Last night, around 4 a.m., I was engaged in an almost nightly ritual: standing at my back door, waiting for our two dogs to return from doing their nightly business. Our yard is fenced in, so they can't roam far, but that doesn't stop our two large mixed breed dogs from hanging outside for quite some time. And so it provided me with some quiet time for myself -- to fume and wonder why I'm not asleep.

One of our dogs, Hooper, takes an interminable long time to return, unless I'm up for going outside in the darkness and hunting and calling for him, and that was the situation last night, and I began thinking how this knucklehead came into our lives.
It was a year ago or so, and I was in a very good mood, which explains why my wife chose to ask me if we'd take in a dog that was about to lose his home due to a divorce. I was feeling just good enough about everything that I buckled and agreed to take in a dog that probably eats more in a day than our family of four combined. But not everyone is so lucky, when they have to give up a dog, to have a friend who has a brain the size of a kumquat. Many people have to give their dogs to a shelter.

And so when Hooper finally came in from our backyard, I decided I'd offer some suggestions to anybody who is afraid that they can no longer afford or have a dog in their lives.

Go to a food bank. Seriously, there are food banks that carry donated pet food. Some shelters have even created their own pet food banks, to help with the many animals being given up due to the foreclosure crisis. Many cities have them. For instance, the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge, Illinois has a pet food pantry, and there's a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Santa Cruz, California, as just two examples. And remember, if you're feeling lousy about the idea of taking pet food from a shelter -- the shelter would rather your pet live in your home, than have to take another dog or cat themselves. They're already plenty busy. If this means you can keep your pet, you're doing the shelter a favor by taking their pet food.

You might be able to get financial assistance for pet medicine. Help-A-Pet is a nationwide nonprofit designed to help give financial aid to those who can't pay for medical care for their pets. And obviously talk to your veterinarian, who may be of no help, or he or she might be able to offer a payment plan if you need one.

Don't buy pet toys; make your own. This blog, PetLvr.com, actually tells you how.

If you do have to give up your dog, cat or pet, it's smart to plan ahead rather than wait until the last minute when you'll likely have no recourse than to drop off your animal at a shelter or simply let them run free. And if you're in the position to accept a pet, and if your friends who are divorcing aren't having financial problems but simply want to get rid of a dog, one final thought: consider asking them to throw in a few bags, maybe several large bags, of dog food as part of the bargain. I'm just saying.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale). Thanks to his wife and daughters, he is also the beleaguered owner of two cats, four dogs, several pet rats, two birds and several fish.

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