Are you ready to add a pet to your family?
It can happen to the best of us. You see a cute, tiger-striped kitten with white paws and green eyes, just begging for attention. Or maybe it's a gorgeous Labrador mix whose tails seems to be wagging just for you. You take one look, and the next thing you know, you're walking down the pet food aisle at the supermarket.
If you're like most of us, falling in love with a pet is easy. And no wonder!
Sharing your home with a four-legged friend can be one of life's greatest joys. Dogs, cats, and other pets give us unconditional loyalty and acceptance, provide constant companionship, and even help relieve stress after a hard day's work.
But adopting a pet is a big decision. Dogs and cats require lots of time, money, and commitment—more than 15 years' worth in many cases. Pet ownership can be rewarding, but only if you think through your decision before you adopt a companion.
Ten things to consider
The fact that you're thinking of adopting from an animal shelter means you're on the right track; homeless pets in your community are counting on people like you to give them a chance. Here are some things to think about before you make a commitment:
- Why do you want a pet? It's surprising how many people don’t ask themselves this simple question before they get a pet. Adopting an animal because of a chance enounter at the shelter or because the kids have been pining for a puppy (without buy-in from mom and dad) often ends up being a big mistake. Don't forget that pets may be with you 10, 15, even 20 years.
- Do you have time for a pet? Dogs, cats, and other animal companions cannot be ignored just because you're tired or busy. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day of every year. Many animals in the shelter are there because their owners didn't realize how much time it took to care for them.
- Can you afford a pet? The costs of pet ownership can be quite high. Licenses, training classes, spaying and neutering, veterinary care, grooming, toys, food, kitty litter, and other expenses add up quickly.
- Are you prepared to deal with the challenges that a pet can present? Flea infestations, scratched furniture, accidents from animals who aren't yet housetrained, and unexpected medical emergencies are unfortunate but common aspects of pet ownership.
- Can you have a pet where you live? Many landlords don't allow pets, and most rental communities have restrictions. In addition, certain types of dogs (e.g. pit bulls, rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and other imposing breeds) are often excluded from homeowner insurance policies, or the owners aren’t allowed to renew or continue their coverage. Make sure you know if and how you are limited by housing-related policies before you bring a companion animal home.
- Is it a good time for you to adopt a pet? If you're a student, in the military, or travel frequently as part of your work, for example, waiting until you settle down is wise. If you have kids under five years old and you’re thinking about adopting a small mammal like a hamster or gerbil, you might consider postponing this decision since many small mammals present a risk of Salmonella.
- Are your living arrangements suitable for the animal you have in mind? Animal size is not the only variable to think about here. For example, some small dogs such as terriers are very active—they require a great deal of exercise to be calm, and they often bark at any noise. On the other hand, some big dogs are laid back and quite content to lie on a couch all day. Before adopting a pet, do your research—surf the Internet, talk to pet-owning friends and neighbors, and use shelter staff as a resource. That way, you'll be more likely to choose an animal who fits your lifestyle and living arrangements.
- Will you be a responsible pet owner? Having your pet spayed or neutered, obeying community leash and licensing laws, and keeping identification tags on your pets are all part of being a responsible owner. Of course, giving your pet love, companionship, exercise, a healthy diet, and regular veterinary care are also essential.
- Do you know who will care for your pet while you're away on vacation? You'll need either reliable friends and neighbors or money to pay for a boarding kennel or pet-sitting service.
- Are you prepared to keep and care for your pet for the long haul? When you adopt, you are making a long-term commitment to care for an animal. That said, good people sometimes find themselves in unfortunate circumstances that prevent them from holding onto their pets. If this should happen, be prepared to take a proactive role in finding a new home for your animal companion.