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5 Things Nobody Tells You About Adopting a Dog

I'm a dog person. I don't have a problem with cats, and I get along with most of them, but I'm just not a cat person, because I'm a dog person. If you're not sure if you're a dog person or a cat person, there's an easy way to find out. Watch this heartstring-tugging ASPCA commercial about animal rescue. The commercial plays some sad Sarah McLachlan song and shows us slow-motion zooms and pans on adorable animals that need rescuing.

The text on the screen assures us that all of the animals in their shelters have been violently abused (usually in pretty horrific ways). Whenever I saw a sad-looking dog, my heart ached, and I thought, How could anyone hurt that guy? How could anyone EVER dare harm a sweet, innocent, wonderful dog? The monsters! But when I saw them parade some mangy-ass cat that they assured me had been abused ...

ASPCA.com

... I thought, Well, yeah. Obviously.

And that's how I found out I was a dog person. And that's why, when I was financially and emotionally prepared for the responsibility, I decided to go out and get a dog. And that's when the gods that govern dog laws decided "Hey, not so fast. You still have to learn some terrible, terrible lessons first."

#5. If You Don't Rescue, YOU'RE A MONSTER

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I don't know what things are like where you live (it would be pretty weird if I did), but here in LA, if you buy a dog from a store instead of rescuing one, everyone will know about it. It's a weird sixth sense that all Los Angelenos have; they'll know that you bought a dog from some "puppy mill," and they will hate you for it.

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"He's cute, but he's CLEARLY from a store at the mall, so go fuck yourself."

When I started telling people I was looking for a dog, they would grab my shoulders and say, "Whatever you do, rescue one. Go to a shelter instead of a puppy mill. Promise me. PROMISE ME YOU WILL DO THIS!"

They're right, by the way. I don't usually publicly get behind causes of any kind because I don't want to ever come off as preachy, and I don't think anyone is "better" than anyone else, but rescuing a dog from a shelter is better than buying one from a store, and doing so will make you a better person. Shelters are where lost or abandoned dogs end up, and those are the dogs that need a home the most. They're not puppy mill dogs (usually adorable puppies that have been strictly trained and bred for adorableness), they're the dogs that are found wandering in the middle of the street, the dogs that are found in parking lots after they've been thrown out of moving cars (I learned from shelter owners that this is a shockingly common occurrence). It's easy for puppies to get purchased and difficult for dogs to get a second chance, which is why, as a result of over-dog-population, shelters are forced to put down unrescued dogs every single year (about 4 million annually).

So I decided I'd rescue a dog, because I wouldn't be paying some breeder or some puppy store at my local mall; I would be saving a dog that, without my enormous, gracious heart, would be tragically put down. "Rescuing" made me feel like a hero.

Also, I had it in my head that, since over-dog-population ("overpupulation?") was such a problem, my new dog would be free. Buying a dog from a dog seller is expensive because you're getting a brand new dog from a trusted breeder, and you'll accept the high price tag (some purebred Corgis can cost up to $1,000) because you're paying for the guarantee that your dog won't have any baggage or mange or weirdness. Your dog would have no skeletons in its closet; it would be perfect (despite being, you know, a Corgi).

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So expensive, yet so ridiculous-looking.

But a shelter? Well, they've got more dogs than they know what to do with, so they should just be giving the things away, right?

#4. Rescuing Still Means Paying Money

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Grocery stores could make a whole lot more money off of me if they changed up their language and assured me that I was "rescuing" Cheez-Its instead of buying them. Dog shelters have this figured out. They have fees and expenses attached to their dogs, but they know that, as long as they call it "rescuing," I'm much more inclined to go along with it. I'm always eager to pull out my wallet if someone can convince me that I'm doing some rescuing, the kind of work usually reserved for firemen or knights or Spider-men.

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"After this, I'm going to find this baby's mother and rescue her butt from her pants! Spider-fucking!"

While firemen can rescue people all the time without getting charged, getting a dog from a shelter is "rescuing" in name only. You still have to pay (out here it's between $250 and $450, depending on the shelter and the age of the dog), so don't think you're just going to be able to grab a dog out of a cage and run home (like I did).

Still, I'm not against paying for things. I pay for things all the time -- this is America. I don't care about spending money, I just want to be able to walk into a place and take a dog.

#3. You Can't Just Walk into a Place and Take a Dog

The first time my family got a dog, when I was very young, we walked into a shelter, pointed to one, said, "That one" and then took it home. That's it. I don't want to say that everything is worse in the future, but it's certainly not better. Because here in the future, I was all set to get my dog. I read books about dog training. I got my finances in order. I made my apartment dog-friendly. I bought some toys and food and a crate and anything else a dog might need. I went online to Petfinder and checked out a bunch of dogs that met my criteria (fearless, strong, decisive, cuddly) and were in my area. I found a shelter that had a lot of the dogs I'd liked on Petfinder and I drove out to pay them a visit.

I met a great dog, you guys. An energetic yet independent fella who liked to play and was notorious in that shelter for his policy on taking any shit from anybody (he was against it). On this we bonded.

When I'd decided that the other dogs were nowhere near as interesting as this dog (whom I'd secretly named in my head), I pulled out a pile of money, handed it to a lady and said, "This one. Bye forever!"

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"Off to go on the cutest adventures!"

But that's not how it works. If you want to rescue a dog in Los Angeles, you have to fill out more forms than I filled out to apply for college. You need to tell them what your job is like and how much money you make, and you need to provide a number of references who aren't members of your family. Which is weird, because I don't know how any of my friends would know if I'm good at not killing dogs. None of them are qualified to vouch for me as a dog raiser, but I provided them as references anyway, hoping they knew that, if someone called and asked if I seemed like the kind of guy who would murder dogs, the answer was "No" and not "I'm not with him 24 hours a day, so I can't be sure."

Once I filled out all of the forms and did a character interview with the person who runs the shelter ("What kind of person do you think you are?" "The kind who is still holding a sweaty fistful of money and desperately wants the dog you're carrying."), I was sent home, dogless. I had to wait a week while they processed my forms and then wait another week for a representative to come to my apartment and make sure it was safe for dogs.

The only thing the apartment-checker told me, by the way, was "Good, there's no poison lying around." Sort of seems like the kind of thing that should have come up during the character interview, but fine.

I passed all of their tests, but didn't get this dog, because ...

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Daniel O'Brien

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