Frequently Asked Questions
Just like you, shelters and other rescue organizations are eager to help find the perfect pet for you and your family! The process varies, but to ensure great human-pet matches, many will ask you questions and have you fill out an application. (Sometimes you can fill out the application online, before you visit the shelter.) Three of the most common reasons people end up having to give up pets are the cost of pet care, moving, and issues with landlords. That’s why shelters will want you to answer questions that will let them learn more about you and whether you can provide a good home for a new pet.
Applications vary, of course, but many shelters and other rescue organizations ask questions about the following:
- The number and ages of children in your house
- The number and types of other pets you already have
- Whether you rent or own your home (if you rent, some shelters require proof that your landlord allows the type of pet you are considering adopting)
- What type of experience you’ve had with pets
- What your expectations are for a new animal
- Your lifestyle and activity level
- Your veterinarian (if you currently have one)—some shelters will check with your vet to ensure your current pets are up to date with their vaccinations and are healthy and well cared for There are almost no right or wrong answers—the aim is to help you think further about what kind of animal is right for you and assure the shelter staff that the pets are going to long-term homes at which they will be well cared for.
Before you go, be sure to check out the shelter’s adoption hours, as they vary greatly from shelter to shelter. There are also often age restrictions on adopting, so check those out as well and bring a valid photo ID with you. Also, once you’re ready to adopt, there will be an adoption fee that varies by the type of pet, age, and other variables. And often, before a final placement is made, shelters will want to ensure all members of your family—human and animal!—have met with your potential new family member. This is to make sure the match is a good fit for everyone.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find the right fit right away—shelters/rescues are constantly receiving new animals!
By adopting an animal rather than buying one from a pet shop, breeder, or other source, you are likely saving an animal’s life. Many animals in shelters are euthanized each year because there’s simply not room for all the animals who are currently without loving homes. In addition, you will help weaken the demand for pets from “puppy mills” with inhumane conditions.
Adopting an animal is a much cheaper option than buying one. Some shelters have an adoption fee, while others simply suggest a donation. In any case, most shelter animals are already spayed or neutered, have up-to-date vaccinations, and are often even microchipped!
A lot of animals end up in shelters for reasons that have nothing to do with them. It could be that their owner moved, lost their job, or for some other reason was unable to keep the pet. While it’s true that some animals that end up in shelters can have health or other problems, what may have been a problem for someone else may not be for you or your family. Keep in mind, too, that shelters and other rescue organizations have a lot of great animals to choose from—so many of them have great personalities and are happy and healthy. And there is so much variety! Shelters have dogs of all sizes, breeds, and ages. And, depending on the organization, you may be able to adopt cats, rabbits, ferrets, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, or rats.
The adoption agencies you will be working with and other important people in your life such as family, friends, and your vet are there to help you think through this exciting—and important!—decision and support you as you began the adventure of incorporating a new pet into your family. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and ask for help if you need it. In addition to the important people in your lives, remember that MycomPETibility and other websites offer a ton of easily searchable information for pet owners. In addition, your local library has multiple books, magazines, and other resources that you can consult when you have questions or just want to learn more.
One great thing about adopting an animal, rather than buying one, is that the shelter staff gets to know the animals and can share information about not only their health history but also behavioral and other individual qualities. When you visit a shelter, you can talk with the staff and ask them any questions you may have. You’ll also be able to spend some quiet time with the animals you are considering, which should help you get to know them better.
Does a cat you’re interacting with seem cautious and timid, cool, assertive and bold, energetic, vocal or quiet, and/or demonstrative? Talk with the staff at the agency you’re considering adopting from to see what they can tell you about different cats’ behavior and temperament. Also look at how the cats interact with other cats and people. One “test” involves picking up a kitten by the scruff of the neck and seeing if he settles down after just a bit of wiggling. If he does, he’s likely to grow up less aggressive than a cat that continues to struggle. Remember, of course, that each cat is an individual!
Even if you feel you have the resources—time, money, patience, and more—to take on a special-needs pet, when you’re considering different cats, you’ll want to get an overall idea of their health. The adoption agency you’re working with should be able to provide you with some health history, but here’s what a healthy cat looks like in general, and some signs that could indicate there might be a problem:
- Eyes that are shiny and clear, without secretions
- A moist nose without discharge
- Ears that are pink and clean
- Regular eating, drinking, activity, and elimination habits; these can vary from cat to cat, but if a cat suddenly has a change in her usual patterns, this could indicate a problem
- Good posture and balance
- Teeth that are intact and clean
- Smooth, soft, clean fur without bald patches, fleas, or wounds
The following are essential for any cat you’re transitioning into your household:
- Food that he’s used to eating along with food and water bowls. Also consider where you will be setting out his food and water and whether you’ll need bowl stands or a protective mat for the floor.
