Keeping your Malamute during Hard Economic Times

One of the worst excuses I've ever heard for giving up a dearly loved Malamute is "I'm moving" - so I really have to wonder if he really was "dearly loved". Why should where you live matter? You got the Malamute expecting to stick it out thorough thick and thin right? Just because your Malamute won't have a large yard, or will have to eat cheap dog food is NO REASON to dump him at the shelter!

Here are some tips I've given people that thought they had to give up a beloved Malamute - and they really didn't! With the economic downturn, it's imperative if your finances are shakey, or your housing iffy - that you come up with a plan to keep your dog. YOU are the best home he will ever have - so don't think by dropping him off at the shelter he will find a better life. More than likely he will be euthanized (shelters are NOT required to keep owner give ups even a day!) and even if he isn't, he will spend days or weeks in a small cage, lonely and longing for YOU. If he's really lucky, someone will come along and adopt him or a rescue might take him in - but don't count on it because 9 time out of 10 it doesn't happen that way.

Shelters don't have the time to screen adopters all that well - their main priority is do you have a fenced yard and can you afford the dog. Many a dog has been adopted to an abusive, dogfighting or just neglectful home unintentionally. When we were trying to find a home for Shadow the quality of homes I found through the newspaper was abysmal. Sure, one in a hundred might be ok - and occasionally a dog might find the best home he'll ever have - but that's the exception rather than the rule. He may or may not be loved - may or may not be a valued member of the family - in fact, some no-spay/neuter shelters don't even ask if she's going to be bred indiscriminately. Some shelters (ours in Livingston county) will even sell your Malamute to research so he will spend his last years tortured in drug and closed head injury testing. Is that REALLY what you want for your best friend? Of course here's how you can keep him - even a BIG HAIRY MALAMUTE.

1. Have a plan. And a plan means find out which relatives or friends are capable and willing to take your dog short term in case you need to get out quickly. Even if you have to pay them a little something for his care, it may be cheaper than buying a new dog when you get settled - after all this dog already is spayed/neutered, has his shots, and is trained right? That wasn't free. You might even find someone willing to foster your dog for a few months until you get on your feet again. They gain the benefit of learning about what Malamutes are like, while you know he's in a safe place. If you do this, make sure it's in writing that you get him back afterwards - many people have put their dog in a situation like this and then, when the foster refused to give him up, they were able to get him back. Also, make sure your foster is capable of handling a Malamute - nothing worse than thinking you have it all worked out only to have them call and say "come get him - NOW". Make sure everyone understands it's a temporary situation. Make sure you visit the dog often while it's in foster care - refusal to return the dog is less likely to happen if the foster is sure you'll be back for him at the end of the foster period. Occasionally you can find foster care through rescues or human shelters that are willing to help out - but don't count on it as when economic times get bad, they are usually buried in dogs and can only take the really desperate cases.

2. If finances are abysmal - your dog can eat pretty much anything for a while. Dogs did just fine on leftovers in the olden days before dog food. If you can't afford to feed him, cut back a little and supplement with leftovers. If it's deer season, ask your local deer processor for leftovers - Malamutes LOVE the raw leg bones and necks of deer - if you can cut up the necks, that's a good 4-5 Mal meals alone! And it's usually least in Michigan it is - deer processors are not allowed to sell the leftover meat and bones and usually throw it out....if you ask, many would rather give it to you than pay to throw it out!!!!  This is high quality, fresh meat.  The parts we've learned to ask for are leg bones, necks, shoulders - they have the most meat.  During deer season we'll feed dog food in the morning, but they get a deer leg/neck portion in the afternoon and they've never been healthier! Ask friends for dog food donations - many people have a half bag laying around their dog was too picky to eat for one reason or another. Even some food banks are getting with the program and now offer a limited amount of dog or cat food to each home. He'll be fine and you might even find eating leftovers his coat shines more than it ever did. There are just a couple of things to stay away from - obviously things that are poisonous to dogs: chocolate, grapes, onions...but I've also heard foods like lettuce can irritate their stomachs. Otherwise, any meaty, starchy or veggy leftovers are fine. Once we rescued an old girl that had been eating horse oats for a couple of years. The guy was a jerk and could obviously afford to feed her right, but other than being a bit overweight and some minor health problems (probably unrelated to such a horrible diet), she did just fine when she was taken in and offered normal kibble. Also, there is no reason you must feed the most expensive stuff on the shelf - if it says AFCO it's nutritionally balanced and will be just fine. Cheap Old Roy has saved more than one dog when his owner was in financial desperation. It's not like you'll have to do this forever...hopefully sooner or later you will get back on your feet!

