Pets May Come With a Past — Where to Gather the Best Intel
By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann
Today is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, which is observed each year on April 30th to bring awareness to the plight of millions of homeless dogs and cats across the U.S.
If you’re thinking about adding a pet to the family, I encourage you to visit local shelters and rescues in your area. Many online rescues can also arrange transportation services, so don’t necessarily let location dissuade you. There are so many deserving dogs, cats and other animal companions waiting for new homes that I hope every prospective pet parent will consider the homeless population in their area first.
Below you’ll find not only a dozen excellent reasons to adopt a shelter pet, but also six important questions to ask animal shelter staff about any pet you’re considering giving a home to.
12 Great Reasons to Adopt Your Next Pet From a Shelter
|Every dog or cat not purchased from a pet store or backyard breeder improves the pet overpopulation problem created by irresponsibility and greed.|
|Adopting a dog or cat from a no-kill shelter can free up space for older or special needs pets that may not find new homes before the end of their natural lives.|
|There are plenty of animals to choose from at most shelters. They come in every age, shape, size, coat color and breed mix, and you can find purebreds at shelters as well. In fact, many breeds have their own rescue organizations, so if you’re looking for a purebred, make sure to check both your local shelter and breed rescue organization.|
|Compared to the cost of purchasing a pet, adopting one from an animal shelter is relatively inexpensive. And if you get a slightly older dog or cat, there’s a good chance he’s already fully vaccinated and sterilized.|
|Adopting an older pet allows you to skip over the time-consuming, often frustrating puppy or kitten stages of development.|
|Adopting a mature dog or cat also takes the guesswork out of determining what your pet will look like as an adult — what size she’ll grow to, the thickness and color of her coat and her basic temperament, for example.|
|Depending on his background, your older pet may already be house-trained or litterbox-trained and know basic obedience commands like come, sit, stay and down.|
|Many shelters and most rescue organizations do assessments on every new pet taken in, to determine things like temperament, whether the pet has any aversion to other pets or people, whether he is house-trained, has had obedience training, etc.
Many of these organizations also have resources to help pets with lack of training or behavioral issues. So when you adopt a pet from one of these organizations, you have a pretty good idea what to expect from your new dog or cat when you bring him home.
|Many shelters and rescues also provide lots of new owner support in the form of materials about training, common behavior problems, nutrition, basic grooming, and general care. In some cases there are even free hotlines you can call for questions on behavior, training, and other concerns.|
|If you have kids, and especially if the new pet will belong to a child, adopting a shelter animal can open a young person’s eyes to the plight of homeless pets. It can also help him learn compassion and responsibility, as well as how wonderful it feels to provide a forever home to a pet that might otherwise live life in a cage, or be euthanized.|
|An older adoptive pet can be the perfect companion for an older person. Many middle-aged and senior dogs and cats require less physical exertion and attention than younger animals.|
|An adopted pet can enrich your life in ways both big and small. The unconditional love and loyalty of a dog or cat can lift depression, ease loneliness, lower blood pressure, and give you a reason to get up in the morning. A kitty asleep in your lap feels warm and comforting. A dog that loves to walk or run outdoors can be just the incentive you need to start exercising regularly.|
There are countless benefits to being a pet parent, and when you know you saved your furry companion from an unpleasant fate, it makes the bond you share that much more meaningful.
6 Questions to Ask the Animal Shelter
Contrary to what some people believe, shelter pets are not all damaged goods. However, each abandoned animal has a past, so the more you can learn from the shelter about a pet you’re considering, the more prepared you’ll be to make the right choices for him or her.
|What is your soon-to-be pet’s history?
How did he wind up at the shelter? Was he picked up as a stray, or did a previous owner turn him in? Generally speaking, the behavior of an animal who has survived the mean streets will differ from that of a relinquished family pet. This is good information to have for a better understanding of your new dog’s or cat’s behavior and training needs.
|Has she been behavior-tested?
