Are You Ready to Adopt?

posted November 16th, 2013 by
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by Kiley Roberson

Adopting a pet is a major commitment.

Unfortunately, people often put more time and effort into researching what kind of car to get than the type of pet that would best fit their lifestyles. Caring for a companion animal goes far beyond providing food, water and shelter. It takes research and careful planning to bring the right pet into your home, and to make sure your lifestyle is the right one for your new pet.

Professionals—like Nancy Gallimore Werhane and Jean Letcher—say deciding to adopt a pet is a monumental decision. Nancy is a certified professional dog trainer and co-owner of Tulsa’s Pooches, a doggie daycare, training, grooming and boarding facility. Nancy says that adopting a pet as opposed to purchasing one from a breeder is an obvious choice, as “one walk through the Tulsa Animal Welfare Shelter answers that question.”

Jean, manager of Tulsa Animal Welfare, further explains why adoption is the best option. “It allows us to find homes for animals that are already alive rather than going to a breeder and saying, ‘I’d like one from your next litter.’ These animals have already been born. They are looking for homes. It benefits both the home and the animal,” she says.

While adoption is important, knowing the responsibility that comes with a pet is paramount.

“Most companion animals end up in shelters or in rescue programs because humans failed them, not because of something they did,” explains Nancy. “When you adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue group, you not only save that animal, but you save another who can then step into the spot vacated by your new pet. Adoption saves lives, pure and simple. But you have to be ready for the responsibility.”

Our resident experts recommend asking yourself a few big questions before bringing home Fluffy or Fido. Why do you really want a pet?

The most important question to ask yourself, Nancy says, is, “Why do you really want a pet?”

“Everyone should ask themselves why they really want to adopt a particular pet before taking the plunge. Answer that question honestly. You should first want a particular pet because you and all of your family members want a companion and are ready to provide the love and care that animal needs and deserves.”

If you’re interested in adopting a pet, and your answer to the above question is the same as Nancy’s, it might be time to open your home to a new furry friend. But before you do, we’ve comprised a few additional questions to help make sure you’re ready for the fun and commitment a pet requires. What’s your five- or even 10-year plan?

A dog or cat can live 15 or more years, so envisioning how pet-friendly your life will be in the future is important. Think about any major life changes you might go through—things like getting married, having children, moving or changing careers. And keep in mind that as pets age, their needs change as well. Will you be adopting the pet by yourself or with someone?

If there are other people in your family, everyone needs to be on board with the idea of adding a pet to your home. If you have a roommate or spouse, make sure that he or she is totally committed to a new pet. And even if everyone is on board with the idea of getting a pet, it’s important for people in the household to express concerns ahead of time. Do you have time for a pet?

“Dogs and cats not only require food and water, but they need attention, affection, and exercise—both mental and physical,” says Nancy. “If you work long hours or have a very busy schedule, you may need to decide if you have time to devote to the proper care of a pet. Proper care also includes trips to the veterinarian, daily exercise, and training classes for dogs.”

Though dogs generally require more time and attention than cats, you should be able to give any pet your undivided attention. Dogs and cats who don’t receive daily interaction have a greater risk of developing behavioral problems, anxiety and obesity.

As Jean explains, having a pet is like having a child. You can’t have a child then decide you don’t have time for it. “You don’t have the option of putting a child on a chain in a backyard if you’re too busy to spend time with him or her. Likewise an animal can feel pain and loneliness. You need to determine up front that you have time to care for the animal,” she says. Can you afford a pet?

The cost of a pet goes well beyond the adoption fee. According to the ASPCA, dog owners should expect to spend about $1,500 on a dog during the first year of ownership; cat owners should set aside at least $1,000 for that crucial first year.

“Financial commitment also varies from pet to pet,” Nancy explains. “Obviously, it’s going to cost more to care for a Mastiff than it is to feed a Chihuahua.” One thing you can count on is that all pets need a healthy, premium diet and routine veterinary care. Monthly care such as heartworm pills and flea and tick prevention also add up. And, of course, you always have to be prepared for emergencies.

