Adopting a pet

We get set in our ways as we age, and that’s true of social movements, not just people. Things that worked in the past tend to be repeated, even if times change and new strategies are required to achieve the same goals. I see a lot of old thinking when it comes to pet adoptions, especially with regard to the “never adopt when/if …” rules that were well-meaning for their time but need to be examined against what we know now about how to get pets from the cages of a shelter to the couches of people who will love them for life.

I’ve written about these before, about troublesome old chestnuts such as never allowing the adoption of black cats near Halloween, or never arranging an adoption as a gift. The nearer we get to Christmas, the more “never adopt” rules I’ll see about the holidays, and I disagree with these blanket condemnations as well.

Never Say Never

The key here is “blanket condemnations.”

Every pet deserves a good home, but too many shelters and rescue groups insist on prejudging potential adopters. That’s not only unfair to the adopters, but it’s really sad for the homeless pets who may be missing out on the perfect home just because sensible adoption guidelines somehow become iron-clad rules. Yes, we all want what’s best for homeless pets, and yes, shelters and rescue groups do need to make the welfare of their animals a priority. But for every rule, I can think of an exception, and a little flexibility can mean a home for life for an animal who may be running out of options.

But What Should Adopters Consider?

Even as I encourage shelters and rescue groups to consider potential adopters as individuals, I think it’s just as important for people looking to adopt to be realistic and responsible. Which is why I encourage people who want a pet to listen to their head as well as their heart before they run to their local shelter or start cruising the listings on Petfinder. Specifically, here are five questions to ask yourself before considering adoption.Can I afford a pet right now? It is important that you have the financial means to provide a pet with proper care, including high-quality food and both preventive and sick-pet veterinary care. While there are many good ways to cut corners without shortchanging your pet, and great choices in pet health insurance to remove some economic uncertainty, there are still rock-bottom needs that must be covered.

Have I realistically considered the kind of pet that fits my family? You may love dogs, but your lifestyle may be better suited to a cat. While it’s not true that cats care for themselves — in fact, they frequently get short shrift when it comes to veterinary care — they are much more tolerant of days alone when the family’s at work or school. Take a close look at your schedule before you decide what kind of pet is best for you and your family.

Am I prepared to raise a kitten or puppy? The appeal of puppies and kittens is hard to resist, but the time and expense involved in the first year of a cat or dog’s life is considerable. And if you don’t put in the time, you may have behavior problems for life. For many people, an adult pet is a better option. If you must have a puppy or kitten, you may have to wait until you can provide everything the youngster needs.

Am I willing to take advice? You need to be prepared to listen to what the rescue group or shelter says when they’re trying to match you to the best pet. Good shelters have behaviorists and other experienced pet care experts working with the animals to know them better, and they offer adoption counseling to help make a good match. Rescue groups usually have foster homes, with their adoptable animals living in family situations that help to guide placement decisions. Respect the knowledge and experience of these groups, and if you’re refused adoption of one pet because it’s not a good match, don’t take it personally. Let them help you find a pet who will fit in.

Is this the best time for me to get a pet? If everything else is go, is the timing right to adopt? No matter how perfect the match, you need to get the relationship off on the right paw. That means time. I like to encourage people to take a little vacation time to set up routines and introductions. Yes, I know: You’d rather use that time for vacation. But honestly, isn’t an investment of a few days worth it for a relationship that needs to last a pet’s lifetime?

Listen to Your Heart, At Last

If you really are ready, then go! Your head has ruled that your heart can be open to the wonderful possibilities of your new best friend. So go find a good shelter or rescue group and get that pet.