The holidays are the season of giving and many families will add a new family member, a four legged fur baby. I wrote this article to help you better understand the huge commitment which is both financial and emotional and includes a change of lifestyle, before you take the plunge into becoming the guardian of a dog, cat, rabbit, hamster and the list goes on, especially if this is your first venture into adopting a pet.
Pets bring so much joy into our lives. I have been crazy about animals my whole life and without them at times I would have been totally lost. My dogs have seen me through so many stages of my life: the loss of my mother as a child, hard times through my teens, finding my way into a world that didn’t always appreciate my “special talents”. When I first became a mother my sweet German Short Hair Pointer, Molly, would lay howling at my feet as I rocked my colicky baby for hours. Molly was my constant support. My dogs have always been there for me more than I can describe.
Cody Brody, my beloved Jack Russell Terrier, was a real terrier-terror and was a real challenge with his marking addiction. His habit led me to replace many carpets and comforters. Anything that was left on the floor was subject to a quick spritz or a total hosing depending on his mood. I loved him with all of my heart for nineteen years. Even though we had our struggles, I never once thought of rehoming him. I became an expert on dog urine removers.
These days my constant companion of seven years is Lilly, a rambunctious Pit Bull who knew she was coming home with me before I even knew. When I failed at finding a foster home for her she became our forever dog. Lilly has filled my family’s hearts with her exuberance and playfulness. She has taught me so much about dogs and unconditional love.
I have taken in dogs that proved to be too challenging for others. Molly was a shredder and destroyed her previous owner’s paper portfolio; destroying her artwork. The owner raged and I took her home with me to live another fifteen years.
A couple of months ago I helped a client adopt a puppy. I warned her about all the pit falls of adopting a baby dog and her response was that I mentioned everything but the plague. My job as a communicator is to make sure animals don’t fall into the rescue system. It is a promise I made to myself when I first started volunteering at the SPCA in 1970. I witnessed practices that no child should have ever seen and that no dog should ever suffer.
When you adopt it should be a joyous occasion, but unfortunately sometimes the best intentions can fall short, leaving everyone heartbroken. Animal rescues are flooded with pets after the holidays, often because people didn’t realize what a huge responsibility pets can be; they didn’t know that their son Max was allergic to dogs or that a Border Collie would need so much exercise, they thought they could train their active puppy, but they simply need more tools and they can’t afford a trainer.
A successful pet adoption that will ensure you and yours, years of love and companionship requires research and several visits to make sure you are choosing the right pet for your home and family. A family who lives in a small apartment may want to consider a smaller dog or maybe a cat. A person who doesn’t live an active lifestyle should stay away from high energy dogs. A runner or someone who wants to do agility will make a perfect guardian for an active pet. All dogs need exercise, but some are happy to be couch potatoes. An elderly person who wants to adopt a pet may consider adopting an adult dog or cat; one that has been house trained and doesn’t need as much exercise. A lot of people don’t realize that cats need exercise too! Cats that aren’t exercised can develop behavioral issues. They need to expend energy or they can get cranky. Cranky kitties can bite, mark, or act out against other pets.
Research the breeds of dogs you are interested in adopting before you bring them home. Make sure the mannerisms will fit into your life style. Consider if you or your family is allergic to dogs first. Some dogs are considered hypoallergenic, but I have known people who will still have allergic issues. Will you have the finances to have your long haired dog groomed? This will help prevent mats and keep your dog allergy friendly.
Just like with people, a healthy diet is required for a healthy pet. Cats that are fed corn based diets without wet food can suffer from bladder diseases. They can become overweight and very cranky. I have worked with cats all over the country and when their food is shifted and exercise is added to their day, they lose weight, feel better and stop marking. The special diets that veterinarians suggest for most illnesses are corn based. Corn based products are mostly GMO. I suggest you Google what the ramifications can be when you feed corn based foods. The pet food market is changing daily to include high quality foods that exclude corn, corn gluten and wheat. Cats that eat corn can develop diabetes in later years. Save money and improve quality of life for your pets by spending a little more for high quality foods.
If you travel a lot make sure you have pet sitters in your area or boarding facilities. Do you have a family member in the area that will babysit in your home or theirs? Make sure that if you choose a kennel that your pet will get supervised exercise and will be fed your kibble. Once you know your newly adopted pet you will be able to outline their needs for your pet sitter. Write everything down. You don’t want it to be a guessing game for the care taker.
I urge you to adopt locally. Tens of thousands of house pets, in New York State alone, die every year in shelters. Go to your local shelters; if you fall in love bring the family to meet your potential forever pet. Some animals that have never been exposed to children will require some training to help them assimilate into your home. This can take time for a dog that has never seen a child or whose last family had kids that were never taught any boundaries.
Children in either case may seem very scary at first for this dog or puppy, but with tender, love and care, a dog can learn to love all children. It may require some help from a trainer, but it is possible. You will be socializing your dog not only with your children, but with your children’s friends. As an animal communicator, I have talked with many dogs that haven’t been socialized with children as youngsters. They often see kids as little crazy people, who pinch and make loud scary noises. In a dog savvy home these situations can be overcome, but they will require management and training, which can be fun for the whole family.
Adopting a rescue dog from out of state or out of country can be very challenging. You won’t be able to court your new dog or get to know him/her first. Often times there is little background information. Out of state rescues are shipped to you via an animal transport and this can be very stressful for any dog. Oftentimes the shipped dog can be traumatized and sick by time it reaches you. If you fall in love with a picture try to get as much information as possible before you adopt, make sure the rescue will be there for support if you need it.
Please stay away from pet stores. These are factory-bred dogs that come from the worst breeding practices. Their parents are abused and used as breeding machines, some never leave their cages and suffer dearly. These poor dogs suffer the cold in warehouse situations or worse, live outside year round. They have no vaccinations and are inbred. My heart goes out to each and every one of them. Please support your local SPCA’s; their animal cruelty officers are doing their best to help these dogs but are underfunded and shelters are often not equipped to handle the hundreds of dogs who come in from these busts.
If you live in an apartment or are renting a home, please make sure you are allowed to keep pets. I can’t begin to count how many pet surrenders happen because the landlord found out, after the new pet came home. This situation can be avoided by making sure it is okay to have a pet.
So this holiday season, please follow your heart and adopt a pet, one that will fit into your family, one that will stay for the rest of his/her life. I give thanks to you for adopting and giving pets a forever home that will be filled with love.
Sending love to you and yours, and wishing you Happy Holidays!