A dog looks through a fence.

Here’s a hypothetical situation for you — well, a couple of them. Tell me what you’d do. In all cases, you’re a single parent with a four-year-old child, but then circumstances change.

You have to move, but every place you look at has a “no children policy.”

You lose your job and unemployment is barely enough to cover your rent.

You suffer a sudden disability or illness, and just can’t care for a child anymore.

How many of you, as your first choice, would decide, “I’m dumping my kid off at an orphanage because it will just be easier for me?”

I’m guessing that none of you who are parents would even think of this as an option. And yet I hear about people making this first and easy choice all the time.

It happens when the “child” in question isn’t a human four-year-old, but rather a dog, and the first and easy choice is to dump the dog at a shelter. However, when you adopted that dog in the first place, you made a promise and a commitment. Like having or adopting children, or getting married, adopting a dog is a commitment for their lifetime — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.

When it comes to human family members, most of us don’t even question having to make incredible sacrifices — and, for the most part, society accommodates us. Family leave for maternity or caring for a sick parent or child is becoming more and more common, and we are also very generous at providing aid to people with children who suddenly lose their income or become disabled. It’s also generally illegal to deny housing to someone because they have children, so at least one of my original hypotheticals would never happen.

However, society is not yet so generous when the affected family member is a dog, and I find this really ironic, especially considering the tendency, at least in America, of people to humanize their dogs and treat them like little people. We may rightly consider our dogs to be members of the family. Unfortunately, law and society hasn’t caught up with that idea yet.

Pack Leaders Give Protect and Direct

Now I’m not encouraging humanizing dogs at all. No — we need to let our dogs be dogs. But we also need to be their Pack Leaders, meaning that it’s up to us to give them protection and direction. We especially need to give them protection when we wind up in those situations when the rest of society will give us nothing.

If you have to move, you have to find dog-friendly housing. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources online to do so. And if you can’t find it right away, don’t worry. One of the functions of canine foster programs is to provide a temporary home for dogs while their owners are in transition.

If you have a sudden loss of income, remember that dogs can live very cheaply and aren’t used to eating every day in the wild. The two of you can probably also eat the same things if you spend your money on basic ingredients, like rice and chicken, and you cook in bulk.

Ask for Help

And if you should become too sick or disabled to walk your dog, don’t be too proud to ask for help. You may not be able to afford a dog walker, but if you’ve walked your dog enough to get to know the neighbors, then you’ve probably got a bunch of volunteers ready and able to take on the task. If you don’t have available neighbors, then ask friends or family members. If that doesn’t work out, then get creative. Contact your nearest rescue or shelter to find out if they have volunteer dog walkers.

Also, if you’re that ill, then you’re probably dealing with your own medical professionals. Ask your doctors and nurses if they know dog people who’d like to help — chances are at least one of them knows a dog lover who would like nothing more than to lend a hand.

There’s an old adage: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If you have a dog in your life, then that relationship should give you enough will power to do anything to maintain it. Your first reaction, when circumstances go sideways, shouldn’t be, “Well, I can’t keep the dog.” Rather, it should be, “What can I do to make sure that I keep my dog?”

You do it the same way that you keep your kids: ingenuity, creativity, hope — and trust in your fellow humans to feel empathy and lend a hand. Basically, you need to trust the power of the pack and use your powers as Pack Leader to make it happen.

Stay calm, and never give up your dogs.

Have you ever had to come up with a creative way to make sure that your dog could stay with you? Tell us about it in the comments!

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