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Adopting a Dog from a Private Party: 20 questions to ask

M’hijito called the other evening to report that a friend of a friend wants to find a new home for a two-year-old golden retriever. M’hijito himself has craved to get a dog for a long time, and in particular he pines for a golden, the breed of his beloved childhood companion.

The story is that the pup’s family consists of a pair of divorcing doctors. The dog belongs to their fifteen-year-old daughter. Mom and Dad, in their unholy wisdom, have decided that in addition to depriving their child of a stable pair of parents (chances are she hasn’t had one of those in a long time), they’re also going to deprive her of her pet, neither parent wishing to take care of it in singlehood. To be fair, there’s a second pet dog, possibly one that’s more manageable in an apartment (read “doesn’t eat the furniture”). But there it is: the element of cruelty gives M’hijito pause. It has a whiff of coldness about it that makes one wonder what exactly is being offered and why.


Since my familiars have always been dogs (preferably large ones) rather than the tediously conventional black cats, he wanted to know what questions I would ask about this animal and  its background, by way of guessing what he was getting into. So, late at night while Cassie the Corgi took the broom for a spin beneath the new moon in the old moon’s arms, I came up with a few things a person might want to know. If you’re interested in adopting an adult dog, especially one that comes from a private home (as opposed to a shelter), you might consider a few of these, too:

1. Where did they get the dog? If it came from a breeder, what breeder? Where? Do they have the dog’s pedigree? Will they let you see it?

2. If you do examine the pedigree, look for forebears that were bred back to a prior generation (for example, the dam to an “uncle.”) This is difficult to figure out, because some degree of inbreeding is considered OK and all breeders do it. But too much? Bad sign.

3. Is the dog OFA-certified? If not, why not? Were both parents OFA-certified? Can the seller prove it? OFA-certified means the dog’s hips were X-rayed at around 18 months and found to be free of hip dysplasia, a painful and crippling inherited defect. Large dogs, in particular, should not be bred without OFA certification. OFA stands for “Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.”

4. Is the dog house-trained?

5. Is it accustomed to using a dog door?

6. Is it crate-trained? If so, do they have a crate they will give you or sell to you?

7. Does the dog like to ride in a car?

8. Has the dog been obedience trained? When, where, and by whom?

9. Will the seller let you take the dog for a walk on a leash, to see how well it heels?

A dog should walk on your left side without pulling on the lead or trying to drag you. Do not pull or drag on the lead yourself. Communicate with the dog with a quick, short jerk on the lead, not by trying to haul the dog in. The best word to tell the dog to walk beside you is “HUP!”

The dog should track beside you as you are walking forward and as you make a U-turn to your right. Do this, walk a ways, do another rightwise U-turn, walk a ways, and then with the dog at your side make a U-turn to your left, so the dog effectively has to pivot or nearly pivot to follow. Walk a ways. Stop. A fully trained obedience dog will sit when you come to a full stop.

If the dog does not sit, quietly tell it to sit. If it doesn’t know to do this, you’ll need to work with it. Gently guide the dog into the “sit” position by holding the lead firmly but gently vertical and pushing the hindquarters to ease the dog into “sit.”

Once you get here, put the lead down (assuming you’re in an enclosed space), tell the dog to “stay”—do not raise your voice but try to sound convincing—and accompany this command with a gesture that places your palm toward the dog’s face. The classic “stop” gesture usually will do it. Step away from the dog, repeating the gesture. Stop. Wait a second. Then call the dog to you.

If the dog will do all these things, then it is respectably trained. Some dogs will not do these things for strangers, especially if they sense any inexperience or unsureness.

10. Are its vaccinations up to date? Do they have a vaccination record that you can take to your vet?

11. Will they let you have the dog examined by your vet before making a final decision? Be prepared to tell a concerned owner your veterinarian’s name and telephone number.

12. Has the dog experienced any health problems? Does it have any known allergies? Ear infections? Digestive issues? Skin problems? How are its teeth?

