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Adopting a Pet - Finding the Perfect Fit

Adopting a Pet That's Right For Your Lifestyle Spring is here and animal shelters everywhere will soon be overflowing with litters of puppies and kittens, in addition to all the usual stray and unwanted pets they normally take in. It is tough for everyone involved. There simply aren't enough good homes to go around. Sometimes, the pets that tug at our hearts are the ones that have had more difficult past lives. We see it all the time: a news story about a pet that has been abused or badly injured results in a flood of adoption applications for that one animal. It's a natural reaction to want to help an animal that needs it so badly.

Adopting a pet because they've had a difficult past, or because they're less adoptable (for example, senior or disabled pets) is well-intentioned, but isn't necessarily the right thing to do. There are thousands upon thousands of pets who need homes. Adopting a pet that does not suit your family, temperament, and lifestyle isn't fair to either you or to him. No pet wants to feel that he is the cause of constant frustration for his family. The best matches are those that bring together a human family and a pet who make each other happy.

Here are some things to consider before choosing a new pet to join your family:

  • How much time are you willing to devote? Think about the other obligations in your life, including family, friends, work, chores, and hobbies. How much time can you reasonably and realistically spend with your new pet?

    - A pet that sheds heavily may result in more vacuuming / sweeping around the house, and more grooming;
    - Puppies and kittens need time spent training;
    - Some dogs will require a significant amount of exercise to stay both physically and mentally healthy;
    - Fearful or timid pets, or those with other behaviour issues will require more socializing and/or management;
    - Disabled and senior pets may need more help from their owners in doing day-to-day activities.

  • How much patience do you have? It's hard to see an injured dog struggling to get around, his spirit bright but his body refusing to cooperate. He could do much better with a specially made doggie wheelchair! It's a nice thought ... but on a daily basis, would you be prepared to help your pet in and out of his chair? Help him eliminate, if needed? Help him switch positions to stay comfortable?

    Another example: some people are drawn to frightened dogs. They want to bring the dog out of its shell by giving it a loving home where it feels safe. There are so many personal accounts of people who have adopted a 'rescue dog' and say that the dog is incredibly loving and grateful. That's true for many, many people, and of course it's the ideal outcome. But there are some dogs who don't come around quite so easily; dogs who need a huge dose of time and patience to help them overcome their fears and insecurities. It's something that should be acknowledged, prepared for, and a conscious commitment made to the dog.

    These are just a couple of examples of pets that require more patience. Ask yourself if you are capable of (or willing to learn) giving the pet what they need to become a well-adjusted, much-loved family member.

  • Does the pet fit your lifestyle? Things to consider include the types of activities you enjoy, how much exercise or outdoor activity you engage in, how much time you spend at home, and how often you travel. For example:

    • If you don't do a lot of walking or hiking, don't get a high-energy dog. A dog's energy level doesn't necessarily correspond to his age or size - for instance, there are some crazy-active small dogs and couch-potato large dogs.

    • What about family considerations - for instance, do you care for elderly relatives? If so, an enthusiastic young dog brimming with clumsy energy may not be the best choice. A calmer, older dog may be more suitable.

    • If you travel a lot, what will you do with the pet? Most cats don't enjoy traveling. Many dogs do, but large dogs aren't accepted as often as small dogs when looking for a pet-friendly hotel. Would you board your pet? How often? Aside from the cost of boarding, is it fair to your pet if you're going to be away a great deal?

  • What are your financial constraints? No one wants to think in terms of money when it comes to our pets... they're family, after all! We'd like to think we would do anything to help them. The reality is that veterinary costs can be substantial.

    Nothing is ever guaranteed. A young pet doesn't necessarily mean a healthy pet, nor does an old pet mean that you're going to be swamped with vet bills. Accidents and unexpected illness can happen at any time, to any animal of any age. That said, it's reasonable to expect certain things: young dogs, for example, will need training and socialization, and old animals have a higher likelihood of requiring extra medical care (read up on planning for and coping with unexpected veterinary bills).

    Other costs that vary with the type of pet chosen include food costs (bigger dogs usually eat more), daycare (cats are usually fine staying at home, while some owners prefer that their high-energy dogs go to a doggy daycare), training / socialization classes (a popular choice for owners of young dogs), or a behaviourist (often times for aggressive or timid animals).

That's not to say that we should gloss over less adoptable animals. Certainly not! There are countless stories of people who have adopted fearful dogs, disabled dogs, elderly dogs, or pets that were otherwise deemed "less adoptable" for various reasons. They willingly and lovingly committed themselves to these pets who developed into treasured members of the family.

A dog who needs a home is a dog who needs a home, regardless of whether it's at a private rescue organization, at the humane society, or from someone who's literally at the end of their rope and is going to get rid of the animal.

Likewise, a homeless pet who has never been abused or doesn't have a heart-wrenching, unusual, or riveting tale behind him isn't any less deserving of a home. Every pet, regardless of the drama or lack of drama in his past, regardless of whether he's highly adoptable or less likely to be adopted, deserves a loving home. Find a pet that fits you. Neither you nor your pet has to be perfect. You just need to be perfect for each other.

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