- A litter box and the litter he’s used to using. You’ll also need a scoop to clean the box as well as bags to put the waste in. Some people find that liners for the litter pan help keep it cleaner and smelling fresher. Consider where you’ll put the box, too, and make sure it’s away from the area where your cat will be eating.
- A secure cat carrier for bringing your new pal home, trips to the vet, and other outings.
- A collar and ID tags, and perhaps a leash, if you think you’d like to take your cat on walks with you.
- A sturdy scratching post. If you want, you can make your own scratching post instead of buying one—look online for different ideas on how to do this.
- One or more cozy beds. Again, this is not something you necessarily need to buy—you can make your own with items you already have around the house.
- Tools for grooming such as a good brush and nail clippers.
Cats are definitely different from dogs, but you can (and should!) help your new cat learn to respond to her name, to come when you call, to stop doing things she shouldn’t be doing (like sharpening her nails on the couch), and to do things she should do (like use her scratching post and the litter box). It takes some time and patience (and some super tasty treats!), but most cats are quick learners and a little time spent now on training will help you enjoy your little bundle of fluff for many years to come.
The adoption agency you’re working with should be able to provide you with some health history, but here’s what a healthy dog looks like in general, and some signs that could indicate there might be a problem:
- Eyes that are clear and show your reflection; discharge or milky and foggy eyes can indicate a problem
- A nose that is wet and cold; a warm, dry nose could indicate a dog needs a drink because he’s dehydrated
- Ears that are free of black clumps of earwax (which can be due to brain damage) and that do not have a strong odor
- Curiosity about his world and the people and animals in it
- Regular, easy movement; no limping
- A good appetite and no unusual bad breath
- Teeth that are intact and clean
- Regular daily bowel movements and urination Supple, shiny fur without bald patches; no habit of excessive scratching, licking, or gnawing at the fur
Your dog depends on you to help her stay healthy and strong! You will be responsible for providing healthy food and treats, preventive care like vaccines and check-ups with the vet, grooming, lots of fun activity, and companionship. Here are some essentials that every dog needs:
- Identification—a microchip along with an ID tag on her collar will ensure that she’ll make her way back to you should she happen to get lost
- Training to help her behave appropriately and be a happy member of your circle of family and friends
- Limits—letting your dog know expectations and rules will make for a happier, more secure dog
- Regular exercise, regular feeding times with appropriate food, and free access to clean, fresh water
- Regular trips to the vet for check-ups and vaccinations; and timely visits when she’s not feeling well
- Love and affection—spend time getting to know your new pal and enjoy your time together
- A safe place to sleep and have some alone time when needed Regular grooming to keep him looking and feeling his best; in addition, when you are regularly in close contact with your dog like this, it will be easier to quickly spot any problems
Making the decision to adopt a pet and transitioning him into your life is an exciting time, as well as a stressful time. However, some planning beforehand can ensure a smoother transition for both the animal and human members of your family. Here are a few questions to consider as you get ready to bring your new pet home: Where will your new pet sleep? In a crate? On your bed? In her own bed in a cozy corner of the family room?
- Where and what will your pet eat and drink? Where will you keep the food that’s waiting to be eaten? How about treats—what kind will you get, and where will you keep them?
- What are your plans for pet-proofing your house? How will you make sure things like cords and plants are out of harm’s way? How about other items like that bowl of chocolates you like to keep on the table?
- Where will your cat’s litter box go? Where will you dog’s outside toileting spot be?
- What will your dog’s exercise schedule be? Who will be responsible for tasks related to the new pet—walking, feeding, playing, cleaning up after messes, and so on?
- How about toys (including chew toys for dogs!) and other items like leashes, collars, brushes, scratching posts, and shampoo? What will you get, and where will you keep the different items?
- Think about boundaries—will your dog be allowed on the furniture? Will he have access to all areas of the house? Will you keep your cat inside, or will she also be allowed to go outside? Answering these and other questions ahead of time will lower everyone’s stress and leave more time for exploring and enjoying your new relationship with your pet!
Dogs come to shelters with various levels of training, of course, so you’ll need to assess each dog’s individual situation. But as you probably already know, helping your dog master some simple commands—come, sit, stay, down, and leave it—will help ensure the safety of both you and your dog. And you’ll both be happier, too! In addition to learning these basic commands, it’s also important to work with your dog to help him learn how to walk on a leash without pulling and to have good door manners. Dogs are social creatures, and their relationships with you—their family members—and other dogs are vital to their happiness and well-being.