13. What do they feed the dog? If it’s anything unusual (such as the BARF diet of raw meat and bones), ask them why.

14. How often is the dog used to eating, and how much?

15. How does the dog behave around other dogs? Around small dogs?

16. Is the dog nervous in storms or frightened of lightning and thunder?

17. Does the dog dig in the yard?

18. Does it try to break out of gates or dig under fences, or jump fences?

19. Does it bark, cry, or get into mischief when left alone for a few hours?

20. Observe the dog and see if it appears to be over- or underweight, if it limps, if it’s nervous or jumpy, etc. You might also consider asking if it still chews the furniture.

How is this a money story? How can we count the ways that it isn’t? A full-grown dog that is poorly trained, unsocialized, or psychologically damaged can and will destroy your home, all the furniture and carpets in it, and all the clothing it can get its teeth on. It will excavate your back yard, leaving you with an open-pit mine where your garden was. It will drive your neighbors to the police with complaints about barking and other nuisances. If its health is unsound, the veterinary bills will quickly outstrip the house, furniture, and landscaping repair bills. And if its breeding is faulty, its personality may curdle without warning, leading it to bite you, your children, and your neighbors’ kids.

All of these things are very, very expensive.

Update: Dog Adoption: A Near Miss

Month of extreme frugality (NOT!)

Wow! If there’s any question about whether Karma is mad at me, the laughable effort at a month of extreme frugality answers it! Not only did I fail to save extra money to apply toward the Renovation Loan Payoff Fund, for the first time since I started the weekly budgeting system, I ended the month-long cycle in the red!

I was $23.57 in the black on May 16 and thought I might make it to the end of the billing cycle, but just couldn’t do it. The main reasons were the dog and the astronomical cost of gas.

The dog went off her feed, causing her to barf up the meds. So I had to go by Sprouts to pick up some ground lamb and lamb neck bones to persuade her to eat; while I was there I got some hamburger for myself (totaling $15.89). Then I had to buy a new prescription antibiotic for her, relatively cheap at $26.80 but still more than I had left in the budget, even without the cost of food. These two trips consumed just enough gas that I wasn’t sure I could make the 36-mile round trip to the office on what remained in the gas tank, plus I had to come home the long way to go by a client’s office and deliver a completed project. My van gets 18 miles to the gallon, so I bought about 2 1/3 gallons at Costco: 13 cents a gallon under the going rate, but still $3.47 a gallon. These expenses put me in the red.

This compares abysmally with the first three months of this year:

Before this disastrous month, the worst I did when I wasn’t trying to save had me $151 in the black!

What did the job on my budget was the cost of veterinary care: $379.75 to my old vet and $278.08 to the new vet, plus assorted extra meds. Plus special food. The cost of gas didn’t help-really, if gas were not exorbitant, I might have ended in the black despite the dog headaches.

Luckily, I kept $500 of the previous months’ savings in the money market checking account used to pay these costs as an emergency “cushion.” So when the American Express bill arrives, there will be enough to pay it. But it frosts my cookies.

At this point, it looks like the only hope of getting the vet bills under control is to put the dog down. The vaginal infection is better, but the nose thing just keeps getting worse. She can barely breathe through her nose. Just the cost of diagnosing what ails her starts at $300, to X-ray her skull. If she has a tumor, then she should be put to sleep right away, because it’s terminal and there’s nothing effective that can be done: $300 + $379.75 + $278.08 = $957.83 that I might as well have run through the shredder. If she doesn’t have a tumor but probably has something stuck in her nose, they have to thread a lighted tool into her nasal cavity, which in a dog is an extremely complex maze, to try to fish it out. The vet said this would be “expensive.” When a veterinarian calls something “expensive,” you can be sure the term an ordinary mortal would use is “ruinous.”

So, it may be better just to put her to sleep now. She’s had a long run: she’s almost 13 years old, two years past the normal life span of a German shepherd. I hate to contemplate it: a stuffy nose shouldn’t be a capital offense. On the other hand, heavy panting and rapid breathing are signs of doggy pain, and with the vaginal infection pretty much healed, we know the pain isn’t coming from that. The fact that her nose doesn’t appear to be congested while she’s sleeping (i.e., unconscious) suggests the noisy breathing isn’t caused by a nasal blockage but indicates discomfort or pain. She keeps me awake half the night every night, and I have to get up and get out of the house by 7:30. I’m running on fumes myself at this point-this has gone on for a couple of months-and I’m starting to get sick from the stress and fatigue. If she’s in pain, at her age chances are the cause is cancer. It may just be time to say good-bye.

