Adoption is a big deal. It’s a commitment to offer your love, your personal space, your time, and your daily attention, for life. It’s a willingness to become educated about the latest dog and cat research because most of what we understood as truths when we had pets as kids are now debunked old wives tales and myths. Offering up your home as a forever home is a decision you shouldn’t take lightly. It requires a budget for regular vet visits, an investment in training, and a willingness to invest in a nutritionally sound diet (because not all dog and cat foods are created equal). Most of all, it means carving out the time to understand and meet the specific needs of your new fur-baby, whether because of their breed, their personality, their life experiences, or their preferences.
Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. If you see guardianship as a responsibility, and you want to give a dog or cat a loving home (which is more than the impulse to have something fuzzy and cute to cuddle and play with), then you are far ahead of the average adoptive parent. For many, the toughest part is deciding which animal has the makings for the best companion. It’s hard to know what their personality will be like and whether they’ll really fit in with your family when you only get to see them in a holding and maybe play for a bit. Here are some of the top tips we should all consider when choosing to add a new cat- or -canine companion to our homes and families.
“Know what type of dog you and your family can handle before you go in.” - advice from the Director of Dog Training at the Humane Society of New York, William Berloni
What to do when adopting a dog:
- We should all research dog breeds ahead of time and have an idea of the types of breeds that will be a good match for our home, lifestyle, and family. Some breeds naturally need to sleep more throughout the day, a good match for someone with a busy work life. Some dog breeds are more patient and will be a better match for family life or people new to guardianship. Those of us with a small home shouldn’t go for a big dog.
- We should be realistic about our needs and whether we can provide a good home for the right dog. Then we need to commit to finding the right dog. For those of us who tend to move around a lot, we may want to consider a small dog that is clearly not on the average city or apartment rental banned dog breed list. Many rentals don’t allow dogs at all and the ones that do often have limitations on size and the breeds that are allowed.
- We should keep an open mind. Finding the right dog is important, but there are many dogs who spend much longer in the shelter because they tend to be overlooked. Dogs who have been abused, malnourished, or are scared by the shelter environment are often passed up because people can’t imagine what they would look like as a healthy, well-adjusted dog with some training and a healthy relationship. Black dogs are often ignored because lighter dogs are more flashy and photogenic. And old dogs tend to be overlooked because many guardians want the cuteness factor of a puppy or energetic dog. We shouldn’t forget that disaster victims are among the largest shelter populations in areas affected by hurricanes and sweeping fires or floods. Those of us open to it might consider shopping in distant shelters as well as local.
- We should consult the experts. More perspectives can be confusing, but can also be enlightening. We can ask the shelter staff about the dogs because they are handling them throughout the day. We can bring our trainer with us because he or she will have expert insight into behaviors and body language that we might miss. And of course, we should bring family and household members with us to make sure everybody gets along and can learn about the each dog’s potential needs.
- We should use dog-friendly body language. Eye contact can be a sign of aggression that might scare a dog who is already feeling fearful and uncertain. When we are meeting a new dog, we should avoid direct eye contact, keep hands to ourselves, and just sit quietly with them to give them time to get used to us. When they approach, we should go at their pace. The same goes for introducing them to their new home. Give them some safe places, and time to get to know the new environment. Even dogs who jump in and explore will sometimes begin to feel homesick or uncertain a few days later. We can help them adjust by being loving and inviting, but also giving them plenty of space to establish routines and learn.
What not to do when adopting a dog:
- We should not support a legacy of ongoing abuse by buying from pet stores. These puppies typically come from puppy mills where they have been mistreated. Plus, the living conditions of their mothers are horrendous, and they’ll be discarded when they can no longer breed. There are plenty of dogs living in shelters by adopting them, we support dogs in need rather than supporting an abusive system of dogs bred for profit.
- We should not adopt during a grieving period, immediately following the death of a pet or loved one. Bringing a dog into a home that is in mourning is a poor environment to adopt them into. It also often means we will still be in the routines of our old life and haven’t taken the time to create a routine and lifestyle that a new dog with different needs will fit into.
- We should not think a dog will show their true colors immediately or even within a few days. Many dogs take time to sink into their environment and routines. We can create a space where we all get to know each other and feel comfortable. If bad behaviors begin to show themselves, immediately bring in a trainer and understand that bad behavior is often a sign that needs are not being adequately met, not a sign that we have an impossible dog on our hands.
Adoption is a beautiful way to share our lives with someone special. And while guardianship carries heavy responsibilities, it is also one of the more rewarding experiences of many people’s lives.
Have you recently adopted a new dog? Share your story in the comments below, or head to Instagram or Facebook and send us your pics! Be sure to use #vetorganics or tag @vet_organics on Instagram and @vetorganics on Facebook