There are lots of reasons it’s better to adopt a dog or cat (or other animal! You never know what you’ll find…) from a rescue or shelter rather than purchasing a young one from a breeder. Young dogs and cats can be harder to train, for starters. There are also around 4 million shelter pets who are waiting to find their fur-ever home—and you can literally change the life of one of those animals. However, there are downsides to adopting from a shelter or rescue, too—they can have traumatic experiences that affect their personality or have health problems that have already developed. In my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the risks—but if you’re trying to decide for yourself, here are some things to consider.
1. Consider Age
As mentioned above, there are both pros and cons to choosing younger animals to join your family. Puppies and kittens are unarguably adorable, but they come with serious responsibilities—almost like having a young human in the house! Older cats and dogs may already be housebroken or know certain rules or commands. However, they also may be more set in their ways and less eager to adapt to other family pets…it all depends on the individual animal’s history and personality.
2. Consider The Family
While you might have your heart set on a specific animal, age, or breed, the people you live with may feel differently. Talk to your family members and see how everyone feels. Make sure no one is frightened of the animal you want to bring home, and encourage an open discussion where family members—no matter how young or old—can voice their concerns and preferences. If the type of animal you want to adopt is new to any family member, try to arrange a time for interaction—for example, you can go to a dog park and watch the dogs or find a friend with a cat and ask for a playdate. Take into consideration your individual family’s specific needs and demands. Some younger children do fine with small kittens, while others can’t quite grasp the concept of “gentle” well enough to be trusted with them. If you’re currently working multiple jobs or struggling with a child’s health crisis, the right animal can be a source of fun and stress relief—but the wrong one can quickly become an additional burden. You know your family better than anyone—be honest to ensure you find a good fit.
3. Consider Size
It can be true that smaller dogs are better choices for smaller spaces—but truthfully the breed and activity level of the dog are more reliable indicators of compatibility than animal size and home size. That said, you do want to make sure you (or any family members who will be responsible for the animal’s care) are able to comfortably handle the dog physically. Think about the dog’s adult size if he’s still a puppy—they grow fast! If you do live in a very small space, you will likely be more comfortable with smaller dogs—or be prepared to spend lots of time outdoors (which might fit in just fine with your lifestyle!). Age comes into play here too, of course—an older big dog might need less exercise than a young terrier mix!
4. Consider Money
As sad as it is, financial difficulties are a major reason animals get returned to shelters. People tend to underestimate the long-term costs of a pet…food and treats are just the tip of the iceberg! Consider things like training classes, boarding when you take vacations, grooming appointments, and vet bills, and the cost quickly increases. Luckily, mixed breeds, which many shelter dogs are, tend to have fewer health problems than purebreds (due to inbreeding), which can both decrease vet costs long-term and also lead to a longer pet life!
5. Consider The Kids
You might be hesitant to get a dog if you have kids at home—whether you’re worried that you’ll be the one to take care of it or concerned about the added financial responsibility. However, it’s worth reframing this concern: pet care can teach a child so much! The obvious life lesson children learn through pet care is responsibility, of course. Whether the child is in charge of feeding and walking or simply helps with these daily tasks, the daily dedication required for pet care can teach kids an important lesson about dependability and follow-through. Moreover, kids who take care of pets learn about empathy and respect sooner. They learn not to startle a sleeping dog, how to have compassion for an animal’s feelings, how all living things have needs, and so much more. (You can translate these animal lessons to lessons about human compassion, too.) So yes, you might end up picking up the slack on a few walks or meals, and it will certainly cost more than not having a pet, but consider the abstract benefits to your children, too.
6. Meet & Greet
Before bringing a new animal home, try to arrange for all family members to meet him or her—including furry family members! While there might not be instant love, you’ll want to know if it’s going to be really difficult from the start. If you have cats at home and can’t arrange a meeting, find out how the animal interacts with cats, and decide if you’re willing to work as hard as necessary to integrate the animal into your family. (Most shelters will do a “test” and report the results to you—take these with a grain of salt, however. The shelter told us my dog was simply “unteachable” about cats and they really couldn’t encourage us to take her home since we had a cat—but we didn’t listen and she learned quickly, without any blood shed by either animal, and now lives with two different cats who she will happily kiss on command…for a treat, of course.)