Adopting A Life-Long Companion From a Shelter

Once you see the fur baby in the kennel, emotion can take over.

By M. Sinex

Once the decision has been made to get a dog and communicated to friends and neighbors, adopting a rescue or shelter dog is the only acceptable option in our politically charged society. We have been bombarded with social messages demanding that any desire to have a dog be filled with a dog who would otherwise face cruel euthanasia. Although euthanasia is not the result in most cases the prospect creates an emotional aspect to adoption. The pressure from society, coupled with our own emotional investment, however, may not serve the pet or the new pet parent unless it is tempered with research and planning.

Many adoptions start with a visit to a shelter. At that point, the prospect of euthanasia becomes overwhelming, especially when animal lovers look into the eyes of that cute little puppy or older dog in the cage. Many people end up adopting from a visit to an adoption event or visit to a shelter, even when there was no initial thought of getting a pet.

These types of situations demonstrate the irrational, emotional response that can result in greater heartache for a would-be pet parent and hardship on a unknowing pet. There are other bad reasons for pet adoption, like teaching children responsibility, home protection, and, believe it or not, chick magnets, but the emotional desire to want to save a dog tops the list. When this desire is overwhelming, the first considerations should be financial donation, volunteering at a shelter or rescue, or fostering. The decision to adopt a dog should be made for reasons that are part of the pet parent and not the result of outside influences. A pet parent is a person who is accustomed to and/or desires a lifetime companion with an innate desire to care for another living being for their lifetime.

Although emotional response can indicate the when, research and planning must have been completed before a commitment is finalized. There must be a rational reckoning of the decision, which must be unanimous among those who will be affected in the family and close community.

The first step is a rational evaluation of the reason for getting a dog. Companionship is a good start, but is must be coupled with a desire to take responsibility for another’s welfare and a joy in doing so. Reasons like security and the desire of a child are secondary, since they can be fulfilled by other means such as a security camera, or last only a moment before another desire fills the void.

Another excellent reason is a dog’s vocational opportunity. Service dogs, shepherding dogs, farm and other vocational occupations which match breed, temperament and ability are an excellent match and result in a mutual dependence which grows with time. Problems with vocation result in proper planning for a pet who can no longer perform due to illness, injury, or age. Most owners have developed such companionship with their pet over time that a younger dog fulfills the vocation and a more common relationship sustains the pet. In some cases, a second adoption is in the making before the dog is no longer able to perform their duties.

In any adoption, the welfare of the pet must be considered as well as that of the pet parent. This can be a difficult task depending on the history of the dog. If the dog was abused or neglected before going to the shelter, special accommodations must be considered before a decision is made. Crate training a dog who was neglected by being restrained most of their life, for example, will guarantee failure as the dog will experience severe stress in the use of confinement in training.

Additionally, physical and economic resources available to support a new family member must be considered. At a minimum, a pet parent must provide living conditions that will be comfortable for the individual dog, providing them a safe space for sleeping and to escape the more stressful common area commotion.

The home, whether rented or owned, must be stable. When renting, the landlord must know and approve of caring for a dog. Size and breed can be an issue for a landlord who must keep all tenants safe and happy, but attempting to harbor even a small dog against the policy of a lease is a recipe for disaster and may result in the pet being returned to the shelter.

Adequate disposable income to provide food, medical care, and grooming must be available. While there are bargain brands of food available which can be purchased on a limited budget, long-term consequences of poor quality diet can include greater expense for medical care due to inadequate nutrition.

Adopting a dog from a shelter may leave a pet parent without a complete medical history on the animal they adopt. Without AKC papers, it is likely that little is known about hereditary defects for an adopted pet. This means that additional funds should be considered for upfront medical tests, as well as possible future treatment for inherited diseases like hip dysplasia, or panacea.

Obviously, a home, food, and medical care are required, but many pet parents consider grooming a luxury, or a simple task – like feeding. While many grooming tasks can be carried out by the pet parents, many are left undone and considered unnecessary. Nail clipping for example, is very often not done properly and opens the pets to pain and greater medical problems from torn nails and damaged pads. Oral and ear maintenance are other grooming tasks that can cause suffering if neglected.

In addition to the physical resources that should be considered when adopting a pet, psychological issues must be considered as well. A dog must have a vocation and attention. Boredom and neglect can cause issues serious enough to make a new parent rethink their commitment. Dogs who are bored or neglected have a greater tendency to act out. Many a prized possession has been chewed by a dog left alone for even a short time.

At a minimum, the behaviors of the dog must be compatible with their environment. Shelters will often be able to provide the pet parents information on the behaviors of the pet they are adopting. Shelters that use foster care have many observations, and possibly even documentation, which will inform new parents of individual behaviors for the pet they are adopting. Living in an apartment complex with children, and getting a dog that does not act well with children for example, is a recipe for problems which can be easily avoided but considering the behavioral information provided by the shelter.

Providing a vocational opportunity consistent with the dog’s breed and temperament is a plus and helps in ensuring the welfare of the pet. A herding dog, given charge of livestock, or even young children can result in a happier pet. A German Shepherd who is given access to a perimeter to protect, inside or out, can give them purpose, diminishing boredom and leaving a more engaged companion.
While not every situation will be perfect, in the final analysis, the commitment of the pet parent to focus on and provide for the well-being of the pet for their 10-20-year lifespan is a key requirement to a successful adoption.

While animal lovers, many of whom would not be good pet parents themselves, believe that shelters are the only humane place to adopt a pet, their zeal must be tempered by the rational consideration of the situation available from a qualified pet parent willing to research and plan to provide a loving forever home for their new pet.