Over the years we have encountered just about every possible situation in a dog's life. And one thing that comes up surprisingly often is how to handle things with the dog if his primary caretaker becomes injured or ill. This situation isn’t our usual thing, but sometimes when things of this nature come up it is good to have a resource to help make your life and your dogs life easier. So lets talk about some ways that you can take of your dog in case you become unable.
This topic can be a fair bit morbid and puts you in the situation of confronting some what if scenarios, but I can promise you that you would rather think about them now than having to think about them when you are getting released from the ER!
The first place I would start is basically deciding on “godparents” for your puppy. If you become incapacitated, who is the person you trust to take care of your four-legged family? These situations may take a while to resolve as you get better, so thinking about who can provide a good space, has the resources to take care of your puppy, and most importantly who would be willing to take on the responsibility in the event something happens. (It is also good if you have the means to setup a small cash reserve so that while they are taking care of your pet the expenses will be covered.)
Once you have decided on who you think would make suitable puppy god-parents, it is time to talk to them about it. Most people will be happy that you would consider them as a suitable care giver, but it is also important that you impress upon them the care needs of your dog and any expectations you have about how they will do things. It is also key to share with them any special needs your dog has like medications, health issues, or behavior issues that may impact their ability to properly care for your pet. If they have dogs of their own, make sure that your dog gets along with theirs so that the household can remain calm and happy when a new dog comes in. If they don’t have dogs of their own you should spend a little time explaining how your dogs “lifestyle” is, what their daily schedule looks like, how often you walk them, how long you leave them unattended, etc.
And of course, close family are usually a good place to consider when thinking of a caretaker for your dog while you are injured or ill. But the same considerations as asking a friend still hold true. You need to be comfortable and confident that your dog is being taken care of as you expect.
From experience, this is the hardest one to take of when you are injured or ill. Some dogs have a good sense for you not feeling well and will adjust their needs to your slower paced lifestyle, but there are plenty more that don’t have that ability and will still need 100% of the exercise they are used to need.
When thinking about exercise for your puppy, it is important to look at what your dogs needs actually are. What level of activity would be adequate? A simple walk? A 30 minute trip to the dog park? A 5 mile run? A day at the river chasing fish? With this information you will be ready to find some help getting it done. Personally if you asked me to take your dog on a daily 5 mile run, I would laugh. But if you asked me to take him to the river for a day of hiking and chasing fish, I would be all for it. Basically you have to tailor your dogs needs to the person you are asking help from.
Your health considerations
When you are injured or ill, having your loyal furry friend by your side, in your bed, or curled up under a blanket with you on the couch watching Netflix can be the best form of medicine. However you do need to think about your healthcare needs and how having a pet around you will effect that. If you are having breathing issues, a shedding, pet-dander-maker may not be the best thing to have sharing your pillow during recovery. If you have a big and bouncy puppy who loves to give you hugs and doesn’t understand the meaning of personal space, they may not be the best choice to have around while recovering from a broken arm. If your house and all of clothes are coated in a layer of golden retriever hair, it is something to think about after surgery while you have incisions that are trying to heal. If you have a labrador that wants nothing more in life to fetch any tennis ball he sees, then having him around when you are using a walker may make for an interesting trip to the bathroom.
I am by no means saying that during recovery it is time to ouster the dog. I am saying that you need to think hard about how having your pet around will affect your recovery. Also talk to your doctor about it, they will have the best insights to offer on the matter. Because in the end, your safe recovery is the most important thing.
If you can’t take care of your dog
If you are not able to take care of your dog, it is not the end of the world. You have not failed as a puppy parent. No one will judge you on not being able to do it. So if you cannot care for him, you need to weigh your options.
First, you need to figure out how long you will need before you are well enough to take over care again. If it is long term/forever you should look into all the options for rehoming your loved puppy. There are breed specific rescues that can usually help you find a home for your dog. There are also rescue groups out there to help in situations like this. Do some searching of the internet to find out what groups are in your area and who does the best job at caring for and rehoming pets. Also, consider places that ask for a fee to help take your dog as a place that is really trying to help the dogs, because they need to cover their expenses for taking care of everything they have to do.
If this is not a forever situation, now is the time to tap that puppy god-parent on the shoulder for a bit of help. No matter how wonderful a person this is, always be prepared with a backup plan just in case they cannot take your puppy right now. Someone could have happily agreed to take your puppy, but recently moved into a building that doesn’t allow pets. Or their grandmother could be in town who is deathly afraid of dogs. You never know what the situation may be, but if that person cannot them you puppy right this second, just be ready to move on to plan B.
A good plan B (or plan A if you are like me and you don’t want to have to worry about the care of your pet) is to have a good dog daycare / boarding facility that your puppy already loves and has a good relationship with. When we were recently traveling the country with our dog, the first thing we did in each city we moved to was find a dog daycare and boarding facility that Zoey loved, just in case something happened and she needed a good place to go (especially since we didn’t have the proximity of friends and family to help in an emergency.)
When considering a place to leave your puppy for an extended time it is important to ask the staff what they do especially for long-term boarding dogs. As an example when we have a dog staying for more than a week we will weigh him every week to make sure he is eating ok. We will also upgrade the number of play sessions he gets every day so that he is mentally stimulated. And finally we do a thorough check of him to make sure he isn’t chewing himself or developed any issues while staying. These things are very important to consider in a place to leave your dog. Of course we also have our podcast on how to choose a dog daycare, I would highly recommend you listen that.
Integrating your puppy back into your life
This is one of the best parts of having a dog, bringing them home after an absence in their life! But, this time is a little different. If you have a dog who is very excitable, it is important that they cannot accidentally injure you or cause you any complications. It is best to have a friend help bring your puppy home that you know is capable of controlling your puppy and listening to the directions you give.
But the important thing to remember is that if your dog does get too excited, accidentally steps on your broken foot, pees a little on the floor and swishes it everywhere with her tail, it is because she loves you and missed you. Don’t get upset or angry with your puppy, you don’t want to cause any stress on your long-term relationship with your pup.
It is so important in this situation that you prioritize your recovery. I know that life without your furry pack members is not nearly as awesome, but sometimes it is in everyone's best interest to not have them around. As you handle situations like this, just remember that even if you are not able to take care of your puppy and need help, you are not a failure as a dog owner. You are actually a better person because you realize that you are not able to give them everything they need at the moment!