You said you did but now you know that you just don’t have time for this dog.
That cute 8 week old yellow lab puppy is now two years old, overly friendly with people, plays well other dogs and craves exercise. You’ve just accepted a teaching job on the other side of the city and your wife, who also works fulltime, is seven months pregnant. You know what’s coming: with both you and your wife already stretched thin, once the baby’s born, there will be even less time for this dog.
When you first saw him, sitting with his littermates, on the other side of the glass window that looked out into the mall, you thought he’d be the perfect bud for Homer, the chocolate lab you brought with you when you got married. Your dad tried to talk you out of it. “You won’t have the time for a second dog,” he said. “Two dogs are twice the work and twice the time.“ But your dad’s words fell on your deaf ears. You snatched him up, brought him home and named him Sarge.
Two years later, you know exactly what your dad meant. Sarge gets the short end of everything. During the week, there’s just enough time to get him out for a brief walk around the block before you head out the door. Your wife leaves the house 30 minutes after you do. Neither one of you gets home before 6PM. Thank God your dad’s retired and can come over during the afternoon to let both dogs out. But you know that’s not a permanent solution.
Homer, now ten years old, spends most of the day snoozing. But Sarge is ready to rock n’ roll as soon as he knows you’re up for the day. Let’s go for a long walk! How about a swim? Let’s play with that ball! Sadly, your good intentions have been swallowed up with other demands on your time. All of Sarge’s pent up energy builds to an almost uncontrollable frenzy. His happy, go-lucky outlook on life is sorely tested without any daily, positive outlets for his adolescent energy.
Finally, you get a glimpse into the not-so-distant future. Both dogs are out in the back yard running around like little kids on a Saturday afternoon. You’re pulling up weeds near the fence that runs parallel to the driveway, talking with a neighbor who leans over the fence to pat one of the dogs. Sarge rears up on his hind legs and bites the air, just missing your neighbor’s hand.
You’re smart enough to know that this near-bite doesn’t mean Sarge is vicious; that, the odds are more likely that Sarge perceived your neighbor’s reaching down as a threat. But you also know that Sarge’s reaction was the culmination of all of that missed time with you.
You know that Sarge is a good dog. He deserves more than snatches of your time. Which you find yourself explaining to your dad in a phone call later that night. “I think it’s time to find Sarge a good home,” you quietly explain. Bless your dad’s heart, he doesn’t say, “I told you so.”
However, a few days later, your dad doesn’t hesitate to tell me this story because, as he says, “You know a lot about dogs. What do you think about this …?”
We trade dog stories back and forth as he sits on his front porch. I casually lean against the fence-like partition that keeps the porch completely closed off so that any grand-babies and dogs can’t get off the porch. After batting the details of Sarge’s story between us like a lazy game of catch, I loft my last comment into the air.
“Make sure that your son doesn’t give Sarge away free to a good home.”
Your dad looks a bit puzzled.
“Well, for one thing,” I add, “nobody ever really values anything that they get for free. And, if all you do is ask for a “good home,” you won’t know it is a good home unless you screen. So, tell your son that he should 1) ask for a letter of reference from the vet that will be taking care of this dog 2) ask for three additional reference letters and 3) ask for a $75 – $100 donation that you will then give to one of the local adoption groups. This way, some people will never call him: the scurvy people who would hurt Sarge aren’t going to want to jump through all of those hoops. And, you might want proof that the house where this dog will live has a fenced back yard, so ask for pictures of the house and yard.”
“Ah,” your dad said after a long moment of silence. “That’s a great idea.”
“Yes,” I smiled, “it is.”