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Getting a Dog: The Balancing Act

Dogs require a lot of time and love, but managing their needs and a full-time job isn’t impossible.

Fox 5 Morning News anchor Allison Seymour—with rescue pups Brownie and Lady Bird—shares dog duty with her husband, who has an opposite work schedule. Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
Photograph courtesy of Karl Alzner.

Karl Alzner

Washington Capitals defenseman

Dogs: Two dachshunds, Murphy and Charlie, and a Bernese mountain dog, Duncan.

How do you make time for them? “When I’m not training, I spend all my time with them. As we speak right now, I have a dog on my lap. Our days get shaped around our dogs.”

Any Advice? “Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into ahead of time. Do your research. Train them from the start.”

There’s nothing like getting welcomed home by a tail-wagging companion, but there are also few things as heartbreaking as leaving a sad-eyed dog behind to go to work. Yet Washingtonians manage this routine every day.

Though it’s not easy, Pat Zarodkiewicz, who works at the Pentagon, balances caring for her yellow Labs—Buttons and Chance—with a stressful career.

She relies on daily help from dog walkers from Arlington’s Dog Paws ’n Cat Claws Pet Care. When she adopted Buttons, she had to deal with the animal’s separation anxiety—the first time she left her home alone, Buttons tried to escape through a window. But Zarodkiewicz says the unconditional love she gets from Buttons and Chance has made them well worth the trouble.

Mary Champagne, who works at the US Chamber of Commerce, says she and her husband, a writer, manage caring for their Great Dane mix, Camus, by sharing responsibilities. While Mary handles Camus’s long after-work walks, he cares for the dog on days he works from home. Camus also spends one or two days a week at daycare.

“You have to be realistic that having a dog is going to take time,” says Champagne. “You can’t just get a dog and ignore him or her. It’s not fair to them.”

People with demanding schedules have a lot to consider before bringing a new companion home. E. Kathryn Meyer, a Gaithersburg veterinary behaviorist, says prospective owners need to determine how much energy they’re willing to expend outside the office: “It means getting up an extra half hour or 45 minutes early every day so you can take the dog out for a nice walk. It means planning in the evening to get the dog out to exercise. ”

Then there’s the question of what to do with the dog during the day. Puppies demand more attention in general, and dogs younger than four to six months can’t hold their bladders for more than a few hours. (See puppy schedule on page 177.) Aspiring owners who work may want to consider adopting an older pet. Most adult dogs can last six to eight hours without relieving themselves, though a midday check-in is still optimal.

There are steps an owner can take to better prepare a dog to handle a full-time work schedule. Dr. Meyer suggests leaving the dog for progressively longer periods, with the goal of going a full day alone. Leaving the dog with a long-lasting treat like a peanut-butter-stuffed Kong toy also helps.

Dogs with separation anxiety need even more help. Symptoms include going to the bathroom in the house and being destructive.

Pat Zarodkiewicz says Buttons’s anxiety improved after she adopted Chance and Buttons grew accustomed to her daily schedule. Meyer says confining dogs, particularly puppies, to a crate can comfort them, but crating makes some more anxious. In severe cases, she prescribes anti-anxiety medication.

There’s another option for people who decide that juggling a full-time job and a new dog would be too much: volunteering at a shelter. That way, Meyer says, both dogs and people can get some extra love without the commitment.

This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Things to Know About Getting a Dog

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