Adopting a Pet
May 1, 2010

Have I mentioned lately that Comet was adopted from the MSPCA? Well, she was. Almost ten years ago, I was asked to take Comet home for Thanksgiving dinner to get her out of the adoption center for a bit. She had been in the shelter for quite a while and was beginning to show some signs of stress (like being VERY vocal). She was about a year and a half years old, very thin, and had recently had a litter of puppies (most likely not her first). The adoption center had named her “Baby” because she acted a bit like a baby, I suppose—she was very needy and small. I said that I would surely take her home for a couple of days because I knew I could never keep such a loud, obnoxious dog.


Comet got into my car that cold November day and has never uttered more than two woofs in the past ten years. Honestly, she has been a gem---a model dog since the beginning (Ok--other than the time she dug a hole in my car seat). We all know she has gone on to do wonderful things and has had a fabulous life. She is a great dog. And do you know what? There are many great animals waiting for homes at your local animal shelter.


The MSPCA sees thousands and thousands of animals each year come into its shelters. Sure we care for dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, ferrets, rats, and other small animals. But we also care for farm animals, as well, like horses, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens.  Almost always, animals are brought to the shelter due to no fault of their own; they’re just down on their luck. Each animal has a story. Some animals are surrendered because people can’t take them where they are moving; others are brought in because their guardian is ill or has died. Some animals are expensive to care for, like horses or animals needing medical attention, so in a challenging economy, animals are dropped off more often because they cost too much. Some people don’t properly train their pets and bring them to the shelter with fixable behavioral problems. Animals who are strays often end up at the shelter, as well. And sadly, some people simply tire of their pets and drop them off at the shelter when they are “done” with them.


But animals shouldn’t be viewed as disposable. They aren’t toys that we can tire of or old cars that we can drive to the junkyard. Pets are thinking, feeling, living beings. People who are thinking about acquiring a pet need to carefully consider all of the responsibilities and commitments before making a decision. And that goes for all family members living at home: everyone should be involved. There will be daily care routines to manage, like feeding, walking, playing with, and grooming your pet. Plus, you’ll need to take him or her to regularly scheduled veterinary appointments. What your family does during vacations should also be discussed; will you be bringing your pet where you go or will you look for a reputable pet sitter or boarding facility? Will your family willingly care for your pet when you leave home and go off to college or work? Caring for a pet should be for the long haul—the entire lifetime of your pet.


Once your family has decided to get a pet, think about your local animal adoption center (or shelter).  There are so many deserving animals waiting for second chances to find their forever homes.  Lots of animals there have had some kind of training, whether basic commands or housetraining, and others will need to be re-trained. A good number have already been spayed or neutered and, if not, have reduced fee services available for those families needing it; after all, combating pet-overpopulation is something we can all do! There are young animals and older ones, too—all with their own reasons to consider adoption. Some animals are already used to spending quiet time alone, while others need much more attention and activity.


If you’re hooked on a purebred dog, you should know that a good percentage of dogs in shelters are actually purebreds. So, I ask you to visit the shelter with an open mind. Yes, you should have an idea as to the size pet you are looking for, and perhaps the coat length and type if allergies are an issue. However, I promise you that there will be good options at the shelter that may not be exactly what you had in mind. For example, I grew up with little fancy, fluffy dogs, yet all of my shelter dogs have been medium-sized pit bull mixes with much better temperaments than those little fluff-balls of my youth. Give yourself time to look. Animals are always coming in and out of the adoption center, so plan on making more than one trip until you find the perfect match. If you’re still stuck on a particular breed that you can’t find, I encourage you to research breed specific rescue groups (of which there are plenty).


Adopting from an animal shelter will not only help needy animals looking for a new home, but it also helps put puppy mills out of business.  Puppy mills are businesses that breed dogs using very inhumane methods. They keep breeding dogs in small wire cages their entire lives, living unnaturally and without comfort, companionship, or good health. They use dogs as if they were breeding-machines, only to get as many puppies as possible without regard to the health and well-being of the animals. Puppy mills supply dogs to many pet stores, so when a pet is purchased, it is as if we are saying thanks to puppy mills, which is something none of us wants to do.


There are lots of things to consider when deciding to adopt a pet. Your local animal adoption center has counselors who can help you find your ideal pet. After all, they want to see each animal find his or her perfect home as much as you want to find your newest family member.


Three things you can do: 


Discuss all the pros and cons of acquiring a pet with your family.  Try to brainstorm all that a pet will need to be happy and healthy for her whole life.  Make sure that you are honest with yourself and others about your level of commitment.


Research the type of pet that you are considering.  Many pets end up at shelters because people didn't do their homework.  Certain types of dogs, for instance, require lots of exercise.  If you are looking for a quiet lap dog, a Border Collie will be a poor choice.  If you like ferrets, keep in mind that they have periods of rest as well as high activity.  If you have severe rabbit allergies, you might not do well with a cat, either, because often those with rabbit allergies are also allergic to cats.  Read and talk with others who have experience with the type of pet you are considering.


Support your local animal adoption center. The people there are doing their best to make the world better for animals. If you decide to acquire a pet, consider adoption. If you decide not to get a pet right now, visit the shelter and bond with some animals. If you are old enough, consider volunteering. There is always much to do at an animal shelter.


Check out the great many books on animal adoption at your local library or bookseller.  Also, see these articles and websites:


MSPCA Large Animal Adoption 


MSPCA Small Animal Adoption 


Animal Planet