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Guide to adopting a shelter pet

Each year an estimated 1.5 million pets are euthanized in US shelters. While this number represents a dramatic decrease from the 2.6 million euthanized in 2011, it’s clear that there is much progress to be made.

Why Adopt A Pet?

Many shelters are overburdened and under-resourced, especially in urban areas where the number of homeless pets is high. These shelters also frequently house “hard to adopt” pets, such as senior animals and animals with special needs. That’s why the public’s help is so important in providing forever homes for these animals.

If you’re considering bringing a new pet into your home, here are a few reasons to consider a shelter animal:

  • The vast majority of shelter pets have had significant contact with people and are eager to be loved. They’re also eager to love your back!
  • Many have been leash or litter trained, and have some idea of house manners.
  • Adult shelter animals have outgrown the often-destructive puppy or kitten stage and are ready to settle into home life.
  • Most shelter pets have received their basic immunizations.
  • Most shelter pets are already spayed or neutered.   

Considering A Shelter Pet

Once you’ve made the decision to adopt a shelter dog or cat, how do you choose the right animal for you? Here are a few tips on choosing the right shelter pet for you and your family:

Do some research. By learning a little about different dog and cat breeds, you can better define what animal might be a good fit for your home. Questions to ask may include: What breeds are best with kids? What breeds need the most (or least) exercise? What breeds are most likely to get along well with pets already in the home? What breeds are easiest to train? The answers can help you make more informed choices.

Ask shelter workers about specific animals. Shelter workers often know some background information about a particular animal—such as the reason it was surrendered and how it has behaved in the shelter. They’ll also be able to tell you about any special needs or preferences the animal may have.

Consider a senior or special needs animal. Senior pets and animals with special needs are often the most likely to be euthanized and therefore are most in need of help. Many have been well socialized and simply need a loving home where they can spend their remaining years.

Follow your heart. Often, we don’t choose an animal as much as an animal chooses us. When visiting a shelter, you may find that a certain animal seems especially drawn to you, or that you are drawn to it. This kind of organic connection can be a sign that you have found a pet with whom you can form a lasting bond.

Bringing Your Shelter Pet Home

Introducing a new cat or dog into your home can be stressful, whether that pet came from a shelter, a store, or a breeder. Here are a few tips to help get your new pet acclimated to their surroundings:

Buy the needed supplies. You’re going to need some basic pet care items before you bring home a new animal. For cats, a litter pan, food, and a set of food and water bowls are standard. And while cats are adept at finding their own “comfy spots,” providing a box lined with an old blanket or sweatshirt is a good start. For dogs, you’ll need a collar, leash, and ID tag, as well as food and a set of drinking/feeding bowls. Remember that dogs are den animals, so you may want to crate a new animal overnight for awhile to relieve stress and give it a sense of security. A comfy dog bed should also be on the list of must-haves.

Pet-proof your home. Any obvious hazards or temptations that could prove harmful to an animal should be removed. These might include exposed wires or extension cords, houseplants that are toxic to cats or dogs, and any object that could be a choking hazard.

Prepare your family. If you have young children, they need to know basic new pet etiquette. A new animal can be skittish at first and should be allowed to get accustomed to its new surroundings without feeling rushed, crowded, or over-handled. The temptation to hug and cuddle a new pet may be strong, but let the animal dictate the pace of these early encounters. Teaching kids to read the signs of a frightened or stressed animal can make pet adoption easier for everyone.

We hope these tips will help make your pet adoption joyful and stress-free!

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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