April 30 is “National Adopt A Shelter Pet Day” and the perfect time to bring awareness to all of the shelter pets in need of homes, as well as the assistance we can  provide to our local shelters to keep the animals housed there happy, healthy, and comfortable. You can donate food, clean bedding, cat litter, etc. to your local shelters, but more importantly, you can donate your time. Volunteer to walk dogs, socialize puppies, cuddle kittens, or have your kids read to shelter animals to help them decompress.  All of these things are priceless and help to guarantee that the animals at your local shelter will find their forever homes.

There are many adorable, sweet, fun-loving animals at your local shelter, so if you plan to celebrate by adopting a shelter pet today, here are a few things to think about before you go:

  1. Think honestly about your living situation. If you live in an apartment, for example, do you have space for a dog and are they even allowed? Do you need to save money for a pet deposit first? If you live in a house, is your yard completely fenced?  Have you spoken to your neighbors to prep them?  You don’t want your first introduction to your neighbors to be them complaining about your barking dog! If you live in a small space, don’t have a yard, or aren’t home much, then perhaps a cat is a better choice than a dog.
  2. Think honestly about how much time you have to devote to your new pet. If you work 8 hour days, then a puppy or kitten may not be a good choice. Perhaps an adult cat or dog is a better choice as they are (hopefully) more settled, housetrained, and less apt to get into trouble when you are gone.
  3. How do you really feel about daily grooming? If you have a hard enough time remembering to brush your own hair, you might not want a long haired cat or double-coated dog. Better to pick a pet a bit more “wash and wear.”
  4. Your budget. Do you have the money to invest in a young animal that will need a series of vaccines, to be spayed/neutered, and trained? Puppies need puppy classes and that’s an added expense as well.  And feeding a large sized dog is definitely more expensive than feeding a cat!
  5. Get Ready! Get your basic supplies in advance so you are ready when you bring home your new pet. Things like bowls, bedding, toys, scratching posts, leashes, collars, etc. can be purchased ahead of your new pet coming home. You will want to wait on purchasing food until you find out what the shelter suggests.  And you will definitely want to pick up an ID tag for your new pet as soon as you bring them home!

Now, that you’ve taken these basic considerations to heart, you are ready to go to the shelter and look for your new furry companion.  Here are a few things to keep in mind  when making your choice:

  1. Look at all of the animals that meet your criteria first. If you decided on a kitten, look at them all before narrowing down your search to a few that you think might work for you.
  2. Read the information the shelter provides. Most shelters use cage tags to give you information on the animals. Read that carefully and ask questions. If the kittens were found in a dumpster, for example, they may be a bit timid at first.  If the pet is an owner surrender, you need to know why they were surrendered.  Did they bite someone?  Were they not using their litterbox?  Were they difficult to house train?
  3. Look for any medical issues that may need your attention. Is the animal at the shelter because it was injured and the owners couldn’t afford the care? Is the cat FIV+ thus requiring additional maintenance concerns?  Perhaps the animal has a thyroid condition requiring daily medication.
  4. Routinely handle each pet you are considering. Touch them everywhere. Better to know now if that dog is head shy or that cat will swat you if you pet them for too long. Ask the shelter staff or volunteers about their experiences with the animal.
  5. Spend some time there. Don’t plan on making a decision on your first trip to the shelter, and each visit should involve you spending a significant amount of time with the animals. If you are interested in a dog, take them for a walk. A puppy or kitten?  Play with them! An adult cat?  Invite them on your lap and see if a relationship blossoms.
  6. Assess personality as best as you can. While it is certainly true that a shelter can be an overwhelming and scary environment for many animals, you will still need to figure out if the animal you are interested in has the personality or temperament you are looking for. Ask the shelter staff and volunteers to honestly share their experiences with that animal.  If you don’t have the time or experience to work with a fearful, timid, or under-socialized animal, then don’t get one, no matter how adorable they are!
  7. Don’t overlook the older pets. While kittens and puppies always get a lot of attention, the fact of the matter is that adult animals are often more reliable, more settled, and more predictable in terms of their personality and behavior. That 7 year old dog that everyone bypasses because of his age may be the best companion for you if you are looking for a housetrained, easy-going, low maintenance walking buddy, for example.
  8. Ask how the shelter supports new pet owners. Does your shelter offer classes for that puppy, have a vaccine clinic that you can use to get those shots up to date, or have veterinarians they work with who will give your pet a free or low cost check up after you’ve brought them home? Is the pet microchipped yet? Can the shelter do that before you take your new pet home?

With some advance preparation, you are on your way to finding your next furry friend.  Don’t rush the process; finding the perfect match may take multiple visits to the shelter and patience on your part.  That patience will pay off in the long run as you enjoy many happy years with your newest family member.

Julie Bond

Julie Bond is a voracious reader with eclectic tastes running the gamut from YA lit, to psychological suspense, and anything dog-related, of course. You can find her haunting her favorite San Francisco Bay Area indie bookstores. Email her at ObsessiveBookFanatic@gmail.com


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