Most large shelters and rescue organizations perform basic behavior testing as part of their assessment of the adoptability of the animals they take in. Knowing what types of tests were conducted on your future pet and her results will help you fill in the gaps in her training if you decide to take her home.
Some shelters conduct very thorough behavior assessments on dogs that go far beyond determining adoptability, and can provide insight into whether a particular dog is a good fit for your lifestyle. For example, if a dog you’re interested in is very high-energy and you’re looking for a lower energy lapdog, she’s probably better suited to someone else’s home.
A comprehensive behavior and temperament assessment can determine a dog’s level of sociability with other pets, her degree of independence and whether she’s suited for a home with children or an adult-only home.
|Does your prospective pet have a known history of being abused?
If you know or suspect a dog or cat was abused before she came to you, it’s important to keep two things in mind: you shouldn’t expect an overnight change in her, and you shouldn’t count on a complete turnaround in her trust level or behavior. It takes time to help an abused animal learn to be less fearful and develop trust in humans again.
With knowledge, hard work and commitment, a previously abused pet can be transformed into a much-loved member of your family, but she can’t be reborn. It’s important to always remember that. Here are some general guidelines for creating a safe environment for a previously abused dog or cat:
· Make her feel loved and needed; communicate clearly with her
· Don’t force anything on her under any circumstances — allow her to adapt to her new family and life at her own pace. Provide her with a safe place where she can be alone when she feels like it
· Protect her from whatever she fears
· Create opportunities for her to be successful and build her confidence
· Feed her a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet and make sure she gets plenty of physical activity
Rehabilitating an abused pet presents a significant challenge, because these animals have been exposed to negative things they can’t unlearn despite your best efforts. But it’s important to feel hopeful, because life-changing progress can be made and there’s nothing more gratifying.
|What veterinary care has he received?
Most animal adoption organizations arrange to have pets’ health checked by a veterinarian before they are put up for adoption. Adoptive owners typically receive paperwork detailing the medical care the animal received while at the shelter.
It’s not unusual for large shelters to err on the side of over-treating dogs and cats with an unknown medical history, so your new pet could come home with a fresh spay or neuter incision, dewormed and/or heavily vaccinated. However, some shelters are starting to recognize over-vaccination in rescued pets is a real problem and even suggesting titers in place of unnecessary vaccines.
Many shelters recommend that new owners take their pet to a veterinarian for an exam within a specified number of days from the date of adoption. Sometimes local veterinarians contract with shelters to provide the exams at no charge.
If you feel your dog or cat may have been medically over-treated at the shelter, I suggest also making an appointment with a holistic or integrative vet who can recommend a detoxification protocol to help bring your pet’s body back in balance.
|What are the steps involved in the adoption?
Shelters and rescue groups vary widely when it comes to vetting prospective adoptive families. For example, some shelters allow adopters to take a new pet home immediately. Some organizations even have a trial period, where you can test the waters for compatibility before you commit to adoption. Others require you to wait until the animal has been spayed or neutered, dewormed and/or vaccinated at the shelter.
Some organizations require home inspections before releasing a pet; others require potential adopters to bring other pets in the household and family members for a meet-and-greet before the adoption is finalized.
|What food has she been eating?
Some shelters send newly adopted pets home with a supply of the food they’ve been eating, but if this isn’t the case with your prospective dog or cat, ask what the shelter is feeding and continue that diet for at least a week or two once she’s home.
It’s likely you’ll want to transition her to a different food, preferably a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate raw diet, but it doesn’t need to happen on day one. Everything in your pet’s new life with you will be a bit overwhelming and stressful for her in the beginning, so it’s best not to add a dietary change to the mix right away.
If you’re considering adopting a dog, I highly recommend a program called A Sound Beginning, which was lovingly and expertly designed to help rescue dogs and adoptive guardians learn to communicate effectively and form an unbreakable bond.
If you’re thinking about adding a kitty to the family, I recommend you talk with an animal communicator like Diane Weinmann to see how the pet thinks and their likes and dislikes. Know a little bit about how your household runs and what the pet can expect will go a long way to ensure the new pet will fit in nicely. Contact Dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com.