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Adopting a Pet: Choose Wisely

Updated on June 30, 2021
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Liz loves animals. Seeing them ill, hurt, or killed breaks her heart. She advocates for "adopt, don't shop" and TNR programs for feral cats.

Why Adopt?

Every animal rescued from a shelter, or even off the street is a good thing, and if you are the one who did the adopting or rescuing, that's a feather in your cap, and my hat is off to you!

There are, however, many things to carefully consider before you bring a pet home, especially if it is a very-first-pet.

I want you aware, so that you will not be disappointed or discouraged. I want the animal to have a forever home, and not be a shelter yo-yo.

Sometimes, the Animal Chooses You, And Not the Other Way Around

Our "Jigsaw Puzzle" chose us--he came to us wounded, and asking for help
Our "Jigsaw Puzzle" chose us--he came to us wounded, and asking for help

First, Be Sure You Really Want a Pet

There is nothing, but nothing worse than the sight of row upon row of barking dogs and sad cats in cages at animal shelters, waiting to be either adopted or far worse, killed for no better reason than lack of space to house them.

So, before you go out and invite a pet into your home, be sure and take all of the needs of that animal into consideration. This means not only the day you bring them home, but also all of their food, veterinary care, shelter and exercise for the rest of their lives!

You do not want to be among those surrendering your pet to the woes of shelter life simply because you failed to plan ahead or anticipate the needs and yes, expense, of having a companion animal.

Nothing is more rewarding than a furry hello after a bad day at work; nothing will cheer you up or comfort you better than a lap full of a non judgemental friend when you are sad. Nothing beats the shared warmth on a cold winter's night.

But you must be prepared for the responsibilities as well as the rewards. As with all else in life, there are two sides to everything. Adopting an animal is a lifetime commitment.

You are agreeing to care for that animal for the rest of its natural life. It is no less a responsibility than adopting a child. You don't toss them aside because they become inconvenient, expensive, or misbehave.

Do Not Rush Into the Selection

First and foremost, don't let yourselves be swayed by your childrens' pleas to have a cute kitty or puppy or bunny. This is not a decision for children. Things to consider first are the ages of your kids, and how many you have.

Research the animals and breeds within species that interest you. If you have 3 or 4 or 5 young children running around, a small, easily excitable dog such as a Chihuahua might not be the best choice--not to mention danger to the animal from well-meaning kids being too rough with a small and delicately-framed dog. This is a family where a larger, more placid dog would be a better choice.

Likewise for cats. In most cases, adult cats don't care for a lot of wild running around, unless it is themselves doing the running. Therefore, with younger kids, a kitten is a better choice, for they love to play. But again, care must be taken that the youngsters are at least old enough to understand to be gentle with kitty, for kittens are delicate, and can be harmed by over-eager hugs.

Rescued From a Family Who Could Not Keep Her

Delila was a rescued dog, from a family who moved to a 'no pets' place
Delila was a rescued dog, from a family who moved to a 'no pets' place

The Animal is YOURS, Not the Kid's!

Too many parents get an animal "for the children" to "teach them responsibility." This scenario has "Bad idea" written all over it. Like it or not, you will be the one doing the shopping for supplies, feeding, picking up the waste, driving to the vet for vaccinations and checkups.

Small children cannot be expected to help or take much responsibility beyond taking a food bowl from your hands to set on the floor; if they happen to be in the area at feeding time. They may once in a while like to brush the animal, but don't expect them to take it on as a regular chore.

Older children can (and should) accept more responsibility, and should be encouraged to help, especially if they were the ones adding any pressure to the decision (although as I mentioned, you should not give in to this tactic).

Beautiful, Fluffy Kitten; Beware Those Soulful Eyes!

We were fostering Little Miss Fuzz for our local rescue group but she stole our hearts, and  stayed with us, becoming what is known as a "foster failure"
We were fostering Little Miss Fuzz for our local rescue group but she stole our hearts, and stayed with us, becoming what is known as a "foster failure" | Source

Those Sweet, Soulful Eyes!

