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Published: Tuesday, 8/23/2011

A dog's life

Once upon a time, "a dog's life" meant spending your days dozing in the sun, without a care in the world. These days, dogs have more to worry about -- including whether their owners will surrender them to an uncertain fate at the Lucas County dog pound.

The Humane Society of the United States says Americans own more than 78 million dogs -- about one animal for every four people. Nearly 40 percent of households have at least one dog; 28 percent of owners have two dogs.

Once, most dogs were working animals. Now, most are pets that have few duties other than being devoted companions. And Americans love them, whether they're mutts or purebred.

But pet ownership has gotten more complicated, difficult, and expensive over the past couple of decades. That reality, combined with an economic recession from which Toledoans have not recovered, has resulted in a surge in the number of dogs that are surrendered to the pound and rescue organizations.

Although a dog is still man's best friend, it's not always certain the reverse is true. Last year, 375 dogs and 45 puppies were surrendered to the Lucas County dog warden's office. Through June of this year, 225 dogs were surrendered to the Toledo Humane Society. Those are small numbers compared to the more than 62,000 dogs licensed in the county, but the total is still too high.

Often, the economy is the culprit: Families must move, or no longer can afford to feed and care for a pet because of a lost job. Dogs develop behavioral problems, family members become allergic, and owners find they don't have time to walk, play with, and groom an animal.

The world has changed. Lassie can't wander the countryside anymore. The necessity of two-income families often means no one is home all day to keep an animal company.

The cost of dog licenses is rising; Lucas County has the state's highest fee. Dog food, especially the good stuff that's not all filler and chemicals, is expensive. Veterinary care isn't cheap, either; the list of required vaccinations and treatments -- for everything from heartworm to canine gingivitis -- seems to grow each year.

Some dogs must be given up. The Humane Society and other rescue groups can find those animals new homes. But fewer animals would be surrendered -- and killed -- if people asked themselves before buying a pet: Can I afford it?

Can I afford hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars each year for a license, food, toys, crates, flea treatments, grooming, and vaccinations? Can I take the time to train a dog not to chew slippers or use the rug as a bathroom, and to be friendly with other animals and good with children and strangers?

If your honest answer is maybe or even a hesitant yes, then the answer really is no -- especially when the wrong decision can mean death for your dog.

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