Thursday, December 2, 2010

Looking for a new furry family member? How to be prepared. Pt 2 - Adoption

If you read Part 1 of this series, or any of my blog really, you know I am a big fan of adoption.  Growing up, my family raised both cattle dogs as well as AKC show dogs.  Now that I am an adult, I am very involved in animal rescue.  So I've seen both sides of the coin.  And as I got older and started talking with my Mom about Puppy Mills, she's shared with me some of the fraud she saw happen in the dog breeding world that she didn't think I needed to know as a child.  She's right, I wouldn't' have retained that knowledge as a child, but knowing as an adult has must made me even more fervent of a supporter of Adoption.

Now you've done your research and you've decided you want to adopt.  Wonderful!  Now what?

You can go to just about any Veterinarian clinic or Pet Store in town and find flier for pets up for adoption.  Or you may see a rescue set up in the parking lot or store operating an Adopt-a-Pet.  There is absolutely no shortage of animals to adopt.  You may find a shortage of puppies or kittens at some points of the year, but there are always a plethora of animals of just about any age to adopt at any time.  In fact, in some places, like the DFW Metroplex, the sheer number of rescues offering pets for adoption can be dizzying.  But there are plenty of fun and stress-free ways for you to go about finding your perfect pet, so don't let the number of available pets overwhelm you.

  • Petfinder is a handy pet search website that allows you to choose what kind of pet you want to adopt and your location and then the program does a lot of the legwork for you.  If you know what kind of pet you are looking for, this service is a great tool to find all the available animals in your area, then all you need to do is call the rescues and set up an appointment to visit.  The search gets even easier if you have an idea of what sex or specific traits you want.  Once you find a pet you like, you can e-mail the rescue right there from the pet's profile page.  Most rescues use Petfinder to list their available pets.  And Petfinder continues to try making the search more accessable for potential adoptors.  There's an App for that.  Really.  Someone developed an iphone app for petfinder searches.  