3. If housing is the problem - think creatively. You don't HAVE to live in an apartment that doesn't allow Malamutes. There are many Malamute-friendly apartments if you look - but think outside the box too. With so many foreclosures, there is an abundance of empty housing on the market and rentals everywhere. How about renting a mobile home? Many mobile home parks are Malamute friendly and you can even put up a kennel in some of them in lieu of a back yard. Rent a small house. Rent a town house with a tiny "yard". Move in with Malamute-friendly friends or share rent with someone else that's also in a housing pickle. Rent out a spare bedroom for extra income (they did that in the great depression to make ends meet). There are many options out there with the housing market in desperate straits. Perhaps you can work a deal to rent your own house until the bank sells it. Don't worry about having a fenced yard or even a yard at all at this point. A leash is cheap! The most important thing is you have your best friend and what's a little sacrifice (regular walks) to keep your friend? If you must move in with friends or relatives that refuse to allow a dog in their house - first see if you can find someone else - if not, a Malamute can even live chained outside with a good doghouse if acclimated to the weather. Make sure he has lots of shade and water if in the south - and you acclimate him slowly to the cold if in the north. Malamutes are good to 70 below if you start early in the season acclimating them. Granted it's not the best situation to put your housedog Malamute outside - but I'm sure he'll agree it's better than being euthanized at a shelter. Shelters are probably your worst option - many will euthanize owner give-ups the very first day with no chance of adoption - but they rarely tell you that!

4. Medical care for your Malamute. There are many more options here. Most vets will take payments for large medical emergencies if they feel they can trust you to eventually pay - a vet that won't is probably a vet you don't want to use anyway! You may be better off going to a vet you've used before that knows you. Ask for a discount. Remind him of your financial situation and ask if a cheaper medicine will work as well (often it will). Get a prescription for non-critical or maintenance medicines (such as thyroid) and order prescriptions and shots online - it's MUCH cheaper. I just love the prices at and Have a knowledgeable friend, vet or nurse show you how to give your own shots (check the laws as some states require a veterinarian to give certain shots - for example a vet must give Rabies in Michigan - but YOU can give all of the other ones and if you purchase the vaccines somewhere like Farm & Fleet they are only $2-3 each). Also, new research shows it isn't necessary to get a distemper shot every year - every three years is usually sufficient. Actually you can give the regular heartworm meds every month and a half to stretch it - we do that all the time and no one has ever come down with heartworm.  Cheaper? Have your vet whip up a batch of heartworm medicine made from pig ivermectin and propylene glycol - much cheaper and it's the same stuff - just doesn't come in tasty chewable tablets (it's a liquid you put on his food with a syringe) but works just as well in a tiny peanut butter "sandwich". The ingredients cost no more than $60 for 10,000 dogs but your vet may charge you to make it up (some vets refuse to do this). Dog have worms? Fecal checks are cheaper if you just drop off a sample (no office visit). Then purchase Pyrantel Pamoate Suspension online and use that for roundworms. It's safe even for puppies and is good for hook and roundworms. 1 cc per 10 lbs. is the dosage. Check the bargain bins for flea and tick products or marked down dog food at your local pet store - they will often sell ripped or open bags at a discount (just avoid Hartz Mountain - that stuff is crap!). Contact SpayUSA for a nationwide network and referral service for affordable spay/neuter services.

5. Quit worrying about space for now. Yes, you may have to give up the big back yard. You may have to move to a warm climate or the city with your Malamute. You may have to go for long walks for exercise in the evening, when it was previously as easy as letting your Malamute out the back door. Get over it! Walking is good for you! Your dog will love the bonding time and it'll make you a better alpha.

6. It will be less traumatic for the kids to live in close quarters and eat mac and cheese with their beloved dog than to be heartbroken when you give him up to a shelter or pound so they can eat burgers. They can see through all the BS about sending him to the "farm" or finding him a good home. Kids are smart these days and know what you're doing and will not understand why you are doing it. An older child might understand, but it is a cruel and difficult thing for any child to fathom - no matter what the circumstance. Often they'll wonder if they're next - do you really want to do this to your child?

7. Obedience classes. Rent a video or borrow a book at your local library and get together with a few friends to practice. You can do the same for puppy socialization - contact the shelter and maybe they'll give you the names of some people who've recently adopted puppies if you explain why. Meet at a fenced playground and let the puppies play together supervised. It's best to only let similar sized dogs play together for safety reasons.

8. Exercise. Walk, play with your dog. Be sure to bring some free grocery bags to pick up poop when you go for walks. Find a fenced playground and visit when it's likely to be empty so he can have some time to run around. Take your dog to visit friends that have dogs and fenced yards (if they get along). Not having a yard is not that big a handicap. Malamutes adjust. You may actually have to cut back his food so he doesn't get fat from all the hanging out in the house.

9. If you live in your car....yes, this can work with a mal.  Actually when I did rescue there was a woman that shared her small car with 3 hybrids.  Think of it this way, they will keep you warm, they won't mind the cold, and in summer they won't mind being outdoors either (you might). There is no more portable dog than a malamute!

