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The Lady Prefers A Separate Wing

July 4, 2011

My dog Eva is probably one of the greater loves of my life. There’s pretty much nothing I wouldn’t do for her. She eats expensive food, toys designed to cure boredom, exercise her jaws and just to play. She receives carefully selected treats,  food off of my plate, 2-3 solid walks a day, all sorts of preventative medication, surgery when she tears her damn cruciate ligament and regular vet visits to keep her healthy. I brush her hair, her teeth and keep her nails trimmed. She has multiple beds around the apartment, but chooses to sleep in my bed, or on my couch. And if you come to visit, she will choose to sleep on your feet. She has gone through several trainers, has dog walkers she loves and gets to visit her entire “family” for additional treats and butt rubs.

Eva, protesting her living quarters by monopolizing the bed.

I wouldn’t say my dog is spoiled, but I would say my dog has it damn good.

Life Before Her Apartment

This wasn’t always the case. You see, I got Eva from a local animal shelter almost two years ago. I have no idea what her life was like before the shelter (but I can make some guesses) but she was at that shelter for almost a year and a half. No one came to adopt her. They cared for her the best they could, and she had a “foster family” to relieve her on some weekends (who just came to visit her this past weekend – you should have seen that tail go!). But it must have been very rough for her. The cages are tiny, and she was in for about 20 hours of the day. Her daily “relief” was some alone time in a 15×20 pen, some donated ratty tennis balls, and some occasional on-lead walks. In a shelter next to JFK, so constant loud noise, punctuated only by the sounds and smells of other loud, anxious dogs.

She gained a lot of weight (she’s lost 20 lbs. in the two years since we’ve had her – and has more to go), she got into two separate altercations with other dogs (she lost – and needed stitches). She developed “happy tail” (despite it’s name, it’s no fun – it’s either when a dangerous injury develops at the end of the tail from constant smacking against too small of a cage. ) It has since healed. She was incredibly anxious and I don’t know if she was dog-aggressive before being placed in the shelter, but … she certainly is now. It was a no good place for her. I’m grateful these shelters exist, but I’m glad my dog is home with me now.

“Oh, I won’t have a dog until I live on Moral High Ground”

This is why it drives me batty when people tell me “I’d love to have a dog, but I live in an apartment and dogs should have houses.”

First of all, it can’t help but feel like a judgment. As if by adopting Eva, I have doomed her to a small, cramped apartment that couldn’t possibly be healthy for her.

As if she had a choice between “farm with giant, fenced-in backyard and her own bedroom” and “small apartment in Queens” and by adopting her, I’ve killed that dream.

Believe me, if you could ask Eva, or her “friends” still at the kennel, I bet you she would choose my apartment over that kennel, any day. And so far, no rich farm or suburban collective has come to adopt all of the dogs languishing in shelters, or spay/neuter all of the strays out there.

Sure, do I wish Eva had a backyard she could run around in? Of course. To be honest, I feel the same way about myself. I would really, really love a backyard.

The other thing is – it’s just not true. Of course, there are caveats (see below) but … most dogs really don’t need a house or backyard.  You have to do a little more work (actual walks instead of just opening the door for a morning pee) and for higher-energy dogs than Eva the slug, I imagine it means more play-time and dog parks and more exercise – but the truth is? Dogs need those things anyway.*

People very often fall into the trap that yard = exercise, and it’s not the case. Dogs need to go on walks, they need to socialize and you need to interact with them. Just letting them out in the yard, no matter how many toys you put out there is just simply – not enough.

As for Eva having enough space in my maligned apartment? Dogs will go wherever their people are. If I am in the living room, Eva is in the living room (lounging on the larger couch we bought so all three of us can be on it..). If I am in the kitchen, Eva is by the fridge. If I am in the bedroom, Eva is on the bed.

"If I had a house, I could escape from this torture."

I cannot imagine that if I had a split-level in Long Island, that Eva would be anywhere other than the room I am currently in. So tell me, what would having a larger house do for the dog that my apartment doesn’t?

Please, if you want a dog and live in an apartment, reconsider. If you have the time and energy to devote to being a good dog-owner, then just pick the right breed and temperament for you, and adopt a dog from a local shelter. And if you don’t have the time, resources or patience – then don’t get a dog, period. But stop blaming the size of your home. In most cases, the dog just doesn’t care. And for the dog that’s lucky enough to get a home? They’ll forgive your square footage.

The Exceptions (not what you think…)

Sure, there are exceptions.  Mainly, in small versus large breeds. The common misconception is that larger dogs need more space, and smaller dogs need less. It’s just not true.

There are some breeds, that no matter how many walks you take – they are just going to need more. I couldn’t imagine keeping a Jack Russel in an apartment. They’re just too high energy and would get destructive, quickly. In fact, a lot of the smaller dogs, including terriers – may do better in a larger space with an enclosed backyard.

The best apartment dogs? Believe it or not, on the list: Greyhounds, Mastiffs and Great Danes! Giant dogs who like to lounge around. Sure, they need a few 20-minute walks a day, but … that’s it. And you’re doing that anyway, right?

*I know someone who was complaining about her (small) dog incessantly barking in the apartment. When I suggested that if she upped the amount of walks she takes each day, she said that she didn’t walk the dog at all.  The dog was pee-pad trained and never, ever left the apartment. I was shocked and said that she should consider at least an hour a day of exercise and walking, she seemed upset about the time commitment. So yes, I’ll grant you – if you are going to keep the dog in the apartment and never walk it or take it outside, then – you should not have a dog in your apartment. You probably also shouldn’t have a dog.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2011 11:49 am

    Bravo. I used to work for PETA, so I have full-on credentials as a crazy-animal-protection-zealot (like, government-certified ones), and I will give you my crazy-animal-protection-zealot seal of approval on every word you wrote here.

    • July 4, 2011 12:11 pm

      I love getting the Crazy Seal of Approval! It means so much to me. 🙂 Thanks.

  2. July 5, 2011 2:57 pm

    Great post, especially that closing comment about your acquaintance with the dog who never left the apartment. Good grief! That should be a crime!

    I miss having a dog, and I’ve had dogs in the past. Every word you’ve written here is true. It’s true for cats, too. If we let them, our cats would all cram onto our bed! Boyfriend has barred them from the upstairs rooms, though.

    Our animals simply want to be with us, and aren’t we blessed? 🙂

  3. July 8, 2011 3:48 pm

    This is amazing. I completely agree. People think I’m crazy for having two cats and a big dog in my tiny house. But those animals are spoiled beyond belief and we all bring each other so much joy. Those animals are medicated when they need to be, fed when they need to be, exercised when they need to be and loved every second of every day. People questioned us when we adopted Rocky, a senior dog. “You’ll only have a short time with him,” they’d say. That short time with him was some of the most amazing time of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for a million years of mere contentment. Now that we have Brooklyn and she has anxiety people question how we’re able to deal with it. You do it because you’re supposed to. You do it because they need it. You do it because despite every ailment, the animal gives so much more back to you.

    And sometimes apartment dogs have better lives because they are being walked more often.

    (My sister in law does the pee pad thing for her small dog and I detest it and think it’s amoral. She’s just plain lazy.)

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