Just like your new pet will need some time to get used to his new home with you, the children in your family will have a transition period as they get to know their new buddy and how he will fit into your lives. Involve your kids in the process of deciding to get a pet and then choosing who the newest member of your family will be. Encourage them to ask questions, share their ideas, and express any concerns. Ahead of time—before your new pet comes home—talk about guidelines for helping your pet feel welcome and safe in your home:
- Help your kids think about how your new pet would appreciate being picked up and otherwise handled. Practice on a stuffed animal or other item so that they gain experience and confidence.
- Remind them that just like they don’t like being teased or picked on, neither do animals. They should always be treated with kindness and respect.
- Likewise, just like your kids probably don’t like it when someone takes something from them, neither do pets. Kids shouldn’t take chew toys or other items away from a pet when they’re interested in them.
- Remind them that just like getting a new pet is a learning situation for the humans in the family, your new pet will also be getting to know you and how your house works. A little patience from everyone will go a long way!
Though these types of pets are often thought to be easier to have around, they do need commitment and care, just like any other type of pet. For example, you probably won’t be able to teach your lizard tricks or get him to obey a series of commands. And though we all know that reptiles are very different from furrier pets like dogs and cats, depending on the species and your individual reptile’s temperament, you may still be able to develop a closer relationship with your pet and get him to interact with you a bit. Remember, though, some reptiles will just never warm up to human interaction—they may bite you or run away, and some start out more friendly but get grouchier and less interested in human contact as they mature. With a good bit of calm patience, though, you may find that your reptile likes being scratched or stroked on certain parts of the body, and some snakes are happy curled up in warm dark places like inside your t-shirt! These closer levels of interaction all begin by helping your reptile become desensitized to human contact so that he comes to see you less as a threat and more a normal part of his everyday life.
Yes, it is. Moving to a new environment can be stressful for lizards, and it can take them a while to acclimate—and sometimes they deal with that stress by hiding themselves away for a bit, until they feel more comfortable coming out to explore. In a week or so perhaps he’ll be ready to be handled and get to know people a little bit more. But do remember to take him to the vet within the next week or two (you might need to call around to see who has experience with reptiles, as not all vets do) to get him a general check-up and catch any issues.
Once you get to know them, you’ll see that rabbits can make great pets. As with all animals, of course, you need to consider their unique needs and how they would fit into your family before you decide to adopt; a lot of adoption sites have lists of questions for you to consider if you’re thinking of adopting a bunny. They are often very intelligent and have great personalities! Many people recommend “house rabbits,” that is, rabbits that you keep in the house rather than outside in a hutch. This way, you’re able to interact with them more, and they can really become part of the family. As with a lot of other pets, with a rabbit, you have to be ready to commit to daily care, vet visits, and a potentially long life. Though they like companionship, most rabbits do not like to be held. They do, however, enjoy being in the same room with you and often like to sit beside their human family members. And rabbits can actually learn to use a litter box!
To keep that newest member of the family healthy, you’ll want to team up with a trusted veterinarian to keep on top of preventive measures, including vaccines, and to help your pet speedily recover if she gets sick. When choosing a vet, think about what’s important to you—Location? Great communication? A cutting-edge facility? Here are some other things to consider:
- Get references from people you know and the adoption agency where you got your pet. They can give you insider views on what different vets are like.
- Check the vet’s accreditation. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accredits clinics and hospitals, and an existing accreditation can indicate that the vet provides an appropriate level of care.
- Think about communication. Can you talk easily with the vet and other staff members? Are they open to your questions, and do they provide good answers that thoroughly address your concerns? Can you get in touch with them easily when you have questions or if there’s an emergency?
- Ask for a tour of the facility. How do the vets and staff interact with pets, their owners, and each other? Is it clean? Do the facility’s hours and location work with your schedule?
- Find out what kind of animals or breeds the vet serves. If you have multiple types of animals, will the vet be able to treat them all? Do you have a giant breed dog and want a vet with experience with those breeds? Think about your specific needs before you make your decision. Remember, the vet you choose will be a valuable member of the team working to keep your new friend happy and healthy for many years to come. Do your homework so that you can feel confident in the care your pet is receiving. And if you find that the quality of care isn’t what you thought it would be, don’t hesitate to bring up any concerns or even to look for a new vet.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends these top ways of helping your community’s animals:
- Volunteer at your local animal rescue organization or shelter—you can walk dogs, perform secretarial tasks, provide companionship, and so much more.
- Learn how to recognize and report animal cruelty.
- Host a drive to gather pet supplies and food for your local shelter—there’s always a need!
- Help others learn about how important spaying and neutering is to help reduce the population of unwanted animals.
- Raise money for shelters and advocate for your animal friends. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) promotes the many benefits that can be gained from volunteering, such as:
- Being part of the solution
- Getting warm fuzzies
- Keeping good company as you make friends with new animals and people
- Learning more about yourself and your capabilities
- Gaining skills and meeting people that could lead to a new career
- Enjoying the company of your new animal friends
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