When you’re ready for a dog or cat to come into your life, you want him now, right?
You look online or go to the shelter, walk through once or twice, and, hey, that one in the third cage to the right looks like what you had in mind. But is he really the right choice?
Adoption counselors and volunteers at shelters and rescue groups say people don’t ask enough questions about the pets they’re interested in, leading to mismatches in personality and lifestyle.
“I do Abyssinian rescue,” says Linda Kay Hardie of Reno, Nevada. “Some people are attracted to the beautiful looks of the Aby, but they don’t realize the high activity level and intelligence of the cat. One of my Abys came to me after he was returned to the breeder by someone who didn’t know that Abys are high energy and need a lot of attention.”
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Ask about health needs, especially if you are interested in a particular breed. Veterinary care isn’t one-size-fits-all. Nicole Morrison of Houston, who was rescue coordinator for her local cavalier King Charles spaniel club, says cavaliers, for instance, need regular teeth brushing and dental cleanings, as well as weight control to prevent obesity. A breed rescue coordinator should be able to fill you in on specific needs of the breed and an individual dog or cat.
Think about your lifestyle and how you enjoy spending time with a dog or cat. More important, ask what the animal you’re considering likes to do and whether that matches your activity level and what you’re looking for in a companion animal.
Common questions potential adopters ask include “Is she housetrained?” “How much does he shed?” “Is she a lap cat?”
Those are good questions, but be aware that appropriate house manners or desired behaviors such as lap sitting may not appear until the pet is comfortable in new surroundings.
Maryanne Dell, one of the founders of Shamrock Rescue Foundation in Orange County, says even well-trained animals may have accidents in a new home because environmental changes can be upsetting. It’s important to give them time to settle in and ensure that they don’t have opportunities to make mistakes.
“Many rescue pets have been turned over by their owners because they are old or have medical or behavioral issues,” Dell says. “Others are saved from kill shelters by rescues for the same reasons.
“A good rescue will disclose any and all of the issues that might affect an animal and how he may act in the new home.”
Former shelter adoption counselor Sharon Melnyk of Berkeley suggests some more in-depth questions to ask:
▪ Is this animal well-socialized or accustomed to interacting with people?
▪ How does this animal react to children?
▪ Does this animal get along with other cats or dogs?
▪ Are there any dogs or cats I should consider who haven’t caught my attention?
Consider behavior and personality, not just looks. Melnyk says it can be heartbreaking to see sometimes shy or reserved cats pawing at people as if trying to get their attention, only to be ignored. Even if a particular animal isn’t what you had in mind, give him a look. You may find a friend for life.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.