Dog Plight

The process of bringing home a four-legged animal has turned out to be hairier than it looks.

The process of bringing home a four-legged animal has turned out to be hairier than it looks.

By Susan Anspach / Illustration by Matt Mignanelli


Dog City Sprawl


Exciting news, NoVA: I’m getting a dog! Yes, sir, that’s me. Officially in the market for a dog.

Trying to be.

Technically less so in the market and more trying to wedge my way in with cash bribes or home-baked treats. Not that I’d ever feed a dog non-FDA-approved treats! I was kidding about that. I was so totally kidding. Because I actually think I’d make a pretty good dog owner? Even though no one else does. Is that crazy?

I actually think I’d make a pretty good dog owner. I grew up with dogs, have always loved dogs, can afford one, love to walk, love to scoop, pick fleas in my spare time, drink from a bowl.

I grew up with dogs, have always loved dogs, can afford one, love to walk, love to scoop, pick fleas in my spare time, drink from a bowl. Those last ones were jokes—not that I’m funny. I’m not funny. Dogs aren’t funny. I don’t know why I said those stupid things—stupid, stupid!—but I’ll tell you this: I’ll never say them again and if I ever hear anyone else saying them I’ll make them lower themselves physically before a dog since dogs rule, people drool, NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH DROOLING.

I’ll just admit here that yes, in the beginning, there were a few breeds I preferred, and that yes, I was looking for a young dog to facilitate training. Does this make me a bad person? Does it darken my heart, skew humanity’s collective moral compass? Is dog bias a crime worthy of punishment, maybe punishment that went out with Colonial Times before Colonial Times people really had proper time to think it through? Absolutely, depending on who you ask.

Months ago when I first made this decision, I shared the news with my cousin, a dog-lover, who I thought would be thrilled and able to offer some insight. She was! she said. And she would be happy too! Although certainly, she went on, she didn’t need to explain to me the evils of dog breeders, since it went without saying I’d be getting my dog from a shelter, bearing in mind that shelters were the only crusaders against the overwhelming iniquity of bringing young dogs into a world overpopulated with animals in need.

Right, I agreed, hearing only a tone of voice that said if I didn’t she was prepared to brand me with a symbol communicating to future dog-keepers I’m unworthy of pet ownership and always will be. Anyway, I resolved to look into shelters. Research shelters. I’d be a shelter person and feel better about myself in the eyes of Sarah McLaughlin and my cousin and the populace at large.

And at one shelter I found a dog! Terrific, right? They couldn’t provide health or immunization records but I reminded myself I was doing the right thing if I didn’t want to be excommunicated from my family, maybe God. Plus that dog sure was cute. I filled out papers, came back the next day, filled out more papers, came back the next day, took time off work, met with my adoption counselor, agreed to a reference check, an unscheduled home visit, took more time off work, bought dog supplies, met a second time with the adoption counselor who assured me just about everything was in order, that it was only the matter of my 10 acres; my dog was an active dog and thus could only go to a home with a minimum 10-acre yard and she wanted to know where mine was.

Would a local park suffice? No. Weekly trips to the country? No. What if I didn’t have 10 acres, though? I’d come this far—did many people in the Piedmont region own that kind of land? The adoption counselor closed her folder and coughed.

That was a hard blow. It took some time to recover. Not that I’m siding with the breeders, or not not siding with them. Who’s right anymore? I just wanted a dog. I went on a few non-shelter websites just to see, reasoning I could delete my browsing history in the off-chance my cousin ever came over and wanted to check email. What would happen the day I brought home a bred dog? I told myself I’d cross that bridge when I came to it, some good telling on my part, because that bridge was still light years away.

One breeder didn’t have puppies but had the right stuff to make some; if I wanted a dog all I had to do was come up with three other owners to justify a litter. Another was collecting down payments on pups that hadn’t been born, with no guarantee they would be (the down payment was security; its return ran on faith).

A third had dogs for sale and only requested a completed questionnaire prior to the arrangement of a meeting. After everything else, that sounded mildly reasonable. Also, I liked the questionnaire. Its disclaimer was soothing: “These questions will help us place the right puppy with the right homes to ensure the best quality of life for each Golden Retriever,” it read. “These questions are not meant to be judgmental in any way so please feel free to be candid in your responses.”

Was I ready for this? I was still on the mend from the shelter. But I’m candid, I figured. I’m free. What did I have to hide?

“Why have you decided to buy a Golden Retriever?”
Have I decided that? I thought I was filling out a preliminary questionnaire. But maybe! I love Goldens, love their big shaggy coats, love the idea of one bounding through a meadow. Also, I’m in the meadow. Also, the Golden’s wearing a crown of daisies; so am I. So in answer to your question, your questionnaire about buying Golden Retrievers is what made me decide to buy a Golden Retriever.

“Do you prefer a male or a female? Why?”
A girl dog, or a boy. Or both! Or neither; neither’s fine. How’s this: You tell me what kind I should prefer, and that’s probably the kind.

“If your first choice (male or female) is not available, would you be willing to take a puppy of the opposite sex or would you wait for another litter?”
The first one, unless you’re testing for resolve. Because I’m resolved. I want that girl puppy, damn it. Or boy. 

“Is your yard completely fenced with secure fencing?”
I see you assume here that I have a yard, that I don’t live in a city of row houses, and also, beautiful parks! But in some ways, aren’t parks the greatest of yards, just great big communal yards bursting with verve and community? What’s ownership, anyway? What’s “fencing”? None of this is to say I don’t have a yard. I’m not going on record saying that. 

“Have you ever had to put a dog to sleep? Why?”
Yes. No. Yes. It was sick. It was really old. The vet told us to. … No.

My dog was an active dog and thus could only go to a home with a minimum 10-acre yard and she wanted to know where mine was.

“Buyer agrees to name this puppy starting with the kennel name ‘Sunny Farm.’ For example: ‘Sunny Farm’s Sammy.’”
Was that the question? Where’s the question here?

“Please add anything else you would like us to know about you. The more, the better!”
Anything else? In the fifth grade I threw away my retainer, on purpose. In grocery stores I steal from the bulk-candy bins. I took bribes in exchange for going to Sunday school. I want a girl dog. I don’t have a fence. I don’t have a yard. We did put my old dog down, but for the right reasons. I’m naming my new dog whatever I want; “Sunny” and “Farm” aren’t on the list. I haven’t decided on a Golden Retriever; I’m open to the possibility but it might take some convincing.

If you’re interested, I’ll have a few questions. Bring proof of acreage, and lots of FDA-approved treats.


@CitySprawlNVMag doesn’t have a dog but talks about all kinds of animals on Twitter.