Before Adopting a New Pet

  • Most pets end up homeless through no fault of their own – “moving” and “landlord issues” are the top reasons people give for relinquishing their pets, meaning shelters and rescue groups are full of wonderful, family-ready pets.
  • Pets adopted from shelters and rescue groups typically cost less than pets purchased or even acquired for free—once you add in the cost of vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, microchip, dewormer, and other “extras” included in your adoption fee, you’ll probably be surprised what a bargain an adopted pet really is!
  • Most shelters and rescue groups conduct through behavioral analysis of each pet to ensure that they will be the right fit for your family, dramatically improving the chances your new pet will fit right in.
  • Shelters and rescue groups can provide advice on making your relationship with your pet the best it can be for the rest of his or her life, so you’ll never have to go it alone!


Do your homework
So now you’ve decided to add a new pet to your family. The first question to answer is what kind of pet will be the best fit for your household? Do you have enough time to devote to the daily needs of a dog? Is there someone in your household who is allergic to cats? Have you considered a non-traditional pet such as a rat or another small animal? Doing your homework in advance will make your search easier and increase the chances that your new pet will be a happy addition to the family.

Adopting a new pet is exciting and stressful. You’re about to add another member to your family and your life will be changing.

The adoption process has many variables and requires patience. For example, there may be family members who need to meet the animal, consultations with shelter staff about behavior or medical issues, paperwork to be reviewed and signed, and other steps. But you can navigate the sometimes confusing adoption process by knowing the right questions to ask.

2876015_origAnimal’s history
Ask about the animal’s background if it’s not clear from the cage card. Did the pet arrive as a stray or was she given up by her previous owner? If so, why? How long has the animal been at the shelter? Medical and/or behavioral assessments Shelters continue to raise the bar in terms of their testing and vaccination protocols, as well as their behavior modification programs to make animals more adoptable. Inquire about any medical or behavioral evaluations and make sure you understand what type of treatment is required for any problems that have been identified. In addition, you may want to ask about the animal’s behavior at the shelter and how it may be similar to or different from what you can expect at home.

Timeline of adoption process
Some shelters are eager to send animals home the same day adopters visit them. This turnaround enables shelters to make room for new arrivals and is helpful for people who have traveled a long distance to meet an animal. Other facilities take a slower approach (e.g. ensuring that children and/or a spouse have met the animal). Familiarize yourself with the adoption timeline at the beginning of the process so you’ll know what to expect before emotions are running high and patience is low.

Spay/neuter
Virtually all animal shelters have policies to ensure that their animals are spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters. A number of facilities have animals sterilized before they’re available for adoption. In other cases, this procedure is scheduled when an animal goes home, and then the adoption is finalized once the surgery is performed. And some shelters rely on spay/neuter deposits that are refunded when proof of spaying or neutering is provided.

Whatever your concern, don’t be embarrassed to contact the shelter and ask for help. Too often, adopters struggle with behavior issues on their own and decide to return a pet because of an issue that could have been resolved.

What if my animal gets sick shortly after adoption?

Despite robust cleaning routines, animal shelters inevitably harbor germs. Unfortunately, infectious diseases can spread quickly through populations of animals that are housed in close proximity. The good news is that common conditions such as upper respiratory infections in cats and kennel cough in dogs are very treatable.

If your new companion becomes ill, check your adoption agreement to see if it addresses this issue and notify the shelter promptly about changes in your pet’s health. Sometimes a little encouragement and reassurance are all that’s needed as you nurse your kitten through a bad case of the sniffles; other times a visit to the vet may be in order. Some shelters have a vet on staff and others may refer you to a local clinic.

It’s common for adopters to bear some or all of the cost of veterinary treatment because shelters have such limited medical budgets. Exceptions may include animals with preexisting medical conditions that are already being treated by the shelter or other special cases. Some facilities may also provide a short-term pet health insurance policy or cover specific conditions that arise within a certain period of time after adoption.

What if I have questions about my new pet’s behavior?

Whether you’re a first-time pet owner or a seasoned pro, there’s no question that the transition period can be bumpy. New surroundings, new people, other animals, and an unfamiliar routine can be stressful for your adoptee.

Whatever your concern, don’t be embarrassed to contact the shelter and ask for help. Too often, adopters struggle with behavior issues on their own and decide to return a pet because of an issue that could have been resolved. Housetraining, chewing, barking, separation anxiety, litterbox issues … these issues and more will be familiar to the shelter’s staff.

Ask about resources to resolve behavior problems at the time of adoption. Some facilities offer behavior help lines and training classes, and most organizations can provide basic troubleshooting. In addition, The HSUS has many tip sheets on dog and cat behavior.

What to do if your adoption application is denied or you feel you’ve been treated unfairly

The adoption process can be filled with opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding. After all, animals inspire strong emotions in people on both sides of the counter. Most adoption stories have happy endings, but occasionally customers will find themselves being denied an opportunity to adopt an animal, either because of an issue with their adoption application or because more than one potential adopter is interested in the same animal.

Keep in mind that animal shelters can be busy, chaotic places without much opportunity for privacy. It may be helpful to follow up with the adoption counselor or shelter manager by phone when both of you can speak without distractions.

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