Poor old lady.

3 Comments left on iWeb site


What a tough call on the dog.We were in this boat a few years ago and you are right about when a vet says “expensive” that means it is ridiculously expensive.our dog had a thyroid tumor, i.e. cancer, that spread to her heart.Well once that happens there is no hope.It is sad either way, but it is important that the dog not suffer.And it is hard to tell if a dog is suffering because they can’t talk.Good luck with the dog, that is hard to deal with.

Tuesday, May 27, 200806:03 PM


I went through the same thing with 2 family dogs.It sounds like allergies.I got a lot of help by going to the online medical sites for dogs and humans too.What the vet doesn’t tell you is that dogs can tolerate most of the same medications people do, just in lower doses for their body weight.I would try a childs brand and dosage. Todays dog foods are not very good for your dog.You are better off feeding them meats and oatmeal with fruits and vegetables.or meat and potatoes.An allergy may be to meat also because of the amounts of chemicals they treat foods with today.Have a little patience and you will find the right combination to make your dog feel better.

Friday, May 30, 200807:11 AM


Alas, this dog isn’t given to allergies. When the Great Dog Food Scare arose, though, I started feeding her and the greyhound real food. They indeed do perform a great deal better on human food: dog food is substandard and provides substandard nutrition.

However, turning out 28 pounds of dog food a week is no joke. Unfortunately, I have a job and I have no partner to help me with shopping, food preparation, and cleanup, and so even if I could afford the cost of buying huge quantities of better food than I eat myself, converting my kitchen into a dog-food factory is not a practical option.

Subsequent trips to the vet show that what’s causing the manifestations of pain is pressure sores. She refuses to lay on her soft blankets–about the middle of last winter, she developed an aversion to dog beds, of which she has a half-dozen scattered around the house and back yard. Washing them did not help. Buying new ones did not help. She is so averse to a soft place to lie down that she will not even walk on them–she walks around them. Lay one down in the hall, and she treats it like a roadblock. As a result she lies on the tile flooring, which is throughout the house. The yard is desert-landscaped, and so there’s no grass to lie on out there.

Pressure sores are extremely difficult to treat, even in humans who can understand instructions not to lie on them. Eventually, they eat through to the bone. They are very painful. They get infected, and such an infection can and will kill the victim. Old folks in poorly maintained nursing homes routinely die of the effects of pressure sores.

There’s evidently nothing I can do about this. I tried tying an object to her torso so that it would force her to lie on her side. This worked for about 30 minutes, after which she just lay down on top of it.

Friday, May 30, 200807:28 AM

The miracle of penny-pinching

OMG! In spite of $708 worth of vet bills, I’m still in the black this month!

How did this marvel happen?

Because I was frugal and stayed out of Costco, I ended up $75 in the black for the first week of this month’s billing cycle.

The following week I was $283 in the hole against that week’s $375 budget, leaving $92 to live on in the cycle’s third week. However, when I carried the first week’s $75 forward into the third week, it gave me $167 for that week. By keeping a grip on spending and returning a couple of items to Costco, I came out $33 in the black at the end of the third week. Carrying forward again meant I started the fourth week with $408.

The second giant vet bill struck in the fourth week, which is this week-it ends on the 20th. However, so far this week I’ve only had two expenditures above and beyond the second vet bill. So I have $23.57 to last for four days: until Wednesday morning.

The car still has a third of a tank of gas. One trip to the office takes a quarter of a tank. If I telecommute on Tuesday and leave my car in the garage today, Saturday, Sunday, and next Tuesday, I shouldn’t need to buy more gas.

I’ve got plenty of groceries to last for four days.

So, barring a catastrophe, not only am I not headed for bankruptcy, I actually may make it to the end of this billing cycle in the black! The checking account used to pay these charges has a $500 cushion, so even if I go a few bucks over budget, my credit card payments won’t bounce.

Whew! Thank goodness for penny-pinching habits! No snowflakes this month, but no meltdown, either.

Dog redux

Seven hundred and eight dollars later. . .

Yes. That’s over seven hundred bucks. So much for the Month of Extreme Frugality. How laughable.