10. Grooming. Ok, so you can't afford a groomer. Get a comb and start combing! Learn to cut nails NOW. Grooming your dog is very good for you emotionally as well as for the bonding between you. It doesn't cost anything to give him a bath in the bathtub (use any old shampoo), blow dry him with your hairdryer (it might take a little longer, but it works), and comb him with a cheap slicker brush you bought at the dollar store. It will do you both good and will give you some entertainment when you are without a TV. Mals are quite funny when getting brushed.

11. Collars, leashes, Toys - stuff like that. That's what the Salvation Army store is for. You'd be amazed how many cute things can be found there! And the bargain bin at the local pet store too. Don't forget the dollar store. In the "olden days" all you needed was a collar and a rope and a neighbor's shoe for the dog to chew on - you could still do that but be careful about nails and toxic glue in shoes ....a designer dish can be any old dish you never use....why does it have to be anything fancy? Toys are simple with a Malamute - hit a couple of garage sales and negotiate a deal for a bag of stuffed animals for $2. That will keep him busy for a long time destroying them. If they have squeakers - all the better.

11. The most difficult situation is when you are in the military and have to move on short notice (or even go overseas). This is a situation that you should already have a contingency plan in place. A couple of possibilities are enlisting neighbors, friends or your dog's breeder to watch over him while you are gone. If your situation is in flux, it may be selfish to even get a dog. But if you already have one, get that contingency plan done NOW. It's no different than finding someone to care for your child - if you can do it for your child you can do it for your dog.

12. Special needs dogs. Dogs with allergies, dogs with medical problems...there is usually a less expensive solution if you think about it. Dogs that need expensive shampoos can often use a homemade oatmeal shampoo for skin problems. Ear infections can be often alleviated with peroxide and a good cleaning. Ask your pharmacist or look online at the library for old fashioned remedies. They worked long ago, they still work (for people too). Keep your dog's weight down to avoid the health problems that go along with too much weight.

Homemade recipe for ear infection medicine similar to Otomax (yeasty ear infections):
16 oz Isopropyl Alchol
4 tablespoons boric acid powder
16 drops Genitian Violet Solution 1%
Shake well before use and apply a few drops at a time. 
Make sure it's somewhere if the dog shakes it won't make a big mess (it stains).
If problem  persists, try Apple Cider Vinegar: 2 tablespoons to 1 cup of water.

13. Finally...if it's just not possible and you've tried everything. You're dying and losing your house too, comes to mind... contact the dog's breeder. A good breeder will ALWAYS take their dogs back and find him a new home. If the breeder can't or won't take the dog back (ALWAYS ask the breeder first!), contact the local mal rescue, then all breed rescues. If you can keep the dog while they find a home, all the better. Sometimes they'll even let you meet the future owner and get your input. If you decide to give up the dog, give him up - don't expect your breeder to be your long term babysitter unless he's in the position to do so and wants to. Most breeders have their own dogs and it's not easy to bring an outsider back into the pack so he will most likely have to find a new home for your dog. Warning probably won't be nearly the good home you are - there just aren't that many good homes for dogs that aren't puppies anymore and lots of breeders don't put nearly the effort into it that we do!

The bottom line is your dog loves YOU. Not what you can buy for him. He loves your family - not the big back yard and designer dog bed. If you have to move to Arizona and live in a tiny trailer in the desert he won't care. Many a happy dog has walked the streets with his homeless owner and has been totally at peace because he knows he's loved.  I'm not saying you need to be homeless, but that it doesn't matter to him that you are. He'll love you just the same. He'll be a lot happier than being abandoned at a shelter. And actually, he can be quite a bit of emotional support while you're going through these tough times - that's why he's called MAN's BEST FRIEND...

Please keep in mind that each organization is independent and has their own set of rules and guidelines. Investigate each one separately to determine if you qualify for assistance:

IMOM Inc.:
The Malamute Fund:
Good Sam Fund:
United Animal Nations LifeLine Fund:
Angels for Animals:
Brown Dog Foundation: 
Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program:
Feline Outreach:
Cats In Crisis:
The Perseus Foundation (cancer-specific):
Canine Cancer Awareness:
Cody's Club (radiation treatments):
Diabetic Malamutes Fund:
The Mosby Foundation:
Magic Bullet Fund (cancer-specific):
The Binky Foundation:
God's Creatures Ministry Veterinary Charity:
Jake Brady Memorial Fund:
GiveForward (set up a personal fundraising page):

Cheap Heartworm medicine


Need help feeding your Malamute?

The Save Our Pets Food Bank (SOPBF) in Atlanta, GA

The Meals on Wheels program also began The We All Love Our Pets (WALOP) program in 2006 in order to service homebound seniors who may struggle to provide for their animal companions

The Tree House Humane Society Pet Food Pantry program in Chicago currently assists 80 low-income families with two free bags of dog and/or cat food per month