  • Adopt-A-Pet events are many rescues' bread and butter.  Some rescues have shelter facilities they adopt from as well, but many do not and the regular adopt-a-pet events are their sole source for adoptions.  Many rescues increase those events during the Holidays in anticipation of families wanting to adopt  for Christmas so it should be easy to find one in your area.  Just look for any Petsmart or other pet store which does not sell animals and you should find what you are looking for.  And since most rescues operate on sparse volunteer hours, you can bet that you will see pets at each event that are new and never make it to their website or Petfinder.  So if you don't find what you are looking for online, visiting in person may help you find what you are looking for.
  • Contacting rescues directly is also a good idea to find what you are looking for.  E-mailing or calling rescues directly will get you the most up to minute information on their roster of pets and you don't have to wait for an event.  If the rescue doesn't have a facility and you do still have to wait for an event to meet the pet, at least you can get your name down as an interested party and you can ask what needs to be done so that the pet isn't adopted before you can meet it.  And sometimes adoption screening can be started over the phone saving you more time when you meet the potential new pet.  If you are at a loss as to who the rescues are in your area, go right back to Petfinder and search for rescues in your area.  If there are rescues in your area using Petfinder, they will pop up on the list with contact information.  And like I mentioned, most rescues use Petfinder as a listing service.
Once you have found a pet that you are interested in adopting, talk to the rescue.  Ask questions.  This pet is coming into your home as a family member, so don't be afraid to ask any and all questions you may have.  Good rescue volunteers wish to make a perfect match just as much as you do.  They are not in this for the money like breeders are.  When you ask questions, volunteers are able to make sure the pet you have chosen is a perfect fit for your home.  Here are some great questions you can ask when you are talking with a rescue:
  • Is this pet ok with kids/cats/dogs?  If you have either of these family members in the question, this should be the first question you ask.  Sometimes the adoptable pet will not have been exposed to one or all of the above, but when they are, it is very helpful to know how they reacted.  And even if the potential pet hasn't been exposed, someone should know whether the pet has a risk of reacting adversely to any of those family members in the home.  A dog who can only focus on the flashy squirrel tail in the back yard may not be a good fit for a home with a flighty cat.  A pet of any kind who has food sharing issues may not be appropriate for a home with a small child, or another dog for that matter.
  • I have a doggy door, do you allow indoor/outdoor adoptions?  I would say that this is the second question you should ask if you have a pet door or are planning to let your adopted cat go in and out.  There are rescues who will deny adoption based on indoor/outdoor homes unless you meet specific criteria.  I know this sounds harsh, but this is because many people lose their cats every day when they allow them outdoors to play.  Rescues want their pets to live the longest life possible and they don't want to risk a new family losing a cat they have adopted from them.  I suggest you ask this question sooner rather than later so you don't get attached to a pet and then are told at the end of the interview process that you are not approved.  Volunteers don't like telling you that anymore than you like hearing it, so it's best just to get it out of the way early.  But don't give up immediately.  Ask about cat fences.  Some of the rescues who have issues with allowing cats outdoors will approve homes with cat fences.  If you are planning on installing a cat fence, bring the literature with you to show the rescue you are serious about the cat's safety.  Research and honesty goes a long way with volunteers during your adoption interview.  
  • Is this pet up to date with it's shots?  Some rescues guarantee all shots upon adoption.  Others only guarantee the minimum required for the city.  A great example of this is the Feline Leukemia vaccination for cats.  Some rescues simply do not have the resources to provide this vaccination.  It is important for you to know what shots have and have not been given.  If you plan to travel with or board your pet this is especially important.  Boarding facilities have differing requirements and they will require shot records to prove what vaccinations your pet has received.  Airlines will likewise require shot records.
  • Is this pet spayed/neutered?  Most rescues will already guarantee that the pet is spayed or neutered upon adoption.  Some will allow you to take the pet home if it is too young for such surgery, some will not.  It is important that you know the status of your pet's alteration.  Having a surprise litter when you assumed the pet would be altered is no fun.  And part of the beauty of adopting a pet is that it has already been altered at no cost to you.  It is quite costly to foot the bill for a spay or neuter on your own.  In part 4 of this series, I'll discuss that price comparison further.
  • Is this pet microchipped?  Just like certain vaccinations, some rescues do not have the resources to microchip their animals.  But it is such a wonderful bonus if they can.  I suggest that everyone think about getting their pet chipped whether the rescue provides it or not.  We are only human and pets are fast.  As a pet parent who has had a lightning fast cat fly out the door and not be seen for a week, I can say that chipping is one more avenue to ease worry.  Pets can slip their collars when they are out and if a rescuer or animal control officer, or even neighbor doesn't see a collar, a microchip is the only link you have to your lost pet.
  • How do I register my microchip?  It is all well and good to adopt a pet with a chip, or to have your pet chipped yourself.  But if you don't register the chip under your name with the chips registry, you may as well have inserted a pebble under the pet's skin for all the good it will do you.  Pets with existing microchips are most often registered to the vet or to the rescue organization.  You need to register the animal under your name with your information.  And don't forget to renew that registration when it expires!
  • What food has this pet been eating?  Many people don't realize this, but it is just as important to know this detail as it is to know the shot records of your new pet.  Changing a food cold turkey can cause all kinds of stomach upset.  That includes the dreaded diarrhea and the gas bombs of death!  No matter what your thoughts on food quality and price, always start your new pet on the same food they were eating in the rescue.  You can gradually change the food over time to whatever you want, provided they don't have special dietary needs with special food requirements.
  • What Veterinarian can you recommend in my area?  If you don't already have a trusted family Vet, this can be a very important question.  Most rescues have a favorite vet, or even a number of favorite vets.  And if the rescues are using those vets for all of their veterinary needs, then you can be sure there is a continuity of care.  In addition, many rescues have a necessity to use lower cost Vets, so if your rescue has a favorite, you just may be getting the best Vet for the money in the area.
Think you're ready to adopt now?  I hope so!  So many pets need adoptive homes.  It is my hope that one day most people will adopt as well as spay and neuter their pets, so we can bring down this giant number in the pet population.  I can only hope that if we do that the population of pets available will be healthier and happier.  And healthy and happy pets make very good pets.

In Part 3 of this series I will discuss Breeders and what to look for when going about purchasing a puppy from a responsible breeder.