Owning a Dog in Residency

I have wanted a dog for as long as I can remember. I grew up with dogs (Tessa a Gorden Setter and Shadow a Newfoundland/Black Lab Mix) when I lived in South Africa, however we had to give our dogs away when we emigrated when I was 6 years old. From the moment we landed in the USA I was asking my parents when we could get a dog and a dog made every Christmas and Birthday wishlist as I was growing up. I always swore to my parents I would buy a dog the second I moved out of their house at 18 years old, however living in dorms and being a broke college student made that an impossible reality. Flash forward to medical school with my frequent away rotations and mandatory classes in addition to clerical duties, it didn’t feel like the right time to take on additional responsibility.

My boyfriend moved in when I started residency and we very quickly decided to get a dog. In hindsight it was probably not the smartest decision as residency brought on much more stress and responsibility that I could’ve imagined. But nonetheless in August of my intern year we brought home my sweet little border collie mix named Kaya. It didn’t take long before I realized why my parents denied my request of getting a dog, it was hard work! In the first month of having her she had done more damage to my apartment with her teething and potty training misses than I had anticipated. Kaya being a border collie mix meant she had boundless energy and would race around the very small 1 bedroom apartment for hours. Walks were not optional, it was the only way we could get her to calm down at the end of the day. Additionally I felt like I was shelling out money every week for unanticipated costs (spaying, vaccinations, pet crates, replacement leash after she chewed through her first one, etc.) and I quickly learned how expensive being a pet parent could be.

Now a year later she has calmed down a bit but there are still some days I scratch my head and think to myself “why did I think this was a good idea”. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dog more than anything. She brings me more joy than I could’ve imagined and she is the best companion I could’ve asked for (she’s using my foot as a pillow as I type this). However the past year has taken a lot of juggling in how best to care for her while my boyfriend and I try balancing our own hectic work schedules.

The truth is I would not be able to care for my dog if I lived alone. Most days I am out of the house between 5am and 5pm and although I live less than 10 minutes away from my hospital, I do not get a lunch break or have any down time to be able to leave the hospital to let my dog out. Fortunately my boyfriend goes into work much later than I do so he can spend time with her in the morning and usually can come see her during his lunch break. I usually get home before he does so then it is my turn to take the dog for a walk and spend time with her in the evening.

So the big question everyone is asking: Should I get a dog in Residency?

The short answer is: No.

The long answer is: It depends.

If you have a significant other, roommate, or friendly neighbor who is willing to take on a large amount of the responsibility for the animal when you are away at work then it might be feasible.  Additionally you have to determine if you are willing to loose some of your very precious free time you have after work in order to care for a dog. There are days when I just want to go home and study but my dog is really riled up and needs to go for a long walk or to the dog park before she will settle down. There are other days where I get woken up if she isn’t feeling well or decides to bark at the leaves blowing around outside and have to calm her down in the wee morning hours I wish I could be asleep.

Despite the best laid plans there are days where I feel that I haven’t given her enough attention or spent a lot of time with her. I feel an immense amount of guilt if I end up staying late at the hospital or if I have no energy to take Kaya on a long walk after being on my feet all day. Coordinating a Saturday vet appointment to line up with a Saturday I have off can take a lot of work switching around call days and waiting for appointment cancellations. In truth owning a dog in residency has been hard and has required a lot of sacrifice.

So you decide you’re going to go ahead and take the plunge and get a dog in residency? Well here are the best 3 pieces of advice I can offer:

  1. Use a dog walking service. I use Rover and have found many great dog walkers and dog sitters for when I will be out of town on the weekend. If my boyfriend is unable to come home for lunch or I have a case that is running later than I anticipating I can usually find someone who is available to come give Kaya some TLC or take her on a walk. Of course this does require some planning ahead (i.e. having a spare key that’s easily accessible, having the dog harness and leash in a easily found spot etc.)
  2. Invest in Dog Day Care. Unfortunately living in a really small community there are not that many options for dog day care. The one place I have found and really like is only open from 7am to 7pm which again means I am reliant on my boyfriend being able to drive the dog to daycare before he has to go in for work. Now it certainly isn’t cheap (a day costs anywhere between $15-$23 depending on which package you purchase) which means it is not an every day option for my boyfriend and I at this time. We normally utilize this service if we have plans to go out in the evening or one of us will be working late so she will get plenty of interaction during the day, or if she has been more hyper than usual. I love taking her to day care because she gets plenty of supervised puppy play time and she usually goes right to bed when we get home.
  3. Purchase interactive toys. Before I had a dog, I thought dog cameras and interactive treat dispensers were laughable. Now that I have a dog I sit at work wondering if my dog is doing okay. Enter Furbo. Now full disclosure, I don’t own a Furbo…. yet. With a couple of  TDY  rotations (temporary duty assignments – meaning I train at another facility for a short amount of time) coming up, I can’t imaging going 14 weeks without seeing my fur child (no worries she will be staying with my boyfriend at home)!  Furbo seems like a great choice due to a couple of its unique features. One it records videos which many of the cheaper cameras don’t have the capability to do. Two it can actually throw treats (vs just dispensing them) which means it can help Kaya burn some energy off when I am not there. Lastly it has bark alerts meaning the camera can detect when Kaya is barking so I can be alerted if something is wrong.

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