No family is complete without a dog. If that saying were true, shelters would be out of business or at least fewer dogs would be vying for limited space available in shelters. For the next month, you’ll be hearing a lot about adopting a dog because October is Adopt-A-Shelter Dog month. While I believe that adoption is a great option, adding a dog to the family isn’t a good move for everyone.
Each year, animal controls are overflowing with unwanted pets. An estimated five in 10 dogs left in shelters and animal controls don’t make it out alive…that’s the ultimate price to pay for jumping the gun too soon to add a dog to the family. Before you run out and adopt a shelter dog, take the time to figure out if the timing is right and to consider what type and age of dog may be a good fit. Here are some other tips to consider before you make that commitment to adopt a shelter dog.
Timing is everything – If you’re traveling a lot or working long hours, figure out if you have the time to devote to a dog. Dogs need training and companionship to thrive. Dog walking services and doggy day care help, but you still need to have enough quality time with your new pet.
Manage your expectations – Figure out in advance what your non-negotiable issues may be. If you don’t like barking dogs or don’t want a high-energy dog, you should be up front with a rescue and they’ll find a better fit. Also, consider your own energy and commitment level. Do you want to spend a lot of time training your dog or do you want a work out partner? That could help you determine age and energy level as well.
Do the math – There is more to the cost of a dog than an adoption fee. Figure out the upfront costs like a crate, collar and leash, bedding and other gear you’ll need to start. Check costs for your local vet so that you can also fit an annual physical into your budget. Dog training, grooming and doggy daycare or a dog walker should also be considered. Also, consider pet insurance to help you cover the costs for pet emergencies because unexpected accidents, injuries and illnesses happen with pets too.
Take steps to see if a dog is the right pet for you - Many organizations need foster homes and fostering a new puppy or adult dog is a good way to find out how a dog fits into your lifestyle without it being a permanent commitment. You can also pet sit in your home or at a friend's home to see what it’s like to live with a dog for an extended period of time. Shelters and rescues also need volunteers to help with dogs. Volunteering is a good way to learn more about dogs and the type of fit that may be best for you.
Think about the time commitment in years - Many dogs will live from 12-15-years-old. Before you get a dog, think where that dog will fit in your life with future life changes like marriage, kids, moves and career changes. If you don’t want to commit to a pet for that length of time, consider adopting an older dog or waiting until you have a better perspective on what your life may be like in the long term.
Research the breed – Many people think they want a lab or another breed without understanding true breed traits. You can research online but the best place to learn about a breed is through breed rescues and breed meet-up groups. Those organizations will be able to tell you what they love about their breed and what breed specific issues are the reason behind why their breeds end up in rescues.
Where to find a dog – Do not purchase from pet stores (unless they are adopting out rescues like Dog Patch in Naperville) or online pet sellers– these dogs come from puppy mills. There are a variety of shelters and rescues that cater to a wide range of animals. Check them out on Petfinder, Adopt-A-Pet or Petango and then talk to the people at the rescue. Find out how long animals are in isolation after being rescued, have they been vetted, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, have they spent time in foster home and have they socialized with volunteers so you know more about their behavior. A good rescue also requires that you return a pet to them if the adoption isn't a good fit.
Make it a family project – Some animals handle commotion and kids better than others. If your whole family meets a prospective pet, it will be easier to determine which animals react best around your family before you seal the deal. Share some of the information you’ve determined from this checklist with the adoption counselors at the shelter and rescue. They are trained to help families make selections that fit best with their lifestyle.
Before adding any pet to your family, read
- Five Minutes to Heartbreak
- The Dangers of Rehoming on Craigslist
- 7 Ways to keep more senior pets out of shelters
- Chicago programs to keep pets and their families together
Writer's note: If you are a regular reader of this blog you'll know that it's all about adopting a pet - dog, cat, rabbit, etc - from shelters, rescues, animal controls and other sources. It's also about educating and spurring debate. For many years, I've written tips posts like this to encourage adoption. When they were titled "six reasons to adopt a dog or cat" or "what to think about before adopting," few people read, shared, debated or passed along the information. The headline that so many people didn't like got many people to read the blog post, share and debate their thoughts. It's been a very hot post...thanks for reading, sharing and asking why the headline was negative.
Also, this was originally posted two years ago. I have updated the photos to feature dogs currently trying to find a home with Chicago rescue organizations.
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