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Adopt a Pet This Season

Dec 10, 2013 10:25AM ● By Erin Frisch

This time of the year is often called “the season of giving.” It’s a great time to give not only thoughtful gifts to family and friends but also to give a needy animal the gift of a loving home. If your family is thinking of adding a pet, consider adopting from an animal shelter. Animal shelters are filled with dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, and even reptiles, all in need of loving homes. Most have already been vaccinated, spayed/neutered, microchipped—the works. Most shelters and rescues have also tested potential pets for behavioral problems such as separation anxiety, and pet adoption counselors can tell you whether they are okay with young children and other pets already in the home. Your local animal shelter or rescue will often allow you to have a trial period with a pet you are considering to see how it gets along with your family and other pets. If you’re ready to bring an animal into your home, see our tips below to make the process as easy as possible.

1. Do your research about any prospective pet. What kind of animal are you interested in? Do you want one that is fairly independent if you need to leave it home for a day or two? If you go away for overnights occasionally, a cat (or a bonded pair of cats) would be perfect. Do you want a dog that will go on walks or will run with you? Make sure you consider the age and breed of the dog. Some breeds can best be described as couch potatoes, while others will be setting the pace. Research the different breeds, whether you’re considering a dog or a cat. If you don’t have the time to keep up with brushing and grooming, take that into account when you choose your next best friend. Your current vet, if you have one, can also offer guidance. Each breed has different inherent behaviors, grows to different sizes, gets along with children and other animals differently, and exhibits differences in how challenging they can be to train and to live with. However, just like people, animals are individuals, so take that into account as well.

2. Consider your possible limitations. Is there enough space in your current home or apartment for the animal you are interested in? Some breeds, like border collies, have more energy than others and may need space to run. Will someone be around to walk a dog periodically during the day or supervise its trips outside? You could also consider a dogwalking service or doggy daycare. Cats allow for a little more leeway if you are not home during the day. House cats that don’t go outdoors are much less likely to bring in their hunting trophies (think dead mice or snakes) for you to admire. They are also much less likely to carry fleas and ticks into the home in warm weather. They stay cleaner, healthier, and injury free, and if you feed the birds, you’ll be doing them a favor as well. Be sure to consider any allergies your family members have. Some dogs are hypoallergenic, but most cats aren’t. Finally, are you financially prepared to handle vet visits and buying pet food, toys, litter, etc. and to pay for grooming if your new pet requires regular attention?

3. Decide on your pet. Once you’ve decided on the kind of pet that best fits your lifestyle, there is one more thing to consider—age. Are you ready for a long-term commitment (most breeds of dogs and cats can live 15 to 20 years)? If you aren’t sure, please consider an older pet; these animals are often overlooked in shelters, yet their benefits abound. Most are trained to go potty outside (or in their litter box), and they are much less likely to eat your favorite shoes or shred your new couch. Puppies and kittens will require significantly more attention than older animals. More importantly, “mature” animals deserve loving homes too. They have less energy and don’t need as much attention, and many are already trained to do the things you want them to do. The pet adoption counselors at animal shelters can help you make the right decision so that the pet you finally take home is “forever.”

4. Visit the shelters in your area. Many have websites that you can visit to see the animals waiting for homes. Going online can help you narrow your search. Even so, you may need to visit multiple shelters or visit the same one more than once. Bring all the family members who will be living with the new pet, including those who might visit you often, such as grandkids. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff a lot of questions. In fact, write them down as you think of them and as you interact with each potential adoptee so you don’t forget any! Be patient—it can take time to find a pet that’s a good match for your family and your lifestyle. If you establish a relationship with adoption counselors at different shelters and complete an application to have on file, they will usually contact you as soon as a pet that matches your profile come in. Here are links to some of the shelters in the Connecticut River Valley Area: Upper Valley Humane Society, Northern New England Dog Rescue, White River Animal Rescue VT. See also and enter your zip code for even more options.

5. Get your home ready. Set up rules for your family to follow (which rooms will the new family member be allowed in, how strict will you be about table food, who will feed, walk, brush, clean litter boxes, and so on). Write down your rules and go over them with your whole family so everyone is on the same page. This will facilitate training your new pet and help ensure a good start in his or her new home. Get all the supplies and food you’ll need before you bring your newly adopted pet home.

Now you’re almost ready to bring your animal home. What’s left to do? Consider waiting until the holidays are over if you can. New pets will be more stressed and therefore more likely to get into trouble, ingest something they shouldn’t, or even take off through an open door if your home is filled with decorations, guests, and forbidden treats like chocolate within a pet’s reach. Give your newest family member a chance to shine right from the start by making his or her transition smooth and calm.

Remember, just like people, animals need time to adapt to change, so if your pet hides at first or seems to have a different temperament than he or she did at the shelter, give it the gift of time. Keep things calm to give your pet a chance to get used to his or her new living space and housemates. Then, prepare for many years of devoted love and loyalty. Pets give back much more than they take, and adopting a homeless cat or dog is one of the very best gifts you can give yourself.

Have you adopted a pet before? If so, which shelter did you adopt from?

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