At the start of my fourth year of medical school, I decided I really wanted a dog. I’d been thinking about it for a long time in a very serious way, but kept putting it off because I thought medical training and being a decent dog parent couldn’t mix. However, I did see several of my friends successfully finding ways to do it, and started dog sitting for some of them and even for a few of the residents at UNC. I loved it! So I made up my mind and thought where there’s a will there’s a way.
I started scrolling through petfinder and adoptapet to try to find the perfect pup. I wanted something very small (knowing full well that yes absolutely I would be that girl carrying a dog in a handbag), a boy, poodle mix, and young. I told my roommate I was thinking of making this big decision and she thankfully got on board with the idea very quickly and started helping me search. One Thursday morning while I was on an incredibly dull rotation that often meant I saw one or maybe two patients a day, this cute dog named “Rascal” showed up on my computer screen and I knew I had to have him. Having taken all of two days of excused absences in medical school to date at that point, I decided I would take a mental health day and go adopt a puppy. I met a stranger in a Dollar General parking lot about an hour and a half away from Chapel Hill, where I was living at the time.
((I didn’t tell my parents the details of what I’d done until much later because common sense would tell you that meeting a random stranger off the internet to accept a cute but unpredictable puppy in the middle of nowhere North Carolina would not be a good idea, but, you know, all’s well that ends well.))
He was very stinky so I immediately gave him a bath when we got home, and invited a steady stream of friends over the next few days to come visit him. What I did not really think out particularly well ahead of time was what to do when I was on 24 hour call and when I was heading out for week-long treks to interview at different residency programs. Thankfully my roommate and my parents were all very generous and willing to help out, but things definitely weren’t easy and I probably would have done at least a couple things differently with hindsight being 20/20.
I thought maybe I’d share a few things that I’ve learned with readers who are in med school or residency or some other time-consuming career about how to keep a dog alive and happy!
- Adopt a dog who is small, exceptionally cute, and nondestructive. I know it’s hard to predict an exact dog’s behavior (especially if you do what I did and make a very hasty decision), but it has been much easier for me to find co-residents and friends and attendings even who volunteer to help take care of him because he’s little and low-maintenance. The people even in my program who have big and more rambunctious dogs have had more difficulty.
- Puppy school. This is important. We just went to Petsmart and signed up for as many classes as we could and honestly had a lot of fun learning tricks and manners! Auggie made a ton of friends and came home exhausted after class.
- Potty pads are a very good idea. So are apartments with hardwood floors, because even though my sweet boy’s ability to go to the pad every time is actually astounding, his aim is not. But in all seriousness this has been one of our saving graces to have him potty trained because I’m not panicking at the end of a 14 hour day thinking omg he hasn’t peed all day!! He has and he is fine.
- Do not adopt a dog immediately before traipsing around the country for 15 different job interviews while on a q4 28 hour call rotation. You will not be home and you will miss your dog. The second half of the fourth year of med school (when all of that is over!) is a much easier time to work on potty training and learning to sleep through the night.
- If you’re in a stage of life where 24 hour calls in the hospital are a thing, find several people you trust to take care of your angel (which is made easier I think if you have followed tip #1). He will be fine (in fact, will probably have a blast while he’s hanging out with his dog friends) but you will really, really miss him. Just a heads up.
- Don’t let the fear of how difficult it might be stop you from adopting your new best friend! You won’t regret having a furry (well-behaved, quiet, adorable) new member of your family.
Let me know in the comments if you have other questions about being a dog mom in residency? And if you already have a furry best friend, tell me about them!