By Kim Gilliam
If you are looking to add a four-legged family member, this is a great time to do so – August is “Clear the Shelters” month. There are many great reasons to consider adopting a pet, and with more than 6 million cats and dogs entering shelters each year and not enough room to house them all, you are saving a life.
The shelter has a wide variety of pets, so you can find the one that fits your unique personality. Plus, you know your rescue animal will be spayed or neutered, up to date on all vaccinations, microchipped and, as an added bonus, often house-trained.
Don’t forget the health benefits of adopting a new friend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a pet decreases your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of anxiety or loneliness while increasing your opportunities for exercise and socialization.
But you may be hesitant about getting a shelter pet based on what you’ve heard.
Let’s address some of the most common misconceptions.
You can’t find the animal you want at the shelter
While it’s true that many animals in the shelter are mixed breeds, shelters also end up with purebred dogs and cats when people who purchased the animals can’t take care of them. According to “Found Animals,” 25 percent of pets in U.S. shelters are purebred dogs and cats.
Some shelters have waiting lists for specific breeds, and breed-specific rescue organizations can help you find what you’re looking for. Keep in mind shelters also have rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles and even birds for adoption.
You don’t really know what you are getting
Actually, shelters may be able to provide more information than a breeder or pet
store, especially if the pet has stayed in a foster home where they’ve had a chance to show their personality. In contrast, pet store owners rarely have an idea of what a pet will be like in a home.
Ask the staff if the pet was an owner surrender; if so, ask what the former owner said about them. Also ask about the health and behavioral evaluations the pet has gone through since arriving at the shelter. The staff work hard to observe each animal’s behavior and temperament and can tell you which food, treats and toys each animal prefers. Shelter employees are also well-informed on the animal’s medical status and any special needs.
Shelter pets are more difficult to train
This is certainly not a universal truth. While some shelter animals may have been
neglected or abused by their previous owners and have behavioral issues as a result, every pet needs proper training, so the process won’t likely become more difficult with a shelter pet.
Only “bad” pets end up at the shelter
The biggest reasons pets are given up include: housing that doesn’t allow pets (7 percent dogs, 8 percent cats); allergies (8 percent cats); owner’s personal problems (4 percent dogs and cats); too many pets or no room for littermates (7 percent dogs, 17 percent cats); owner can’t afford them (5 percent dogs, 6 percent cats); and owner no longer has time for them (4 percent dogs). These reasons have nothing to do with the pets themselves, who are often just as lovable as pets you can obtain anywhere else.
Once you’ve made the decision to adopt, it’s time to get your home ready for the newest family member by getting the necessary supplies. Some of the major supplies include a leash, collar and harness; crate; training pads or litter box; ID tags; pet bed; food; treats and toys.
You can also prepare pets you already have by doing a meet-and-greet at the shelter, bringing home a blanket with the new pet’s scent on it or doing a slow introduction. Be sure to get all family members and roommates on-board and ready to help take care of the new pet, whether it is playing, exercising or cleaning up after them.
Kim Gilliam owns Alexandria’s Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.