“Animals can get sick or injured, just like humans can,” says Nancy. “You have to be prepared for the expense of providing care outside of normal shots and routine check-ups.”

Nancy points out that you may also have to pay for boarding or a dog walker or pet sitter when you’re out of town. And then there are ongoing expenses for supplies like pet beds, collars, leashes, treats, kitty litter for cats, etc. Pets are a commitment of time and money. Can you provide a proper home for the type of pet you hope to adopt?

It’s important to pick the right pet for your home and lifestyle. Every potential adopter should take an honest look at these two things to make sure that adding a pet to the mix really makes sense. “Some dogs require a home with a securely fenced yard while others can adapt well to apartment life with leashwalking for exercise,” explains Nancy. “If you live in a tiny apartment, a Great Dane doesn’t make much sense, but a house cat would likely do just fine.” With that in mind, Jean says the energy level of the breed should be just as much a consideration as the size.

Choosing the right pet for your home, family and resources is vital. If you rent your home, be 100 percent sure that your landlord will allow you to have a pet and check to see what pet deposits might apply before you decide to adopt. “The welfare of the animal, not the whim of the person, needs to take priority,” Nancy says. Are you willing to train your animal companion?

Lack of training is one of the most common reasons that adopters return pets to shelters—are you willing to solve behavior problems? Basic training helps dogs and their owners communicate better, strengthening the relationship overall. And taking the time to understand why your cat does what she does, especially when it involves her litter box and scratching habits, will help you avoid potential problems. If you already have a pet, is that animal likely to accept a new housemate?

The good news is that most pets, even the most spoiled cats, crave companionship. Of course, it may take some time for an existing pet to accept a new addition. The ASPCA suggests introducing animals to each other before adoption. It gives you a chance to watch them interact and see if they’ll be good, compatible housemates. Do you have small children?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no species or breed that comes ready to live with kids. If your kids are still toddlers, you might consider waiting a few years before adopting. If you have children, it’s important to teach them the rules of safe pet conduct: no teasing, pulling, pushing or climbing on animals. You’ll also want to spend extra time meeting different animals, so you can observe tolerance levels and the ability to bounce back from jarring incidents. Are you prepared to pet-proof your home?

Whether it’s tightly sealing your garbage cans or paying attention to dangerous decorations during the holidays, you’ll need to make your home safe before adopting. That includes keeping toxic foods, petunfriendly plants and dangerous household items out of paw’s reach. Are you sure?

The final question to ask yourself before adopting a new pet is if you’re sure you can handle it. Have you thought everything through carefully, and are you ready for this giant commitment? If your answer is tied to emotions, that might be a problem. One of the biggest issues, especially during the holidays, is people giving pets as gifts.

“The proverbial puppy wearing a bow under the Christmas tree can sure backfire,” says Nancy. “Giving a pet for Christmas is often a last minute emotional decision that is not well thought out. Holidays are generally busy, crazy and a bit on the hectic side. I can’t think of a worse time to introduce a new puppy or kitten into a family.”

Nancy says that if you have planned responsibly to add a pet to your family and want it to be a Christmas surprise, it’s a better idea to wrap pet supplies to place under the tree, and then go pick up your new family member after the holiday hustle and bustle calms down. Bring your new pet home when your household is sane and ready to focus on helping the pet properly acclimate.

Now that you’re ready to adopt a new companion, here are some tips to find your perfect pet:

Visit with the employees at your local animal shelter. They can often tell you a lot about a specific animal that catches your eye.

Talk with your veterinarian. He or she can offer great advice and tips for caring for a particular pet.

If you are attracted to a specific breed of animal, seek out people who own that type of pet and ask questions about care requirements, personality traits, etc.

Take your time. Don’t let anyone rush you. Do not be locked into a specific breed. Make eye contact with all the available animals in the shelter, and oftentimes, the pet will pick you, Jean says.

Adopting a new pet is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the joy and unconditional love you receive from your new furry friend definitely makes it worthwhile.

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