Adopting a Pet: What to Ask Yourself First
By Lily Walker
There’s an old pop song that asks, “How much is that doggie in the window?” The person posing the question is thinking about getting a dog, based on the pup’s waggly tail. We fall in love with animals and want to adopt them for all kinds of reasons. But before you embark on the adventure of living with a pet for the rest of its life, consider the following.
Why do I want a pet?
This is one of the few things in life over which we have control, so take time to think about your reasons for wanting a pet. This new family member could be around for the next 10 to 20 years, so consider the responsibilities of a long-term commitment to another creature. Do you want a companion for your ailing parents? A best friend for yourself? A pal for your kids? What kind of animal would suit you and your family best and would you be able to best care for?
Can I afford to have a pet?
Just like a two-legged addition to your family, there are initial as well as lifelong expenses involved when adopting a pet. Besides the basic costs of food and veterinary bills (which can be hundreds of dollars a year for routine, preventive health care), consider items such as a bed, leash and collar, kennel/carrier, litter and litter box, toys, or scratching post. If your pet develops a veterinary condition that requires long-term or permanent care, are you prepared to pay for medicines and other treatment and maintain the daily routine for such care? If you adopt a dog, what about grooming, bathing, and obedience training?
Does my lifestyle support having a pet?
- Do I have time to care for a pet? If you spend long days at the office and/or have a difficult commute, a dog that needs multiple walks throughout the day may not be a good fit. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to work from home, but that energetic Jack Russell terrier will still need lots of attention. How will you feel about picking up as you walk your dog, scooping and refilling a litter box regularly for your cat or rabbit, or cleaning a birdcage for your parrot? Even fish, reptiles, and amphibians require regular time and attention (and cleaning up). And every pet will need your love and care.
- Do I travel often? If you are away from home often and don’t have someone at home to care for your pet, remember to factor in the fee of a pet-sitter or a boarding kennel. Some pets adapt well to having their humans away from home for a bit, and some don’t. Will your pet be OK with your being away?
- Who else lives in my home? Think about all the humans and animals who share your home and your life, particularly small children, older adults, other pets, and anyone (human or animal) with special needs. You may be drawn to that older white cat you keep seeing at your local shelter, but will a deaf cat fit comfortably into your family? Does anyone in your household have allergies to animal dander, fur, or feathers? What concerns do your family members have about adopting a pet? And who will take care of your pet, and how will you share responsibilities for your pet’s care? Kids love kitties, puppies, bunnies, and other small critters. But is your child ready to live with and help care for a pet, particularly after the animal is no longer young or cuddly? And what if you can’t help with pet care any longer, because of illness or other life surprises? Who is your pet’s backup human?
- Is our home pet friendly?
- Some residential buildings limit the size and number of pets you can have, or say you can’t have pets unless you pay special fees. Be sure to check your landlord’s or homeowner association’s policy on pets.
- Whether you are in an apartment or house, consider how you will feel getting up at 6 a.m. to walk your dog. How about at 6 p.m. when you get home from work? Or in the rain or snow?
- Is your home big enough and laid out in a way that suits your pet’s needs? Is there a yard/play area nearby that would be adequate for your pet?
- If you are considering adopting an unusual pet, make sure that it’s legal to have such an animal where you live and that you’ll have the home environment that would work.
What is my tolerance for animal “by-products”?
Furry animals tend to shed. Some animals slobber. City regulations require dog walkers to pick up after their pets. Litter boxes, bird cages, and aquariums must be regularly cleaned. And many animals like to mark their territory. How prepared are you to deal with the “by-products” of normal pet behavior?
Is this the right pet for me?
Just as some people prefer canines over felines, you should consider the various traits of a dog, cat, or other animal you might want to adopt. Watch how the animal interacts with its caregivers and other creatures. Is it skittish? Docile? Friendly? A bully? Does this animal want other animal companions, or does it have to be your sole pet? Remember that the animal’s behavior at a shelter or rescue may be different than its behavior in your home. For example, a shelter with dozens of animals in a relatively small space is quite a different experience for a cat or dog than the peace and tranquility of your living room.
Does everyone in our household agree about adopting a pet?
This is not only important for your pet’s happiness, but for your own. It may also affect whether you can adopt a particular pet. You may be vetted yourself by adoption coordinators to see whether you and your family (humans and current pets) are ready to take care of a certain animal’s needs. This holds true even for less common pets. Shelters and rescues want you and your pet to be happy, and they are looking for forever homes for their animals. They only want to say goodbye once to an animal they too have come to love. So help them help you find a forever home for your pet, and be sure what you want to do.
So you’ve pondered these questions and have decided that YES, you’re ready to welcome home a new pet.
Please be sure to ADOPT! Never buy from a pet store or online provider. Even if you do find a responsible breeder, if you buy your pet, you are supporting an industry that treats animals as products to be bought and sold. With rescue groups, animal shelters, and the entire power of the Internet, it’s easy to find a loveable critter in need of a good home.
Besides, many shelters and rescues have adoption coordinators who are trained to help you find the perfect companion, and the service is free! These coordinators are likely familiar with each animal’s personality and can guide you to a good fit for you and your new pet.
Please see the Resources list for a few places in Northern Virginia that have animals available for adoption. Be sure to call ahead or check online to confirm hours of operation. And here’s to a forever home for you and your pet!
Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
4101 Eisenhower Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22304
Animal Welfare League of Arlington
2650 S. Arlington Mill Drive
Arlington, VA 22206
P.O. Box 100968
Arlington, VA 22210
King Street Cats
25 S. Dove Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation
P.O. Box 50037
Arlington, VA 22205
(703) 295-DOGS (3647)
Lily Walker is a pseudonym for a King Street Cats volunteer who prefers to keep a low profile. As a responsible adult, she has decided to forego cat companionship until her work life no longer requires her to travel. She gets her “comfort without commitment” by volunteering at KSC in Alexandria on a regular basis. Once she retires, she plans to adopt every black cat at the shelter!