Now that the excitement of Christmas and the Holiday season is over, it may just be the perfect time to consider adopting a dog or cat from one of your local shelters. Adopting a pet is not something to take lightly: there are many considerations before you should actually choose your new forever friend, because adoption is, indeed, a forever prospect.
- Can you afford a pet? It’s one thing to look at those bright, shiny eyes and big wet nose and fall in love, it’s another to pay for the food, shots, vet visits, supplies and upkeep of having a pet.
Do you have the time to devote to your new furry buddy? Dogs and cats need care, love and attention. It’s not an act of kindness to adopt a pet only to have them sit alone, day after day, neglected and waiting for you to finally have a few minutes to just spend time with them. If work takes you out of town, you may want to consider a specific type of pet that’s more self-reliant than a dog or a cat.
- Does anyone in the home have pet allergies? This is a major consideration. Check with your physician if you suspect these may exist, since it’s one of the main factors in pets being dropped back off at shelters shortly after being adopted.
Are you patient enough to take in a pet? Pets can test your patience. Like children, they make mistakes and need time to learn household routines and rules. They don’t need to be beaten into submission, cowed into obedience or yelled at. They have feelings, too, and don’t learn through abuse.
- Do you have children and how will they get along with your new pet? Kids and pets can have a love/hate relationship. Some pets simply do not like children and wouldn’t thrive in a household filled with noise and activity. Other pets love nothing more than being with little ones. Are your children old enough to take on some of the responsibility of having a pet, and who will be responsible for which aspect of pet care? Some breeds of dogs don’t do well with children while others are well known for their patience and devotion. Some pets will not do well in a home where other animals are present. Question the staff at the shelter where you adopt your pet: chances are they have done some preliminary tests to determine the critter’s capability to handle stress or distraction.
Do you have room for a pet in your home? Your pet will need a sanctuary where they have space to rest, relax and unwind. You’ll need to buy supplies such as a bed or basket for them, need storage space for toys and food (litter if you select a cat). If you buy a cat, you’ll want to get a cat tree or perch for them, so they can soak up some sun by a favorite window and don’t forget a litter box! If you choose a dog, there will be toys lying around, a dog bed or blanket of some sort.
- Do you understand animals? Many people say they “love” animals, and they do love the idea of having a pet in the home. They don’t, however, understand how animals' minds work and what their function will be in the household. Unless you live on a farm or ranch, your dog probably won’t be a working dog. It will be a member of the family. Domestic cats are not meant to be outdoors 24/7. In fact, for their health and yours, cats should be indoor creatures unless on a leash. Are you ready to deal with their litter needs, their cravings for attention and demands for affection? Don’t expect a “perfect pet,” like you see in the movies or commercials. Animals have personalities just like we do, and unless you can adapt to their personalities, there’s bound to be conflicts.
If the answer to all these questions is yes, then you truly may be destined to be a pet owner. Beware, the difficult part is yet to come: selecting your new little buddy. Please visit a shelter rather than a pet store: you can save a life and give meaning to a lost pet who will love you forever for finding them. Visit a couple of different shelters if you don’t find the right pet the first time. Look online – most shelters have photos of their cats, dogs and other available animals, including their breeds and descriptions.
Take time at the shelter to walk different dogs and spend time talking to them softly and reassuringly to see how they react. Expect lots of barking and high spirits since they all want your attention! Look at their eyes to make sure they are healthy: bright, shiny, clear eyes are one good indicator. Question the staff about their behavior, their preferences. Make sure they have had current shots, de-worming if puppies, and that they are spayed or neutered (or that the service will be done before you bring them home). Consider choosing a dog that’s slightly older. Don’t be afraid to take 3 or 4 dogs out of the kennel to interact with and spend individual time with them. See how they react when you invite them onto your lap. Watch their behavior – do they seem skittish or are they confident? Do they seem to want to please? The little guy hiding in the back of the kennel may just be the right match for you. It isn’t always the most aggressive or forward ones that are the most loving!
If you are looking for a cat, check its coat and eyes, ears and tummy. Stroke the pet firmly but gently, watching how he/she reacts to this. Play with them. Do you want a long- or short-haired cat? This can be a major decision. Do you have time to groom a pet and do you think you would enjoy the together time? Then a domestic longhair (DLH) may be right for you. Otherwise, a domestic shorthair (DSH) would probably be more your style. What about breeds? Each has its own quirks: Siamese are louder and quite possessive as a rule; Persians are usually gentle and loving. Mixed breeds are as loyal and loving as purebreds.At most shelters you’ll find DSH or DLH but you may find a few purebreds, too. Ask the staff about their natures, health and behavior issues. Most places keep notes because they expect questions such as these.
Taking in a new pet can be a massive responsibility, but it may also be one of the best decisions that you ever make. Just be sure you and your family (and your house) are ready for this new member of the family, and remember that this choice is for life.