You see a cute, tiger-striped kitten with white paws and green eyes, just begging for your attention. Or maybe it’s a gorgeous, tail-wagging Labrador mix. You take one look and the next thing you know, you’re walking down the pet food aisle at the local supermarket.
If you are like most of us, falling in love with a pet is easy. And no wonder! Sharing your home with a four-legged friend can be one of life’s greatest joys. Dogs, cats, and other pets give us unconditional loyalty and acceptance, provide constant companionship, and help relieve stress after a hard day’s work.
However, adopting a pet is a big decision. Dogs and cats are living beings who require lots of time, money, and commitment — over 15 years in many cases. Pet ownership can be rewarding, but only if you think through your decision before you adopt a companion.
The fact that you are thinking about adopting a pet from an animal shelter means you are a responsible and caring person. But before you make that final decision to bring a furry friend into your life, here are some questions to ask yourself.
Why do you want a pet?
It’s amazing how many people fail to ask themselves this simple question before they get a pet. Adopting a pet just because it is "the thing to do" or because the kids have been pining for a puppy usually ends up being a big mistake. Don’t forget that pets may be with you 10, 15, even 20 years.
Do you have time for a pet?
Dogs, cats, and other animal companions cannot be ignored when you are tired or busy. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day of every year. Many animals in adoption centers are there because their owners did not realize how much time it took to properly care for them.
Can you afford a pet?
The monetary costs of pet ownership can be quite high. Licenses, training classes, spaying and neutering, veterinary care, grooming, toys, kitty litter, and other expenses add up quickly. Click here for a breakdown of the average annual costs of owning a cat or dog.
Can you have a pet where you live?
Many rental communities do not allow pets and many others have restrictions. Make sure you know the rules before you bring a companion animal home.
Is it a good time for you to adopt a pet?
If you have children under six years old, you might consider waiting a few years before you adopt a companion. Problem-free pet ownership requires children who are mature enough to be responsible. If you are a student, in the military, or travel frequently as part of your work, waiting until you settle down is a wise choice.
Are your living arrangements suitable for the pet you'd like?
Adopting an energetic dog to share your small apartment, for example, is not a good idea — he likely will not have enough space to move around in, and giving him enough exercise will require quite a bit of activity on your part. Choose an animal who will be comfortable in your surroundings.
Will you be a responsible pet owner?
Having your pet spayed or neutered, obeying community leash and licensing laws, and keeping identification tags on your pets are all part of being a responsible pet owner. Of course, giving your pet love, companionship, exercise, a healthy diet, and regular veterinary care are other essentials. When you adopt a pet, you are making a commitment to care for the animal for his or her lifetime.
Do you know who will care for your pet while you are away on vacation?
You will need either reliable friends and neighbors, or money to pay for a boarding kennel or pet-sitting service.
Are you prepared to deal with special problems that only a pet can cause?
Flea infestations, scratched-up furniture, accidents from animals who are not yet housebroken, and unexpected medical emergencies are unfortunate but common aspects of pet ownership. Are you prepared to deal with these kinds of issues?
Finally, are you prepared to keep and care for the pet for his or her entire lifetime? Sure, it’s a long list of questions. But a quick stroll through the adoption center will help you understand why answering them before you adopt a pet is so important.
Many of the adoption center's homeless animals were obtained by people who did not think through the responsibilities of pet ownership before they got a pet.
Please, do not make the same mistake. Think before you adopt. Sharing your life with a companion animal can bring incredible rewards, but only if you are willing to make the necessary commitments of time, money, responsibility, and love — for the life of the pet.