Ten Reasons Why Your Family Shouldn't Take a Year Off: Reason #1 "What will you do with the dog?"

Pulling up your family's suburban roots and heading off for some developing country for a year is foolish. There are lots of reasons not to do it. For example: What will you do with the family dog?

Our dog is a male, 6 year-old shepherd-mix that we got from Smiley Dog Rescue in Oakland, California about three and a half years ago. After a 6 month family sabbatical in 2005, one of the things we decided to do upon returning home was to get a dog. Without a lot of experience with dogs, we evaluated the pros and cons of rescue dogs and decided to get one, figuring that giving an unwanted dog a home outweighed any other considerations. By October of 2005 we had our dog and after a transition period where he would find every possible way out of our fenced yard, he settled in quite nicely. We quickly learned that he had to stay on leash while on walks, as he'd lunge and growl at certain types of dogs while he'd be friendly with others. Around the family he was very good and he was a great dog for us.

When it came time to start planning our suburban exodus, deciding what to do with our dog was not "top of mind" for us. Once we started to focus on it, the first thing we did was to add up a year's worth of kenneling costs At the rates we'd paid previously, we were looking at $9,500 for a year and that's only if he never left a 4'x4' cyclone fence cage with a concrete floor. If we added a daily 45 minute walk, it would cost close to $20,000 for a year for a pretty miserable existence.

Around the time we were starting to wonder where we could possibly place our dog, the woman who was to rent our house suggested that we could keep the dog at our home and she'd take care of him, along with her three poodles. This seemed perfect; our dog could stay in his own home and even have some canine companionship. She and my wife decided to give the idea a test one afternoon. All of our hopes came crashing down as our dog immediately defended his territory and started growling and barking and did not stop for the entire hour they were at our house. With each growl and bark, our dog's chances of a nice comfortable year in his own house slowly evaporated. Both my wife and our tenant agreed that this would not work.

A few weeks later during a dinner party with our best friends, after a few glasses of wine, the wife of the couple said that they'd love to watch our dog while we were away. As we put away a few more glasses, we ended the evening feeling optimistic about this scenario. The next day, in the cold light of day, we all realized that their house was on the market and there was no way of knowing if their future home would accommodate a dog. Back to square one.

A month later, a dog-loving friend of my wife's casually mentioned that she might take our dog for a year. My wife slowly worked up to suggesting a "doggy-sleepover" to see if such an idea might work. With no other options in sight, we awaited the fateful night. Again, our irascible canine could not contain himself. Not being on his home turf, he paced the house all night and just could not get comfortable. Again, it was mutually decided that we would pursue other options.

At this point, my wife even emailed Smiley Dog Rescue to see if there was a possibility that they'd take the dog back, even temporarily, but they said no.

As a last resort, my wife called her sister in Los Angeles. My sister-in-law and her husband don't have kids and have a nice back yard and she told me wife that she'd do it only if all other options were exhausted. My wife assured her that they were. She and my son brought the dog down in May and thus far the match has been very good. Our dog gets a lot more time walking than he did with us and my sister- and brother-in-law seem to genuinely enjoy his company. At one point during a recent walk, one of their neighbors even asked if he was for sale. From being unwanted and possibly having no home to being set up in a perfect environment and being the talk of the daily walk, our dog has come a long way.

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