I grew up with cats, a bird, some fish, but never a dog. I always wanted a dog, and the second I moved into my rental house to start my 5 year residency, I started looking for one. I knew without a doubt that I would get a dog at some point in my life, but I had a lot to consider before taking the leap in residency. This was a common discussion in medical school, and I had heard both sides plenty of times. Was it fair to the dog? Would I even be able to take care of him? Would I regret the decision? If you have come across this article, you’ve likely asked yourself the same questions. Hopefully I can provide at least a little insight.
A few disclaimers about me – I started a 5 year surgical residency in a fairly rural area. I first moved into a fairly spacious rental house, then ultimately bought my own, smaller home a year later. I lived in a neighborhood, and perhaps most importantly for this discussion, have a non-medical spouse with a job in the town we lived in who has much more flexibility than me.
When we first discussed getting a dog, my partner initially said ‘no.’ Ok, I wasn’t deterred though. I agreed to table the dog discussion (while still secretly still looking for dogs). But as a compromise, we decided to get a cat. We figured this would be a good test run, plus he loves cats. We found a Maine Coon rescue and brought her home less than 2 months after starting residency. Cats are obviously much more independent than dogs, but my partner still came home most lunches to see her, especially as a kitten. Intern year, especially rounding early every morning, was a bit of an adjustment, even just knowing my cat was at home waiting for me each night absolutely helped.
Fast forward to one year later, and we saw the exact puppy that we had always wanted. We were not necessarily planning on getting a dog at that exact moment, but he was just too perfect to pass up. We brought him home just about a year after we first got our cat, and I’m not sure I had ever been happier. But now the work started.
Our dog was a 16 week old puppy (he is currently 75 pounds as an adult) when we first brought him home, and let’s just say I had almost no idea what to expect. He was absolutely adorable, but required almost constant attention. We did our homework about raising a puppy, but until he was actually sitting in front of us, did not quite realize how much work it would initially be.
The first weekend, we barely slept. We had him in a crate in our bedroom, and we quickly found out he was quite an anxious fellow. Between constantly needing to pee, barking at sounds he heard, crying for attention, and whatever else puppies do, he kept us busy, and awake. I’m not afraid to admit I regretted my decision quite often within the first few weeks. I was now taking junior call, sleeping much less than I ever had, and had just introduced an agent of chaos into my house. He was still my dream dog and I loved every minute I got to spend with him, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had just massively complicated our home lives.
Looking back, I realize I absolutely could not have raised a puppy by myself as a resident. My partner was able to bring him into his office for the first month or so, and then able to come home every day at lunch, but we regularly found accidents waiting for us at the house when we got home. He was crate-trained (not super well), but there’s no way he could’ve lasted even the length of a workday alone. Plus it broke my heart to think of him sitting alone in a crate or even a tiny playpen for hours by himself.
Things I Didn’t Realize Before Getting My Dog
- Dogs are still ‘puppies’ for much longer than I realized.
- Puppies pee, constantly.
- It’s very hard to seriously train a dog when you don’t have consistent time to dedicate to it.
So here’s my honest advice about getting a pet in residency. If you love cats, I’d suggest sticking to cats. Our cat was fairly low maintenance, but provided endless joy and cuddles. If you absolutely need to have a dog, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to get one without a partner who can do a majority of the caretaking. Obviously every dog is different, but certainly a puppy provides a serious challenge to someone living a resident’s lifestyle. You may want to consider an older dog who can handle being alone for much longer periods of time, but obviously you’ll still need a solid support system for call, long shifts, etc.
I can say without a doubt that I absolutely do not regret getting our dog at this point. Residency is no joke, and being able to come home to a big fluffy dog who lets me cuddle him for however long I want, was a lifesaver. I absolutely had doubts early on, but I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Speaking specifically from a surgery resident’s perspective, I would probably wait until 3rd or 4th year if I had to do it again though. Introducing a puppy at the start of PGY2 and junior call was frankly, ill-advised. It put a lot of extra stress on my partner, myself and certainly accounted for even less sleep. Again, I love my dog more than anything, but if you’re considering getting a dog yourself in the middle of residency, think long and hard about it. The reward is worth the work, if you’re willing to take it on. But be realistic about your situation, make sure you can provide the necessary care for your pet, and get ready to snuggle.