Yesterday I took the dog to a new veterinarian, not feeling at all satisfied with what I got for $430 from my regular vet. When I took her to the the latter vet late last month because she stank so violently you couldn’t stay in the same room with her, he said she had a vaginal infection and gave me a bottle of antibiotic pills and a tube of antibiotic ointment, with instructions to smear it on her nether parts (at great risk to life and limb, we might add). This was a week after he saw her for restlessness and hyperventilation and gave her a cortisone shot to quiet her down. Shortly after I got her home, I found a large lesion on her leg. He-or rather, one of his staff-said he had seen it, it was a pressure sore, and I should put the ointment on that, too.

The sore didn’t get any better, and neither did the stink, to speak of. They charged me another fifty bucks for a second round of antibiotics. On my own, I tried myconozale, which helped a little; the problem was, I couldn’t get the stuff on the dog because she threatens to bite me every time I try to apply anything to the affected area. She has to be muzzled, wrestled down, held down, and medicated. It’s no small trick to do that once, much less several times a day, and I am not of an age to be wrestling on the floor with a ninety-pound dog!

Meanwhile, when I called back about the leg sore, the same unhelpful and vaguely rude staff lady proposed, with a straight face, that I lock her in “a small room” where the floor is padded with several layers of comforters. Well, the only such room in this house is the bathroom where the only truly functional toilet resides. The door opens inward. You can’t pad the floor where the door swings. So I had to drag the dog into the bathroom and then barricade the entrance to the bathroom with a couple of dining room chairs. A German shepherd has no problem moving a couple of chairs out of its way. So I had literally to barricade the door with several dining room chairs, jamming them into the hallway so she couldn’t budge them. As you can imagine, this was not very good for the chairs, my back, or the dog. The only other way to keep her on a padded floor is to tie her to a doorknob and spread the comforters, several layers deep, over an area too large for her to escape.

Neither of these strategies was any too practical.

I also very much doubted that the sore was a pressure sore, because the dog is too active for such a thing to have developed. She’s in motion much of the time and never lies still longer than about four or five hours. I know: that’s about as long as she will allow me to sleep for any given stretch. It’s the wee hours right now, and we’re up.

So I decided to try a friend’s vet.

Well, the place was very impressive-and much, much closer to home. It’s clean, with absolutely no typical veterinary odor. Very spacious and shiny, with several vets and at least a half-dozen staffers that I could see. Meaning, of course, that the practice is cranking the bucks.

Lots of brochures laying around detailing all the expensive things you can do to/for your dog. The basic “senior well dog” checkup is $275, and that’s a fishing expedition that looks for chronic ailments to treat for the rest of the animal’s life. Onward.

The vet was a young woman, very smart. I overwhelmed her with two pages of the dog’s symptoms and four questions:

  • What is the sore on her leg?
  • What can be done about the vaginitis?
  • Why does she pant and hyperventilate constantly?
  • Can she be treated in a reasonable way that does not drive me to wacky behavior like tying the dog to doorknobs and barricading the bathroom with the dining-room furniture?

She examined the dog, shaved the hair off around the irritated rear end, and, having learned to her surprise that the other vet had not done a culture on the diseased area, swabbed up a sample for culturing in a lab. After this, she opined that the lesion is not a pressure sore, because it’s not in an area where a bony prominence comes in contact with the floor and it does not look like a pressure sore. She thinks it’s a hot spot, probably brought on by an insect or spider bite. About the infection, she thinks the dog is in a great deal of pain.

About the heavy breathing, she noted the dog’s nasal secretions are bloody and said she may have a tumor, an expensive item to diagnose and treat. To find out whether she does have nasal cancer, which as it develops is pretty likely, will require a $300 X-ray. If that is positive, the dog will have to be put down.

(As I write this, ominously enough, no air is flowing through the dog’s nose and she’s breathing, loudly, through her mouth.)

The vet then gave me four different medications: a spray, fistfuls of medicated wipes, goop for her rear end, and goop for the sore. She recommended I continue the antibiotics I have until she can get the results of the lab test back, at which time she probably will recommend some other $50 antibiotic. So at this time, the dog is supposed to get FOURTEEN DOSES OF MEDS A DAY. She did, at least, say it is unnecessary to try to force the dog to stay on pads, so I can leave off that aspect of the wacky behavior. IMHO, medicating a dog 14 times a day is quite wacky enough.

