Raining Cats & Dogs: What You Need to Know Before Bringing Home a Pet

Pets can change your life in good ways you can't even imagine. Unfortunately, there are also unique lifestyle changes too. Get briefed before you adopt.

I once wanted a dog more than a Super Nintendo, that is, until I had the chance to babysit a friend’s dog over a long weekend. I discovered this: owning a dog kind of sucked. You had to walk him, pick up his poop, and feed him. And here was the kicker: Unlike children, who will eventually take care of themselves, dogs will always need your care, which means you shouldn’t even bother asking, “Can’t you walk yourself?” 

If you had a dog when you were young, it was probably your responsibility to walk him. But let’s be honest. Your parents probably walked him more than you did.

As an adult, pet ownership comes with a lot more concerns. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t own a dog (and adopt one from a shelter). But there are important things you need to plan before you bring a dog into your life.

If you’re not sure that you want a pet, I suggest dating a woman simply for the access to her animals. And who knows? You might even fall in love (with her? don’t you hate unintended consequences?). Another good way to test the waters is to befriend someone with a dog if you’re not sure you want a pet for yourself.

I’ve discovered that I actually enjoy part-time pet ownership. My girlfriend (Hi Kimmy!) has a 12-year-old lab and a two-year-old Burmese cat. My nose is itching and my eyes are running as I write this. Despite this, even I cannot resist coddling her cat, Monster, like a baby or shoving my head into his fluffy stomach and yelling, “Cat pillow! Cat pillow!”

The Cost

For the most part, you know the obvious expense of pet ownership: You'll have to purchase food, chew toys, plastic bags for poop, and the occasional surprise bone or pig ear for the holidays, assuming you’re not kosher.

But many unexpected costs accompany pet ownership.

You should walk your dog two to three times a day. That equals a pretty big time suck, especially in our busy lives. You'll find yourself rushing home from work to walk your little dude before jumping back in your car to return to the office to complete the paper work that was due yesterday.  If you no longer have adequate time for these important walks, you'll have to hire a dog walker.

The cost of a dog walker in Washington, D.C. ranges from $15 – $35. And that is per walk. So if you’re a lawyer who packs in 16-hour days, you might spend fifty bucks a day for someone to walk your dog.

You should not own a dog If you don’t have the time to walk your dog and provide the necessary attention.

But there is a benefit of having to get home for the dog.  “Dog has to pee.”  There's your excuse to leave a shitty party. Can’t really use that excuse with a cat. Of course, where there is a pro, there's also a con. For instance, you might really find yourself having a good time at the party. But you have to walk the dog. Or perhaps you had some bad Thai food and all you want to do it sit on the toilet and cry, but you can’t … because you have to walk the dog.

The Walk

Speaking of pee, dogs love piss. Sniffin’ butts and urine soaked bushes is their jam. They live for it. Your devotion to going to the gym (or the buffet if you haven’t kept your New Year's resolution) is similar to your dog's need to sniff pee.

As soon as you arrive home, you should be prepared to grab the leash and head right back outside. Keeping him waiting one second longer is a form of animal cruelty. How would you feel locked in an apartment for nine hours with the only way to relieve yourself is to go outside … but your owner arrives home and opens his mail first?

So prioritize and put a rush on walking your dog. And while you’re outside, remember this: Your little buddy sits around the house just counting down the seconds before you come home. He wants to play. Don’t deprive him of his fifteen minutes of pee smelling joy. When I walk Spencer, I see dog owners rushing their dogs. They don’t have the time to take their pooch out for a lengthy walk. Don’t yank the collar because you’re in a hurry. You might have to set your alarm clock to go off an extra fifteen minutes earlier than you’d like.

(Of course a lot of this can be averted if you have a house and can open the door to the back yard.)

Larger dogs require more of everything. Maybe your Chihuahua is okay with dainty fifteen-minute walks, but your German Sheppard requires a lot more than a walk around the block. No joke. Big dogs require a lot more time and energy—because they’ve got so much energy to burn off. When not adequately walked, a large dog becomes restless and rowdy, like an out-of-control child who feels neglected and wants more attention.

One way to burn off energy in bigger dogs is to run with them. If you, like me, abhor running, then you should consider taking him to the dog park a few times per week. This kind of exercise allows your dog to appropriately use his energy.

There are a lot of toys you can buy to keep your dog active. I especially like the ball launchers. You know—the handle that grips onto the ball so you don’t have to pick up that slimy, chewed up tennis ball before you chuck it.

If you’re not afraid of getting down and dirty with your dog, you can buy one of those tug-o-war toys so you can wrestle with him. Just make sure he doesn’t go all Hulk Hogan on you and kick your ass, because there are few things more frightening (spiders) than a rowdy dog knocking you down with a big boot and following up with a leg drop, brother! 

