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Adopt Your Next Family Pet

Millions of sheltered and rescued animals need homes. Here’s how to make the right choice and get off to a great start.

If you’re thinking about adding a pet to your family, area animal shelters and rescue agencies can help. Here are tips to consider before, during and after the adoption process.

Why Adopt?

Adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue agency is usually cheaper than purchasing an animal from a breeder or pet store. Shelters and rescue agencies generally charge $50-$250 for a dog or cat, including vaccinations and spaying or neutering.

Where To Adopt a Pet

Adopt a Pet lets you search by type of animal and your zip code, or search for the nearest shelters and agencies. 800-Save-A-Pet,

American Kennel Club maintains a directory of dog rescue groups, by breed.

ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) maintains a database of SPCA, humane society and animal control organization shelters, searchable by zip code.

Petfinder offers numerous articles on adoption and a directory of 13,000 participating adoption organizations and shelters, as well as a database of animals that need homes.



Additional Resources

Adopting a Rescue Dog: The First Seven Days From Shelter to Home
is a free guide that walks you through the first seven days of adopting a rescue dog. Created by dog fence-maker Dog Fence DIY.

The Human Society of the United States offers information on how to adopt and care for a pet, as well as a kids’ website.

Successful Dog Adoption by Sue Sternberg (Howell Book House, $16.99) is a one-stop guide to the adoption process. Whether or not you use its controversial “test,” the book provides a wealth of info.

Tips on Adopting a Dog - A Guide to the First Few Weeks from the Animal Match Rescue Team provides a concise adoption outline.

Adoption also saves animals’ lives. Some 4 million adoptable dogs and cats are euthanized each year because of overpopulation, according to Adopt a Pet. “This situation has worsened along with the economy as more families have abandoned their pets after losing jobs or even their homes,” says David Kupersmith, DVM, a veterinarian at Animal and Bird Health Care Center in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Many shelters and rescuers provide adoption counseling to help match you up with a pet for adoption.

Things to Consider

Before your family chooses a new pet, here are some factors to discuss.

Be sure everyone is ready for the commitment of feeding, exercising and cleaning up after your new family member.

Think about the type of pet. “If you’re going to be out of the house for 12 hours a day and won’t be able to take a dog outside, walk it and give it attention, consider a cat,” says Carmen Ronio, executive director of Montgomery County SPCA. “They don’t need as much care.”

“Don’t limit yourselves to only thinking about dogs and cats,” says Dr. Kupersmith. For households with very limited space, he suggests considering a bird, reptile, ferret, rabbit or guinea pig.

Consider an older animal. Puppies and kittens take more time and energy to train.

Research breeds online, at the library or by talking with a veterinarian or trainer. “Think about the qualities that are most important to you and find a breed that possesses those qualities,” says Laura Bergan, senior volunteer for Brookline Labrador Retriever Rescue, an agency that finds homes for Labrador retrievers throughout the area. She notes that not every animal possesses the expected qualities of its breed, “but it is a good place to start.”

Look at different shelters. The adoption website Petfinder advises, “The pet adoption experience at different types of shelters can be vastly different, so take the time to visit the home page of your local animal rescue groups to see which you might enjoy working with most.”

Selecting Your Pet

Once you choose a reputable shelter or rescue organization, here are a few suggestions and questions to ask.

Make sure the staff evaluates animals for health problems and aggression. “Ask if they have a full disclosure policy, meaning that anything they know about the dog will be disclosed to the adopter,” says Bergan. A good organization will also evaluate you to ensure that your family is a good match. Ask about their procedure in case the adoption doesn’t work out.'

Visit at the right time. If you’re looking to adopt a cat, shelters often have a bigger selection in spring and summer when cats have had their kittens.

Pay attention to how the animal behaves in the shelter. Kelly Catts, mother of three from Wilmington, DE, is housing a black Labrador retriever from Faithful Friends No-Kill Animal Shelter in Wilmington with plans to adopt it.

She says, “We saw some dogs we liked, but they didn’t get along with other dogs in the shelter and that made me worry about what would happen when my kids were walking the dog and they encountered another dog. Some dogs were more vocal and I didn’t want a dog yapping out in the yard all the time.”

“Don’t expect to find the right animal the first time you visit a shelter,” says Catts. “You’ll know when you’ve found the right animal for you. We still made numerous visits to the shelter to interact with the dog and make sure it was going to work out with the kids.”

The First Days Home

Once you’ve selected your pet, visit a veterinarian for an initial check-up. Bring any health records you received from the shelter or rescue organization. Here are other suggestions for a happy arrival.

Limit your new pet  to one or two rooms at first to help it feel comfortable in its new territory, then slowly expand its space.

Make your home safe. Particularly if you are adopting a puppy or kitten, Dr. Kupersmith advises, “Cords must be out of reach so they are not chewed. Toys and other small objects must be put away to avoid a choking or gastrointestinal issue. Cleaners and other potential toxins, including medicines, must be stored.”

Show a new cat where the litter box is. Even if a new dog isn’t a puppy, take it outside frequently.

Though you might be tempted to show off your new pet, limit the animal’s contact outside the family for the first week, allowing it to get to know you and feel safe and comfortable with your family first, advises Bergan. '

“Like children, animals do best with a familiar routine,” says Dr. Kupersmith. Feed the animal at the same time each day, and if you’ve adopted a dog, take it out at the same times each day and walk it regularly.

“Use lots of positive reinforcement and look into local trainers,” says Bergan. “Get the whole family involved in training. It’s important for the new dog to respect the little ones in the home and involving them in training is a great, fun way to do that.”

Susan Stopper is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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