Shelter Pets: What You Need to Know

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An animal shelter can be an intimidating place to visit. Facing all those pets in need of love and a good home — both of which you have to give — can make you feel pressured to adopt a pet now. But as much as you might wish you could take all of them home with you, choosing the right pet is an important process that shouldn't be rushed. Here's why it might not a good idea to bring a pet home directly after your first shelter visit.

Avoiding Adoption Remorse

Woman petting a dog on red leash at shelter.It's easy to fall into the trap of visiting a shelter and deciding to bring home either the cutest or the saddest looking dog or cat that you see. But your first choice might not be the best choice. Pet ownership is a major responsibility. You're agreeing to provide care for the rest of the animal's life. Not only is this a big commitment of time and money, but it also entails dealing with any emotional or behavioral problems the pet might have. The impulsive decision to adopt a pet might result in remorse if the pet you chose has health or behavioral issues you're not equipped to deal with, which could in turn leave you feeling like returning the pet to the shelter is your only option.

Choosing the Right Pet

While you may be eager for a cuddly new companion, choosing the right pet is a process that takes time, research and careful planning. That said, when adopting a shelter pet, it's also a good idea to stay flexible and open-minded. For example, while you may have a specific breed in mind, you might find a mixed breed or even an entirely different breed that just clicks. Here are some tips to help ensure you bring home the best pet for yourself and your family.

Know What You're Looking for in a Pet

Choosing the right pet begins before you visit a shelter. It's important to have some criteria in place. Do you need a dog that gets along well with children? Are you looking for a workout buddy for long walks or hikes, or a cuddle buddy that is content with a relaxed lifestyle? If you're adopting a cat, do you want one that will follow you around like a puppy, or one that will be more independent? Decide which type of animal best fits your personality, lifestyle and family dynamic.

Know Your Limitations

No matter how much compassion you may have for an animal that has spent a long time at the shelter, it's important to ask why the shelter is having trouble getting the pet adopted. Pets with special needs take four times longer to get adopted compared to pets without special needs, calculates Petfinder. They often require special care that can be costly and may take an emotional toll on the pet parents. If you have the resources and the willingness to take on such a challenge, that's wonderful! But, be honest with yourself. If you can't provide what the animal needs, trying to force a good fit won't do the pet or you any favors. It's best to move on without any guilt. Many shelters will also do their best to make you aware of any additional needs this pet may require in order to determine if you'd be a good fit for the pet. While shelters want the pet to be adopted, their priority is ensuring a wonderful, loving forever home, so don't get discouraged if they feel the pet would be more suited for a different environment.

Plan for Multiple Shelter Visits

Deciding ahead of time that your first visit to a shelter is nothing more than a scouting mission will help ease any pressure you feel to adopt a pet then and there. It's OK if you don't feel strongly drawn to any of the pets you see that day. It's better to wait until you find an animal that really speaks to you. If you're worried about the possibility that the pet you connect with getting adopted out by another family while you're mulling it over talk to the shelter about placing a hold on the cat or dog. Many shelters do this because they know that adopting a pet is a big decision and not one that should be taken lightly or rushed. They may be willing to place the pet on hold for 24 to 48 hours while you mull it over outside of the emotional confines of the shelter. This typically allows other prospective families to visit with the pet during the hold period, and even put their own name on a hold list in case you decide to not adopt. However, during that hold period you will be given priority to adopt.

Woman in blue checkered shirt holds fluffy cat over her right shoulder.Get to Know Your Prospective Pet

Multiple visits to the shelter will also allow you to get to know any animals you're thinking of adopting to better determine whether they'll be a good fit. Ask questions of the shelter workers and volunteers who have spent time with the animal. Find out as much as you can about the pet's previous life, including his medical history.

If you have children in the home, or even if you are planning on having children in the future it can be a good idea to have them interact with the pet to determine how they do. If you don't have kids of your own yet, consider asking a family member or friend that has children if they'd be willing to accompany you to test — just be prepared that they may want to bring home their own furry friend!

If you are planning on adopting a dog and already have one at home, most shelters will allow you to bring in your dog to see how he interacts with the potential-adoptee dog. This is another good test to determine whether adopting the dog will be a good fit within your home. Avoid the pitfall of wanting to adopt a cute dog, only to find that he doesn't get along well with your current dog.

Adopting a shelter pet is a rewarding endeavor, but rushing to bring a pet home too quickly can place undue stress on you and the animal. By releasing yourself from the expectation of finding a pet quickly, you'll lay the groundwork for a successful adoption that will allow you to truly become a hero to a pet in need.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.

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