I was asked today if Oliver would be the final addition to my canine family. In all likelihood, yes – at least for now. Certainly a small home like mine with two big dogs and two small dogs is busy and crowded enough.
I believe that overcrowding animals – be it in a home, a shelter, a kennel or a pasture – is conducive to stress for the animals and exacerbates physical health problems as well as jeopardizing their emotional wellbeing. Had Oliver been a large dog, or a young dog, or a rambunctious dog, I would not have considered offering to take him on even though his situation was fast becoming urgent. As much as I love labs and pittis, pups and active dogs, my environment would not accommodate them at this time. But it is not so much the numbers as the "fit" that determines how many is too many.
I think there are a lot of factors that contribute to decisions regarding how many is too many: time, money, future plans, age and temperament of the dog, age and temperament of the human.
One must have the financial resources to be able to feed the animals a good quality food and address their health concerns appropriately. One must have sufficient time to give each of them personal attention, to exercise them, to groom them, and to teach them manners for living cooperatively with others. One must have a good idea of where one plans to live for the lifetime of the dog and of what one would do for housing if one's present circumstances changed.
One also has to consider age and temperament. My four dogs are all seniors. My two thirteen year olds, Belle and Oliver, are unlikely to be with me for more than five years, though of course it is possible they will prove me wrong. Charley and Sadie, while a couple of years younger, are large breed dogs whose life expectancy is shorter than that of small dogs – thus they are not likely to be around for much more than five years either. And, barring unforeseen terrible accidents or life-threatening diseases, I should be around for at least as long as my dogs, and I know what my finances will be and what my home ownership plans entail.
As for temperament, my dogs are all very easy going sociable dogs who aren’t particularly demanding of their humans – they are not cuddlebugs and seldom crowd me simultaneously (at which point two hands and two feet are sufficient for belly rubs and head pats). They tend to spread themselves out around the house, enjoy their strolls with me in the pasture or on the dikes, and generally ignore each other most of the time. As for my temperament, I’m a pretty calm, easy going, independent person too – a good match for these dogs – and not one to panic or get into a flap in times of crisis. My positive attitude allows me to create a calm environment for my dogs, and so they live their lives pretty stress free.
One day, I shall open my home to another lab or pitti. One day, I might even have more than four dogs (I’ve always thought five was a nice number!). One day, I might only have one or two dogs as the natural life processes take them from me when their earth journey is done.
I know I won’t adopt a puppy or a noisy high energy dog because that isn’t who I am now or what I am like. I will likely stick with seniors, though another 5-6 year old would not be unwelcome at some point down the road. I would love a dog I could do agility with once I retire.
But for me, at this point in my life and for at least the next five years, four is perfect. But not just any four. These four. Charley, Sadie, Belle and Oliver.
The perfect fit.