October is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)'s Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month. I asked Gail Buchwald, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA Adoptions Center, to list her top considerations for making your best match.
Choosing Your Pet
1) Good Behavior Counts
Gail's Take: Don't judge a book by its cover. All too often, decisions are made solely based on a pet's appearance. Instead, ask the animal shelter for information on a pet's behavior and if there's been an evaluation.
My Take: Looks will only get you so far. The temperament of the animal is much more important.
2) Are You Compatible?
Gail's Take: It's important to think about your family's lifestyle and household members. Is your home more like Grand Central Station or a library? How will a new pet impact other pets or children in the home? Is every member of the family on the same page about what will be involved in the new pet's care?
My Take: Don't just consider the compatibility question from your perspective. Think about how much play interaction your pet will expect from you, and choose accordingly.
3) Old Age is Underrated
Gail's Take: Puppies require a lot of attention and time. Kittens have higher care requirements than older cats. Kittens are most awake and active around 4:00 AM. The ASPCA frequently receives calls about kittens who are hanging from the drapes or the highest available place they can climb.
My Take: 4:00 AM is not my finest hour. I appreciate an older pet who's discovered the merits of sleeping in.
4) Active or Not? Energy Matters
Gail's Take: This topic requires household discussion. If family members know that they prefer watching TV to going for a run, they're better off choosing a dog that fits their lifestyle–say a lap dog versus a high-energy level dog. Many people think that small dogs are calmer but the inverse is true–larger dogs are often mellow and can require less exercise than a small, hyper dog, depending on the individual dog.
My Take: The sneaker has to fit. If you don't love to exercise, consider a less active dog who will share your philosophy, especially on a hot, muggy day.
5) The Cost of Pet Adoption
Gail's Take: Most animal shelters and rescues have a fee, which is minimal when you consider the costs they have already assumed for services such as spaying or neutering, microchipping, and vaccinating your future pet. Puppies and kittens are in high demand as are small dogs, and thus are a little more expensive. People are encouraged to adopt pairs of kittens rather than single kittens as this improves their socialization and saves another animal's life.
My Take: Caring for a pet comes with costs–vet visits, medicine, pet insurance, food, treats, toys, dog walkers, kennels–but at least you won't have to pay for a college education!
Bringing Your Pet Home
6) Timing is Everything
Gail's Take: You don't want to adopt a pet and then go away on vacation shortly thereafter. It's best to adopt when you can devote time to the adjustment of the pet in the home, providing your undivided attention for at least 36 hours.
My Take: An ideal time to transition a pet into your home is during a staycation, when there will be ample time for bonding and getting used to each other's routines.
Caring for Your Pet
7) Setting the Rules
Gail's Take: Ask about a pet's level of training and then weigh that against the amount of training you and your family intend to do. Consider your lifestyle: Are you around the house during the day to house-train your pet, monitor his actions, and reward good behavior? Remember, the best way to train a pet is to consistently reward him for behaving the way you want him to, and you have to be home with him to do this–especially for a puppy! If instead, you work long hours outside the home and have an inflexible schedule, you might consider a pet who already knows a thing or two about obedience and training.
My Take: If a pet's already graduated from basic training, you can still set the rules that apply in your home. Just be consistent–either a dog is or is not allowed up on the bed–you can't expect him to avail himself of this privilege only on weekends.
8) Learn What Your Pet Needs
Gail's Take: Some people come to a shelter without knowing if they want to adopt a cat or a dog. One species' care requirements can differ from another's and also one animal can differ from another. An animal might need to take a pill every day or have specific grooming needs. Grooming for non-shedding dogs or long-haired cats is actually a necessity for proper health, since the failure to provide professional grooming can lead to hair-matting which can cause problems such as skin irritation and bruising.
My Take: The next time someone mocks my dog's grooming regimen, I'll remind them that it's health-related. He gets a full salon treatment complete with shampoo and blow-dry, pedicure, teeth-brushing, and other indignities not worth detailing here.
Are you considering adopting a pet? Have you adopted pets before and how did you decide he or she was the one for you?
For questions to ask when visiting a shelter and how to get the most out of your visit, read the ASPCA's complete guide to adopting a shelter dog.