Your big dog needs about forty minutes of serious exercise a day (like people). If you can’t spare the time to exercise yourself, you most likely can’t spare it for your dog. The solution here is to get a smaller dog that doesn’t require as much time. On the other hand, a larger dog might just be what the doctor ordered if the prescription is for you to exercise more (it probably is).

You should not own a dog if you do not have the time to walk your dog

Plan for the Unexpected

Animals are like humans in that every once in a while, something bad is going to happen. Maybe you got a cat because you wanted a low maintenance friend who could take care of himself. But cats like to jump on stuff. And sometimes, they fall. A cat that lands wrong could find himself in the hospital with a luxating patella. That shit hurts.

Since animals are not technically humans (unless they are, in which case those Weekly World News headlines about the half boy half goat in Peru were true), many pet owners might be reluctant to rush to the vet every time something seems off. Vet bills are crazy expensive.

But things happen. Dogs get sick. Cats fall off bookshelves. I don’t know you, but you don’t seem cruel enough to put your cat to sleep because his broken leg requires surgery. If you cannot afford costly operations (breaking news: you can’t), you should look into pet insurance before the need arises for medical attention.

I know you’re thinking pet insurance is ridiculous, but you know what’s even more ridiculous? Not preparing for the worst. If the idea of insuring your pet is something that makes you roll your eyes, consider, at the very least, having a safety net of a few thousand dollars (yes, really) in case you need $3,500 to repair the cat's patella.

Vet costs are prohibitive in Washington, D.C. because rent is so high thus pet insurance is more expensive. I called PetPlan and was told I should be prepared to spend anywhere from $35 – $56 a month depending on the age and breed of a dog, and around $20 a month for a young cat. That’ll get you $8,000 in coverage per year. Probably better insurance than you have.

Like all insurance, there are deductibles ($50 to $200) and reimbursements of 80% to 100%. Any licensed vet takes pet insurance, but I think PetPlan is the best for two reasons:

  1. Other pet insurance companies have benefit schedules (if your vet bill is $500, but your insurance says it should cost $300, you will owe the difference). PetPlan reimburses you based on what your vet charges, plain and simple.
  2. PetPlan covers accidents, injuries and all hereditary conditions (they don’t cover routine care and pre-existing conditions; in fact, no pet insurance provider covers pre-existing conditions—thanks for nothing, President Obama). Most other pet insurance companies don’t cover hereditary conditions because it costs too much.

While you’re doing all this financial planning, you also need to plan for vacations. If you’re going on a road trip to visit your parents, you might be able to toss the pooch in the back seat. But if you’re going to Thailand (careful with the spicy food) for a few weeks, you need to factor in the cost of boarding your dog. You’re looking at about 30 – 60 bucks a day to board your little buddy. Own a cat, too? The cost just doubled.


If the responsibility isn't an issue but you're not sure if it's for you, read 9 Reasons Owning a Dog Will Make You a Better Man.

Not all kennels are created equally, so make sure your pets will get the attention they need. You don't want them wallowing in their urine.

Keeping Clean

Speaking of urine (Again? This is like a German porno), animals are kind of gross. Dogs sniff and lick bushes soaked in urine and occasionally, they might even eat poop. It’s bad enough that your dog is big on giving you kisses, but now he’s tracking his urine—and perhaps that of other dogs—into your home. There’s really nothing that can be done about this, so prepare to stock up on Swiffer replacements.

Any pet store sells a spray you can use on the rug if your dog has an accident. It’s a worthwhile investment, because once your dog smells the pee on the floor in the living room, he’ll think he can pee there all the time.

If you have a cat, that’s another problem. Really? Don’t cats clean themselves? Yeah, but they also stand in their toilet. Think about that for a second. Your dude might get clumps of kitty litter stuck in his paws. And it’ll come off in the weirdest of places, like your bed, which essentially means you are quite literally sleeping in shit.

If you’re a clean freak, dealing with shedding can be overwhelming, so dedicate a little bit of time every night or every few nights to a quick vacuuming of the floors so it doesn’t get out of control, or before you know it, you’ll have wall to wall carpeting in your kitchen.

Invest in a small stick vac, because busting out your Dyson every few days is going to drive you nuts. Eureka makes a pretty good two-in-one cordless vacuum.

Final Thoughts

If you are a pet person, dogs and cats can make for some good company and good entertainment. And if you’re having a bad day, animals have a pretty good sense (emotional intelligence) in picking up on the fact that something is wrong. They can be your best friend.

But there’s more to owning a dog and tossing him a piece of steak every now and again. Just make sure you keep your iPhone handy in case your dog starts meowing.

Did I omit a crucial part of pet ownership? Leave your input below!

Kenneth Suna

Kenneth Suna is a writer and self-employed stock trader who lives in Washington, D.C. His novel, Roman, was recently published. He is the founder of Revolvist.com, an online magazine which features human interest stories and social commentary. Follow him @KennethSuna