Sometimes a needy pet surprises
you and steals your heart!
My first dog, Lyger, became mine when I nearly hit him with my car in the middle of a thunderstorm, making him the first in a series of pets that have found me - whether I was looking for them or not. If you don’t seem to have this animal magnetism, you have the benefit of searching out the pet that best suits your home and lifestyle. Having a choice in the matter and selecting a pet for its personality, needs and demeanor are huge advantages when it comes to making the lifelong commitment.
Jogging partner or snuggle buddy?
And I do mean lifelong--so, first off: consider the life-expectancy of the pet you’re looking at. Dog’s life spans vary between 7-18 years, cats longer still. When I worked in the local shelter, I saw a 12-year-old Shepherd adopted by a middle aged man who said he just wanted a dog to pal around with until his teenagers went off to college. He was looking for a short term commitment. Think forward to what your situation might look like down the road before selecting a pet. Do you plan to move, have kids, retire, travel? What will that mean for the pet you’re bringing into your world?
Once you’ve considered what sort of role you want your pet to play in your life, it’s time to start narrowing down the characteristics you want in a companion. If you’re the freewheeling type that wants to hike and camp with your pet, seek out a pet that is sturdy and adaptable. If small kids will be in the picture, calm, even-tempered pets are ideal. Sometimes your future cat or dog will need to be the best of both worlds, so prioritize the characteristics that are most important for your home. Factor energy level, trainability, grooming needs, and temperament into your dream pet, and make a list of traits that are deal breakers.
Going the Rescue Route
If you already have a soft spot for the type of cat or dog you grew up with, you might be drawn to that breed. Don’t let your nostalgia keep you from rescuing the Retriever or Poodle you’ve always wanted. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 1 in 4 shelter pets are purebred, including kittens and puppies. There are also breed rescues for every breed imaginable, including rare dogs and hybrids. Don’t feel forced to go the breeder route, even if these things are important to you.
And don’t be afraid to talk to the shelter workers at your local humane society or rescue group, let them know what sorts of characteristics you’re looking for, or what sorts of hobbies you enjoy. While temperament is almost impossible to gauge through a kennel door, chances are someone has gotten to know that animal one-on-one. Someone might know that the lunging dog in cage 64 is a really mellow snuggle-bug when he hangs out in the offices during lunch breaks. Be open to suggestions on which pets to meet one-on-one and chances are you’ll get introduced to the staff favorites.
Some potential adopters think that rescue groups are desperate to find homes, but be prepared: most rescue groups have adoption requirements or a screening process. Some groups have specific guidelines for specific breeds, say, six-foot fence requirements for large, high energy dogs. When it comes to a particular animal, a rescue or foster program might require that he or she be an “only pet” or not placed with children, for the safety of all creatures involved. You might even be asked to give a vet referral or allow a home visit. Ultimately, it’s important to talk with the adoption counselor about what is expected of you, and what is expected of the animal, so that everyone can be set up for success.
Test run on a trial basis
You may want to consider fostering a pet or two before you make a final selection. Most local rescues are starving for temporary homes to take in cats or dogs awaiting a forever home. You might foster a pet and decide that one is not for you, but will gain a sense of what you’re really looking for. But, if the fit is right you might end up like so many “foster failures” - keeping your “trial” pet. It’s a great way to help homeless pets and seek out your new BFF in the process.
Sure, there are dozens of practical considerations when seeking out a new pet. Sometimes we find them via a friend’s social media post, while other matches are made while volunteering at the shelter. I’ve been fostering and caretaking for homeless animals for years, and people always ask how I can manage not to take them all home. I tell people that, ultimately, it’s a gut feeling, not unlike goosebumps, that will tell you when you’ve found “the one.”
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