyke

Dear Dogless,

Thank you and your girlfriend for being so thoughtful about when is the right time to add a dog to your life!  Dogs are amazing, I share my life with three and I know that I’m not capable of being my best self without dogs – but dogs are a big commitment and not for everyone! I’ve been getting this question a lot recently- I think that spring (or the promise of spring weather for those of us still with snow in the forecast) start to fantasize about fun in the sun with a canine companion.

My best advice for knowing if you and your girlfriend are ready to add a dog to your life is to really think about if you are ready willing and able to configure your life (work schedules, travel, social life etc.) around the needs of a dog. You also need to think about if you are ready to spend significant time home / with them.

You didn’t mention how long you and your girlfriend have been together or how serious your relationship is. It’s not fun to think about breaking up, and hopefully your relationship with your girlfriend is great and will continue to be great but it’s not a bad idea to think about custody plans now before that dog is even in your life. I know a number of queer couples who have gone through very long, expensive and ugly dog custody battles in recent years. In one of these cases I even was asked to write a statement for the court offering my perspective of who should get custody of the dog. Breakups/Divorce is sad, but having a dog caught in the middle is AWFUL. Having agreements ahead of time can help when feelings and emotions are high in the event of a breakup.

If you’re adding a dog to your life it’s also important to think about what kind of a financial plan you can create to accommodate for their care (high quality food, treats, toys), training (essential for any dog), grooming (either supplies or hiring a professional), enrichment  etc. and all of this is before regular veterinary wellness visits, and stetting money aside for veterinary emergencies that may come up (just in the last month my youngest dog got spayed which was a major surgery because of her size, and my elderly dog ended up at the vet with a stomach virus, and my middle pup is due for vaccines next month) Dogs aren’t cheap, and it’s important to have a sense of the costs and how you will arrange your budget to cover those expenses before bringing a dog home.

Still think you’re ready for a dog? What sort of dog is right for you? Recently an article in the New York Times there was an article looking at the state of dog ownership here in NYC (where I live) how many dogs, of what kind, in what borough etc. What I found most interesting about the article was a discussion from one of the dog trainers interviewed about the pressure to rescue. “Some of our wealthier clients tend toward the rescues,” said Andrea Arden, a dog trainer … “There’s such a cachet to it now that people would say their dog is a rescue even if it isn’t.” I’ve noticed the same thing especially amongst LGBTQ politically progressive dog guardians.  There is a very interesting “rescue is best” almost competitive nature amongst some lesbian dog owners I talk to.

From puppy class to brunch they are almost desperate to prove their dog survived the most trauma– be it surviving and being transported to the states from the Asian Meat Trade or getting saved from a puppy mills in middle America. I’m all for giving abused and abounded dogs a new loving family – but don’t let your heart or your politics get in the way of deciding which dog is actually right for you and your girlfriend.

Sometimes rescue dogs are the perfect fit for a family, sometimes they aren’t. My rescue dog is very special needs – my partner and I literally rearranged our life around her behavioral needs by moving out of our apartment to a way less attractive neighborhood to give her a house/yard. She’s an amazing dog, but definitely not the dog for everyone. Rescue dogs are amazing, but they can come with emotional baggage. If you’re going to rescue a dog, make sure you’re ready to put the work in to help that dog adjust to life in your home.

At the same time, my youngest is a purebred puppy from a very experienced and well respected responsible breeder. Also, not for everyone! Puppies are a tremendous amount of work and take a lot more energy than an adult dog to raise properly – not the right fit for every family!

So dogless, are you and your girlfriend ready for your social life to revolve around your dog? No more meeting up with the girls after work, you’ve got to get home to your pup! As a dog person that doesn’t seem like a sacrifice, but I cringe and see a lot of queer folks who bring dogs home and then either resent the amount of time and attention their dogs need. There can be a lot of social pressures of queer life: brunch, events, dance parties, poetry readings. Having a dog will impact your social life, are you ready for that?

Are you ready to put your own vision of a dog aside to love and parent the dog in your life? I see a lot of people parent the dog they want or imagined vs. the emotional and physical needs of the dog they have. Do you want to be the social butterfly at the dog park chatting up cute sporty dykes? Those aren’t things that every dog can or will enjoy.  The AKC’s overview of breeds can be a great place to start getting more information about different kinds of dogs and their temperaments. It’s important to find a dog or puppy that is a good match for your lifestyle no matter if that’s marathons of L Word on the couch every night or hanging out on the dog friendly patio of your favorite gay bar. Dogs are individuals just like us and just as one lesbians idea of a fun Friday night is different from another’s what an individual dog is up for will also be different and that’s ok!

Best of luck making the right choice of dog or no dog for you and your girlfriend!