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Pet Adoption Checklist - What to do before you adopt your next furry child

So you’re ready to bring a cuddly kitty or precocious pup home to share your life?  Congratulations!  Adopting an animal will bring joy, fun and chaos into your life that you can never be too prepared for.  But…and this is a big but…you should try to prepare for it.  Bringing an animal into your home and family is a huge responsibility.  Adopting an animal is akin to adopting a child.  You bring an animal home for life, so take the time to make sure you are doing the right thing for everyone involved. 

The first and most important question is; is everyone on-board? 

  • Cost - Can you afford food, supplies and vet visits? 
  • Pet care – who will be responsible for feeding , exercise and play time, bathing, vet visits, etc.?  If everyone vows to be involved, how will the inevitable disputes be resolved (“I don’t want to walk the dog today, Mom!”)?  Does everyone agree to set up a schedule with the tasks divvied up among famiy members?
  • Breed – If you’re adopting a dog, breed does matter. For example, Jack Russell terriers and Minature Pinschers (affectionately known as Min Pins) have a middle name: Hyperactive! For some people, this is the perfect dog; for others, not so much. Do your research and learn about breeds first before choosing a dog based on looks that doesn’t fit your family or lifestyle. Not sure where to start? Try out this Dog Breed Selector.
  • Allergies, anyone? – Having a family member that is allergic to animals is not a deal-breaker.  Look at how the first family’s dog Bo worked out!  But it may be more than you are willing to deal with.  You may need to take extra steps to remove pet hair and dander from living spaces, and you may need to choose a breed that sheds fewer allergens, like poodles or Portuguese water dogs. A good way to find out ahead of time is to have your family interact with a neighbor dog to see if the tell-tale allergy symptoms emerge for any of your brood.
  • Teach your children well – children need guidance about how to handle and interact with animals.  For example, a child should be shown how to properly pick up a small animal or you may end up with a screaming child relaying the harrowing tale of how she got scratched by the cat when she grabbed it by the tail to pick it up. All kidding aside, I remember vividly going to a baby-sitting job with my older sister when I was little, and seeing an absolutely terrified cat being ruthlessly chased around the house by the three rambunctious children that lived there. I tried to approach the cat to pet it but it hissed and ran off every time I approached it. Obviously, their parents did not teach them that a pet is not a toy, and I remember thinking that cat would have been better off put to sleep than have to live in constant terror. If you don’t think your children are mature enough to handle a pet with respect, then you should not adopt an animal.
  • Pet & child supervision – Very young children should not be left with a pet unsupervised.  Assuming you have taught your children about properly interacting with an animal, there is still the potential for a child to abuse a pet, or an interaction (e.g. child pulls dogs tail, dog reacts) to become dangerous. Are you prepared to always ensure that your very young children are supervised with the pet?
  • Training Time – are you willing to invest the time in training your pet?  For dogs or cats, are you willing to consult a professional if behavior problems become unmanageable?  (Potential cat adopters: Yes, this applies to cats too.  Ever seen “My Cat From Hell” on Animal Planet?  Enough said!)
  • Lifestyle – are you being honest about your lifestyle when choosing an animal?  For example, a couch potato should avoid bringing home a high energy dog without planning a way for the dog to get daily exercise.  Otherwise, your dog will expend that energy into your freshly planted tulip bed or your favorite shoes. Your possessions and landscaping will thank you!
  • Other pet compatibility – do you have existing animals in the home?  For example, bringing home a cat when you have a bird will only lead to a terrorized bird and an obsessed cat unless you find a way to keep them separate. For other species which will need to co-mingle (cat-to-cat, dog-to-cat, dog-to-dog, etc.) you will need to introduce them carefully, and monitor their interactions before leaving them alone together. If possible, a pre-adoption meeting on neutral ground for dogs is a wise precaution.

If you got through this checklist and are prepared to meet the challenges, then get going!  Your life is about to get richer, wilder and filled with a lot more fun and love when you bring home your new furry child. is a great place to start.

Do you have a story to share about your last pet adoption? Do you have any additional advice for potential pet adopters?


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