Lessons from a First-Time Dog Parent (or a Beginner’s Guide to Pet Adoption)

By Xuan Wei Yap

It was on a fateful, late September night, pre-Coronavirus (remember her?), and I was pooped, lying in bed with delirium from job-hunting and copious amounts of cover letting writing, when I first laid eyes on Spooky—my first-born, Schipperke-cross with separation anxiety.

Don’t tell him this—but I’ve always considered myself more of a cat person and had fantasised extensively about my future cats (whose names remain ranked in my notes app). Nevertheless, I found myself that evening scouring the Lost Dog’s Home adoption page. With his silly impish grin and bat-like ears, I was instantly drawn to Spooky; something clicked, and I knew I had to have him.

Mother and child.

My adoption experience

My appointment with the shelter was booked in soon after, and I was set to meet Spooky in the coming days. In retrospect, it all happened so quickly and, honestly, a little too spontaneously; I hadn’t fully grasped the gravity of the decision I was making and the responsibilities that would come with it. I admittedly acted on impulse. This was certainly indicative of the first meeting I had with Spooky and his behaviour therapist—I was entirely wrapped up in the idea of Spooky, that I hardly came prepared with
the questions I would later ask myself: How often should he be fed? What is he like with other dogs? Can he be left home-alone? What are his energy levels? Answers to these questions would’ve given me a better understanding of Spooky’s temperament and what I would be getting myself into.

Spooky’s anxiety journey

Spooky’s first night home involved a lot of cowering and unease. In the subsequent days he was left alone, we came home to trash spewed across the kitchen and living room, coupled with the contents of his bladder and intestines dumped by the pot plants. Not to mention the incessant howling as we prepared to walk out the door. His anxiety eased as the days, weeks and months went by, and we’d celebrate every occasion where we’d come home to a clean apartment or those moments when he was finally comfortable with being held. As part of his diagnosis, the shelter and vet had prescribed him two human-grade medication pills per day. Since last year, I have completely weened him off his medication. So, here’s to his sobriety!

Spooky on his 6th birthday, after a few months of reduced pill intake.

Companionship during the pandemic and beyond

A trend that emerged during the throws of the pandemic was the ‘dog-acquisition craze’, or, the emergence of the ‘pandemic puppy’. When human social interactions were restricted to almost nothing, dogs became a source of emotional support and safe companionship.

Though Spooky was adopted a few months before the virus hit Australian shores, his companionship during the lockdowns was extremely valued. Caring for him gave me a sense of purpose and his cheeky personality broke the mundane monotony of lockdown life. If I didn’t have to bring him out for walks, I would’ve stayed anchored inside with zero contact to the outside world beyond my apartment walls.

Nowadays, it’s still important to consider our current work-life environment. With many businesses still opting for a hybrid or entirely work-from-home model, a healthy balance is key to ensuring your pet nurtures a sense of independence.

The Good, the Bad and the downright Nasty

Things that spark immense joy as a dog parent:

  • The intermittent pats that punctuate a workday
  • Seeing the smiles and giggles he evokes on other people’s faces
  • Making dog parent friends, especially those who live in your neighbourhood
  • The unconditional love they have for you and vice versa
  • The vicarious enjoyment of your friends and family
  • Gaining their trust and loyalty

Conversely, let me shine a light on the less-glamorous aspects you will probably encounter as a dog parent.

  • Vet bills that cost your right forearm
  • The fear and panic when they go AWOL off-lead
  • Waking up to the smell of poo in your bedroom due to uncontrollable diarrhea
  • Witnessing your dog gobble down another animal’s poo (Spooky’s favourite is of the possum variety)

Adopt, Not Shop!

When you choose to adopt, not only will you be giving a pet a second lease on life, but you will also, in turn, be freeing space to other animals who need it. Ailie Small, a supervisor at the Lost Dog’s Home, observed a fluctuation excess in June/July 2021 when people began resuming a pre-pandemic lifestyle, noting a 30 per cent increase in pets being surrendered or simply returned after being adopted.

Shelter dogs also come vaccinated, micro-chipped or neutered. On top of that, adoption fees are astronomically cheaper than when you purchase a dog from a breeder. Shelters will often reduce these fees for overlooked dogs—so be sure to look out for those special adoption drives!

Adopting also helps combat the puppy mill industry and its inhumane practices. These largely encompass poor, cramped housing conditions and breeding facilities, inadequate veterinary care and a corrosive mindset of profit over care.

These puppy mills also take a quantity over quality approach when it comes to purebred or ‘designer dogs’. This often leads to generational genetic defects and personality disorders that are unmonitored and untreated, resulting in high veterinary bills and maladjusted pets who become more prone to being disposed at shelters.

Keeping this in mind, shelters will tend to push for a speedy adoption process, so don’t feel pressured into making a quick decision. If a particular dog isn’t the right fit for your current lifestyle, that doesn’t mean there aren’t more suitable options out there. Or perhaps it could be you who needs more time before you can commit to the responsibilities of becoming a dog parent.

They say it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, a dog isn’t any different. If you’ve seriously considered adopting a dog and have come to terms with the decade long (at least!) commitment, your future pup could be waiting eagerly for your love at one of these shelters in Victoria:

Animal Aid
Australian Animal Protection Society
Lost Dog’s Home
RSPCA – Victoria

Xuan Wei Yap is a public relations practitioner and an imminent graduate of the Publishing   and Communications Masters at the University of Melbourne. An avid lover of the arts, culture, design and literature, she aspires for a position that marries these interests and utilises her interpersonal skillset.

Cover image and all other images provided by Xuan Wei Yap.