Should I get a dog? Well, if you have to ask...
If you've been following me for any length of time at all, you'll know that I love my dog Coileán – perhaps an unhealthy amount – and that there's no way I would give her back, but I have to be honest and say that when people ask me, "Should I get a dog?" my answer is almost always no. Here's why.
If you're asking 'Should I get a dog?' then you're not ready
I got Coileán a little over four years ago now, when she was just a pup. A friend of mine's dogs had given birth to a litter of puppies and they were looking for good homes for them and I thought to myself, well, I'd love one of those! We'd always had dogs growing up and I knew that I would eventually want to own a dog (or several dogs!) myself.
At the time, I was living with my parents (it was during my short-lived "must save for mortgage" phase), so it felt like a sensible choice to make. My dad was retired (and so the dog would rarely be home alone); I was working as a freelance journalist, doing occasional shifts at The Irish Times but working from home a lot; and my Mum was working, so the dog would have loads of company.
But a mere three months later, I moved out – and in with my (now ex) boyfriend and current best friend, Liam. (Check out how we stayed BFFs.) And all of the reasons I wasn't ready to get a dog became very apparent.
You'll find it almost impossible to rent
I'm proof that it's not totally impossible, but from the experience of friends, family and acquaintances, we're the exception that proves the rule. I've been renting in the same place for the four years since Coileán and I moved out of my parents' – and, when we first went to see the house, I didn't let on that we had a dog. The ad said "no pets" (as 99% of ads do) and it was only after we felt we'd suitably charmed our landlord (as I said, I worked at the IT; Liam worked at RTÉ, and I think the combination put is in the "reliable middle-class professionals" category) that we 'fessed up.
A friend of mine who has a dog has found it incredibly difficult to find anywhere to rent – and forget about trying to move in with people. Once you have your pooch pal, you're on your own.
You can't rely on a 'type' of dog
I know so many people who've adopted or (Lord help us and save us) bought dogs, specifically because "they're non-shed"; "they're happy with their own company"; "they don't chew things"; "they're not barkers". But let's get one thing straight: dogs are dogs, and this is especially relevant if you're adopting a puppy. (Just don't buy dogs; it's obscene.) Puppies chew everything. They bark when you leave the room; they whine when you go to bed.
They will pee on the floor and poop in the corner at least 10 times before they really get the whole toilet-training thing. I woke up one day, convinced that the septic tank had exploded, only to discover that it was, in fact, Coileán who had exploded – all over the floor, the walls, the radiator. It was everywhere. Dog hair gets on things you honestly don't remember ever touching the dog; our clothes come out of the washing machine hairy.
A dog is a dog. It is an animal – and one that will find things it wants to chew and have moments of madness where it runs around the room in daft circles and your favourite rug will get pissed on and you will lose at least one shoe. Never let anyone convince you otherwise.
Spontaneity is a thing of the past
I like to tell people that dogs are a lot like toddlers, except they never grow up. At least when you have a toddler, you can comfort yourself with the fact that it's just a phase. "Ah, this age is the worst – they want to be up investigating everything." Welcome to dog ownership.
The other way they're like kids is that you just can't leave them alone for very long (although, crucially, you can leave them alone, unlike, say, a toddler). If I've been out for a couple of hours and someone calls or texts me and asks me to go for a coffee or a drink, nine times out of 10 I'll say no; I have to go home and let the dog out.
There was a period during which I worked full-time, and I would walk the dog to doggy daycare every morning, pay €15 a day for her to be walked and entertained (and exhausted, which was a blessing) and then cycle to pick her up each evening.
I'm lucky, in that my parents are around to mind her when we're away – but last-minute trips, even for a day, just can't happen unless she can come along. It's not fair, firstly, to leave her alone all day (even though she's very good and never does her business in the house) – but secondly, you just don't know what you'd find when you got home (see above re chewing).
Dogs are incredibly expensive
When Coileán was three months old and on her holliers in my parents' house, she got hit by a car. She fractured her hip in two places and had to have a femoral head ostectomy – an operation to remove her hip joint. She was then in a cast, and "crated" (kept in a cage) for 12 weeks with regular, very slow, walking.
Of course, this was before we'd got pet insurance – the operation cost us €2,000.
Since then, she's been back in the doggy hospital with stomach problems (thankfully, covered by the insurance); she has IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and can only eat a special diet. It costs us around €100 a month.
Then you've got daycare, for days when we'll be away for longer than five hours or so; grooming every six to eight weeks (she's very hairy, so we try to keep her clipped to minimise shedding); regular vet visits; and an incredible number of toys we buy her to make up for the fact that (a) we allowed her to get hit by a car and ruined her puppyhood and (b) she can't eat any delicious tins of Pedigree Chum (not great for dogs, but she used to love them).
If you've read this whole piece and the answer to "Should I get a dog?" is yes, then maybe – just maybe – you should get a dog. But read it again, just to be sure.
A dog is for life, after all – something I know all too well as, just last year, my parents adopted a dog (at my urging) at the same time that we had a few health scares. The dog was much larger than we thought he'd be and didn't seem to like women, which was especially bad news as my Mum is the walker of the pair (my Dad's the thinker). We ended up having to bring him back to the shelter we adopted him from, and even though he's now living with two German Shepherds and is apparently happy as Larry (my Mum gets regular updates), it was a really difficult thing to do – not to mention the fact that I felt like the world's biggest asshole.
So, y'know, make sure you know what you're letting yourself in for – and remember, a dog is a big part of your life, but to them, you're their whole life. It's a big responsibility and one you need to be sure you're ready for.