A new lifestyle guru has moved into my home with lessons on money management, organization and recycling. Our home-school lessons begin every morning at 6:45 when our teacher -- a puppy named Scruffy -- barks his first commands. Life with Scruffy has been a life-altering experience.
Since adopting Scruffy from a private animal rescue program, my home life has jumped to the next level in terms of planning, spending and saving. The choice was simple: We could either be overrun by our dog, or we could pick up our pace.
Here is a quick overview of the lessons I've learned about adopting a pet and dealing with a puppy.
• Ask questions; get specific answers. We adopted Scruffy from a wonderful organization that was passionately devoted to Scruffy and his five siblings. Naively, my family assumed that the adoption was a free or minimal-fee service. However, on the day that we picked up our dog, we faced a surprise bill of $200 for the adoption, medical shots and other valuable services. The fee was reasonable considering what the vet bills might have been. But if we had asked more questions from the outset, writing the check would have been easier.
(Cat lovers, who go through the Humane Society of Broward County, for example, pay $70 in adoption fees for a cat and $40 for adopting a second cat or kitten at the same time. The fee includes spaying/neutering, pet behavior consultation, vaccinations, de-worming and other medical procedures.)
• Recycle. Forget the expensive pooper scoopers and other gadgets. Plastic bags are great for protecting your hands while cleaning up after a pet. It's a great use for discarded bags. Old tennis balls and puppy-friendly stuffed animals can be rejuvenated as great chew toys for dogs.
• Guard your valuables. Shoes, eyeglasses and books are expensive chew toys. Through costly missteps, my family -- especially the kids -- has learned painful lessons about disorganization. A few weeks ago, my daughter brought a chewed-up homework assignment to show her second-grade teacher. ''The dog really did eat my homework,'' my daughter said.
• Consider dollar stores. My husband has found some wonderful pet items at a dollar store. While some upscale pet boutiques sell doggie shampoos/conditioners for $20 and up a bottle, my husband found effective -- and sweet smelling -- dog grooming products for $1 each. The dollar store is also a frugal option for collars, leashes and bowls. We've even found a red-dot laser tag game for my dog for one buck, down from $7-$10 at a local pet boutique.
• Know Your Limits. We purchased clippers for our puppy's long dark nails. But after one nail-trimming attempt, we decided to pay the dog groomer for that service. (We found a $5 puppy pedicure deal). No harm was done to the puppy. But clipping his nails was too painful for us.
Finally, the biggest lesson involves organization. Scruffy is at his best when we provide a well-structured day, with clearly defined times for meals, walk and play. Our puppy is a great teacher.