Karen B. London
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Inherited Dogs
Keeping them in the family

“You’re probably wondering why we even got this dog,” was the first thing a new client said to me. She predicted one of the first questions I was going to ask, because this family seemed overwhelmed even before acquiring a high energy, lovable but slightly out of control, adolescent Vizsla cross.

The woman has recently had surgery, her husband has Parkinson’s disease and some other health issues that affect his mobility, and they’re in the middle of a move to a house without stairs. They already have three dogs, including two elderly ones who require a lot of care and a cat that doesn’t cope well with change. Even taking into account that there is no perfect time to adopt a new dog, their choice begged the question, “Why now?”

The answer is an all too common one. Their daughter is a college student who had adopted the dog as a puppy. She was now moving in with some friends who had chosen an apartment that does not allow dogs, and she had simply dropped the dog off at her parent’s house explaining that when she could have a dog again, she would take him back. Sure, they could have said no, but like many dog lovers, they couldn’t bear the thought of turning away this sweet dog.

Many people inherit dogs from family members. Inheriting dogs often means welcoming a dog into the family suddenly, unexpectedly, and at an inconvenient time. Most often I’ve seen the pass from college students to Mom and Dad, or to children following the death of a parent. It’s natural to want to keep the dog in the family, even if doing so is very challenging.

If you’ve ever ended up with a dog that originally belonged to someone else in your family, why did that happen and how did it work out for you?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photo by Ryan Smith Photography/Flickr

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Submitted by Anonymous | March 11 2013 |

We inherited two dogs from my brother when he passed away from cancer. They were mother/daughter. They lived with us off and on when he went into treatment and then just became part of the family when he died (in addition to having several of our own). The mother immediately attached herself to my daughter and they were inseparable. When we lost her, my daughter got another of the same breed. The younger female (a cross) is now 13 and still with us. She is not a dog I would have chosen and I often wished she could find a more suitable home but I felt a responsibility to both her and my brother. Had I come across a better family for her, I might have tried it but I never saw that perfect match.

Submitted by Jim Tew | March 11 2013 |

A six month old Chinook puppy found roaming the streets outside of Cleveland. My son couldn't keep her that next year in college although he tried to sneak her in. We told him that if we took her---it was forever, he couldn't come claim her.

My wife was afraid she would not fit with our 10+ year old Weimaraner, but our vet convinced her that having an active young dog around would be good for the old girl---and it was.

Thirteen years later she still owns us, the two younger boys (10 Weimer 6 Dane) and owns us and makes us smile and cry and gave us our humanity.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 11 2013 |

Except for one, all of my dogs have been inherited...from a student, 2 from my daughter, and 1 from my parents. In each case, the dog became a beloved member of our family. Maybe I'll be able to choose my next dog??? Who knows.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 12 2013 |

I've never inherited a dog, but when I was in 7th grade my parents allowed me to adopt a puppy. I was her sole caretaker. When I went away to college, she stayed behind. I think it was a terrible situation for everyone. My family didn't want to take care of a dog, so I think they resented her and she stayed in the back yard all day long. At the time I didn't feel like I had any options - I got a full ride to the school which would be foolish to pass up, and I couldn't afford apartments that allowed pets - but I still feel incredibly guilty when I think back to those four years I was away. I think she was very lonely and my family was very frustrated.

When I got the puppy, my dad asked me what would happen when I went to college and I said I'd stay in town. But I was in 7th grade! I couldn't make that kind of decision then.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 12 2013 |

I inherited our family dog when my parents retired. My dad got her as a puppy for hunting. She turned out to be both a great hunting dog and a great pet. When they retired they planned on doing a lot of traveling (they still do!) and didn't want the burden of an active gun dog. My dad told me that he would just find a good family for her. I immediately shot him down, telling him there was no way he was going to give away my 11 year old dog to some strange family. I ended up buying a house so I could take her.

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