At any rate, she charged $278 for all this.

Compared with the other vet’s bill, it seemed like a bargain. Consider:

Vet 1: $430

Services and products:
cursory exam
cortisone shot for agitation
2 bottles of antibiotics
1 tube of ear ointment
not so much as a clue about the leg sore
absurd recommendation for management of leg sore

Vet 2: $278

Services and products:
thorough exam
shaved hair from affected area, allowing access for medicating
lab culture and test
ointment for leg sore
pain-killer for vaginal infection
spray-on antifungal for vaginal infection
antifungal, antiseptic wipes for vaginal infection
consulted at length and made more or less rational recommendations

I said I suspected the dog really does not need Soloxine, because at the time the other vet put her on it, she had no visible symptoms of thyroid dysfunction and because I had learned that hypothyroidism is the most overdiagnosed ailment in veterinary medicine. She said the only way to tell is more bloodwork: $125. To test for thyroid function in the presence of Soloxine, you have to test about 5 hours after the drug has been administered. Since I dose Anna at 6:00 a.m. and it was by then after 3:00 p.m., that scheme was obviated. I’ll have to bring her back another time to find out if she really needs thyroid pills. But first we probably should find out if she has a tumor in her nose, a situation that would do some more obviating.

When I got the dog home, I could not get her out of the car. She couldn’t stand up. She’d jammed herself up against the driver’s seat so that she couldn’t get enough purchase to pull her weakened hindquarters off the floor, and she threatened to bite me when I tried to help her get upright. It looked for a while like I was going to have to drive her back to the vet and have them put her down, right then and there. Finally I pulled the car into the garage and just left her there with the door open and the lights merrily running the battery down. After a half-hour or forty minutes, she managed to get herself up and out of the vehicle.

The four Benadryl I walloped her with an hour ago have finally taken effect. She’s out cold on the floor. On a positive note, she’s now breathing through her nose (more or less), which she was unable to do when she woke me with the steam-engine sound effects. So maybe the nasal problem is just allergies. Probably not, though. You don’t get a bloody discharge from allergies.

My head hurts, my neck hurts, my back aches, my iced tea has gone warm, and even our pet house fly is asleep. Now that it’s quiet, I’m going back to bed.

Month of Extreme Frugality, indeed!

2Commentsleft on iWeb site:


Gasp!Have you asked the veterinarians to treat your pooch “pro bono?”I watched a Hollywood TV show, All Things Large and Small, that portrayed veterinarians as compassionate, caring, green-minded people, generous with their time and money.

Thursday, May 15, 200807:15 AM


Isn’t that the loveliest program? You know, it’s based on a series of semiautobiographical books whose author was an English veterinarian. Each of them is equally delightful.

Veterinarians are compassionate and caring people. But compassionate and caring people have to eat, too. Veterinary school is said to be more difficult to get into than medical school, and the course of studies is extremely challenging. After one of these very bright young people graduates, she or he goes into the business of veterinary care, which IS a business, not a hobby or a charity.

Veterinarians are not in business to give away their skills. They’re in business to make a living. Given how hard they have to work to acquire their skills, they rightly expect to make a good living. Many vets, however, earn only a middle-class income; it’s a lot less profitable than you would think.

Compared to what Vet #1 charged, I felt Vet #2’s fee was pretty reasonable: she devoted a lot of time to examining the dog and talking with me in detail, she provided more medications, and those medications appear to be more specific to the ailments at hand. And she did not leave me in the dark, wondering what is wrong and whether it can be treated at all.

Am I willing to pay $300 to have a 13-year-old German shepherd’s skull X-rayed? The jury is still out on that one. Since I’ve already spent more than half (!!) of this month’s disposable income on the dog, it will have to wait until another couple of paychecks come in, so there’s plenty of time to make a decision.

And at the rate the poor old gal is going, she may not last that long. She has a tough time dragging her crippled hindquarters off the floor, and so frankly, I suspect the end is in sight.

Thursday, May 15, 200809:06 AM