Adopting a pet from an animal shelter is a wonderful and generous act that can bring years of joy to you and your new friend alike. While transitioning any pet into a new home can be a challenge, shelter pets often require a little extra TLC to make sure that they will adjust comfortably to their new surroundings. With some thoughtful planning and actions, your new family member will feel at home in no time. Here are some tips:
do your homework Before going to shelters
While it may be tempting to wander into a shelter and take home the first puppy or kitten you lock eyes with, part of being a responsible pet parent is understanding the personality traits and special needs of specific breeds and making an informed choice about what type of animal will be the best fit for your home. Remember that a lot of animals you will see have found themselves in shelters simply because their previous owners did not make smart decisions about bringing them home in the first place. Ask yourself questions about your particular lifestyle, learn about different breeds, and be realistic about what kind of pet and breed will be appropriate for you and your family. For example, if you live in a small apartment, a large, boisterous dog whose breed typically needs a lot of room to run around will probably not be a good choice, no matter how adorable the dog may be. If you have small children, you will want to avoid choosing a breed which may be more aggressive or prone to biting. If you or a family member has allergies, you may want to focus on breeds with hypoallergenic coats.
ask questions about any pet you are considering bringing home
It is important to learn as much as you can about the history of a new pet so that you can plan for their special needs. Unfortunately, a lot of shelter pets have been mistreated or are not well socialized. If you know in advance that you will need to show extra patience to such an animal, it will be more likely that they will find a long and happy new life in your home. Also, make sure you know whether or not the shelter has provided vaccinations and spaying or neutering for your new pet, or whether or not you will need to take care of this on your own.
Make preparations before you bring your new pet home
It can be overwhelming for a dog or cat to come into a new home, particularly if you have other pets. To ease this transition, don't wait until you get your new pet home to realize you need to buy supplies -- have food, water, toys, kitty litter, scratching post, bed, etc. ready in advance. Set aside a small, contained, quiet space in your home where your new pet can spend their first couple of days getting used to you as well as the sounds and smells of their new surroundings. Once they are comfortable in this small space, you can gradually expand the boundaries and ease them into having access to the rest of your house.
Introduce pets gradually
Introducing your new pet to any existing pets should be done carefully and gradually. Never assume that the animals will just be able to "work it out" if placed in a room together. Keep in mind that dogs and cats are territorial about spaces and about their humans. Pay attention, proceed slowly and calmly, and be ready to jump in and intercede if a conflict occurs. Give existing and new pets alike lots of love and attention, both separately and together, as they are getting to know each other so that they will not feel the need to compete for your affection. If you are taking a new dog out on a walk with your existing dog, take a friend along the first few times so that you have the option to physically separate the dogs if any unexpected conflict arises. Even after they have adjusted to the idea of sharing their home and you, it is always a good idea to have a separate food bowl for each pet to avoid conflict or competition over food.
Welcoming a pet from the shelter into your home may take a little extra planning and love on your part, but doing so will ensure many happy years to come for both your pet and your family.
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