Who has not felt their heart melt looking into the depths of the sweet, innocent eyes of a puppy or kitten? None but the most hard-hearted and inhumane among the population.

Don't let those trickster's eyes deceive you. That adorable puppy or kitten will grow up. If they are treated well, they will be a wonderful friend and just as sweet. However, just as with human babies, that "sweet baby" appearance will go away and morph into the adult form. They will be just as lovable, and beautiful as ever in the eyes of those who love them back.

I know this is a perfectly obvious thing--the trouble is, many people fall for that 'cuteness,' and then don't want the animal anymore when it grows up. This is a terrible thing--don't kid yourselves for a moment...animals feel pain, including emotional pain. Just like us, they get scared, feel lonely, and suffer stress when their familiar routine is disrupted and their surroundings suddenly change.

So again, be sure that you are willing to make that life-long commitment.

Take Some Time To Get Acquainted

When you go to meet your potential new friend, bring all the family members with you. By all means, take time to visit with the prospective pet in any 'get acquainted' area provided by the shelter or rescue organization. And by 'take time,' I mean take time. This is not something to be rushed in 5 minutes. Spend at least half an hour or an hour.

Observe the animal. Notice its interactions and reactions to all the family members. If there appears to be a conflict, or fear on either side, this is not the pet for you.

It may take several attempts, several searches, several meetings with various animals. Considering that this will be a comittment of several years' standing, the first stages must not be rushed.

Adopt, don't shop! Save a life!

Be Prepared

Once you have finished the process of deciding what kind of pet you want, and before you go looking is the time to shop for basic supplies. You will need at a minimum:

  • food and water bowls
  • harness and leash (primarily for dogs, but cats can also learn to walk on a leash)
  • bedding
  • toys
  • grooming supplies, including a brush and nail trimmers
  • a litter pan and litter for cats

You need all these things first! On the way home with an already nervous animal in the car is not the time to stop off and go shopping for the supplies!

In any case, it is very dangerous to the animal to leave it locked up in the car. Every year, many animals are killed by heat stroke. It does not take long for the inside temperature in a car to reach to 120° Fahrenheit, even on a cool day.

Cracking the window open does not help. Leaving the window all the way down is asking for trouble in so many ways--from the pet escaping or being stolen, to your entire car and contents being stolen.

Not one of those scenarious would be a good beginning for your new friend--so please--shop for all the supplies before you go to pick out your pet.

Be Sure of the Reputation

There are many irresponsible and even some illegal sources of companion animals. It pays to be very careful where you choose and adopt your pet.

I would be very wary of Craigslist or other online ads. While they may be legitimate listings, these ads are also often a 'dumping ground' for stolen animals.

If you are adopting from a shelter, inspect their facility--is it clean and as odor-free as possible, given the hundreds of animals that pass through, or does it have filth caked halfway up the walls and have a strong enough smell to gag you? In the first case, go ahead and check out their animals. If the second case is true however, run, don't walk, far away.

If you must insist on a purebred pet, ask at your local shelter. It is not true that there are never purebreds at shelters. Many are surrendered each year.

If you must buy from a breeder, check the their reputation and ask for references. If the person does not want you to see their facility, that is a huge red flag. Run away!

Local specialty rescue groups are a better option than breeders for a loyal family pet, if you must have a purebred. They are acting out of genuine love and concern for the animals.

Avoid pet stores at all costs! These animals are bred in puppy and kitten "mills" without real concern for the animals; their main goal is to make a quick buck on rapid turnaround. The females are frequently malnourished and simply used as breeding machines until they are worn out.


Since this article was originally written, California has passed a law that dogs, cats, and rabbits offered for sale in pet stores MUST come from shelters and rescue organizations, and not from breeders or kitten/puppy mills.

While I applaud this, it is nonetheless regrettable that, although the law was signed on October 13th, 2017, it is not set to become effective until January of 2019!

California is the first state to pass such a law, and it is a huge step in getting rid of these abusive "pet factories." I only hope other states soon follow suit.

© 2012 Liz Elias


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