In the days following Hurricane Dorian, several shelters in the U.S. have taken in hundreds of evacuated animals from impacted communities in the Bahamas. But before you decide to do a good deed and adopt one of these pets (or six of them), it’s important to understand what exactly you’re getting yourself into, particularly if you happen to be a first-time pet owner.
Over on a Reddit thread, users shared their experiences with new pets and offered lessons on what to consider before adopting a dog or cat; above all else, understand from the outset that’s a long commitment—at least a decade—and caring for a pet involves a significant amount of financial responsibility in the form of dog walkers and vet bills.
Find a pet that’ll suit your lifestyle
Before you commit to a pet, make sure you find one that best suits your current lifestyle, as u/DIFF37 writes.
Research types of pets and breeds. Consider what you want the pet for. Do you want to go jogging with it, cuddle on the couch, do dog sports, do you travel often, is a small pet more your style, do you want an independent pet or super attentive one? There [are] no wrong answers, it’s all about getting a good fit … A common mistake I’ve seen is people who want a snuggle-y couch dog, getting the super adorable high energy husky mix, then not walking it or engaging with it enough. Both the human and the dog end up miserable.
It’s important to research breed characteristics and understand their activity needs—which obviously varies much more among dog breeds, as opposed to cats—and to ask specific questions from a breeder or rescue.
“This means asking about energy level, typical exercise routines, possible health issues, possible allergies, potential or current behavioral issues, diet, grooming, and size,” Lauren McDevitt, cofounder of Good Dog, an online marketplace for dogs which vets for responsible rescues and breeders, said via email. “Be honest with yourself about the actual lifestyle you’re able to provide for your potential dog rather than projecting your desired lifestyle onto the situation.”
As we’ve written before, personalities can vary, so don’t immediately write off a dog or cat because it’s not the exact breed you had in mind.
Research the shelter or breeder
If adopting from a breeder, ask to meet the parents or other dogs from previous litters. Find out how many litters a year they do and how females they are breeding. If they are overbreeding their females, considering going to a different breeder. Ask about health checks. Ask about ongoing support once the pet has gone home with you … If adopting from a rescue, find out how long they have been around. Speak to people who have adopted from them in the past. Find out how they got their adoptable pets, where do they house them. What sort of ongoing support do they offer once the pet goes home? Always meet the pet two or three times before committing to adopt it.
If possible, find a friend who might vouch for a particular rescue, shelter or breeder, so you can be assured of its practices concerning the well-being of their animals. If you have any concerns about a breeder, and can’t visit their location in person, take a look at the Humane Society’s website; they’ve provided several red flags to look out for when working with a breeder.
“Don’t be shy about asking your breeder, rescue or shelter for guidance around behavior and training as you make your decision,” McDevitt added.
Don’t adopt a puppy or kitten unless you can make time for them
A cute, month-old puppy (or kitten) might seem like a good idea at first, but carefully consider the extra time commitment you’re signing up for, as u/PunchBeard shared from experience.
First, unless there’s someone at home damn near 24/7 for the first few months (about six), plan on having to do extra work training the puppy. And plan on a lot of destruction. Puppies are some sneaky bastards who can ruin a pair of shoes or a couch in the time it takes you to remove your jacket. Having someone home with the dog at all times in that first 6 months makes things so, so much easier. But even then it’s a challenge.
If you work from home, then a puppy or kitten might not be a bad idea. If you work a typical 9-5, though, it might be worth reconsidering altogether—an older animal might be a better fit for your lifestyle.
Set aside funds for medical costs
Caring for a pet isn’t cheap, especially when you consider food, dog walkers, and any vet visits; u/XxSicaxX has dealt with it first-hand.
I spent about 5k dealing with my cat’s cancer. It was hard to deal with both mentally and financially. Be sure you read about the breed and all the medical issues associated with that.
If possible, always set aside money for any vet appointments and emergencies, as several users echoed in the comments. If you aren’t able to afford these visits, it might be worth holding off on adoption or looking into pet insurance options. (It still won’t be cheap, but if your pet suffers from recurring health issues, it might be worth it in the long run.)
Understand the commitment ahead
And again, understand the commitment you’re making before you sign on the dotted line. Take a moment to ask yourself whether you can fulfill the duties of caring for a pet, as u/gogojack writes.
Once you decide to bring that animal into your home, that’s it. You have to keep them until they die. In my family, we took in a number of rescues, hard-luck cases, and even a little dog we picked up off the street. Each and every single one was with us until the end of their life. My ex-in-laws would pick out pets, have them for a while, and discard them when they became inconvenient. Don’t do that. If you’re not ready to commit to that puppy or kitten for the next 10-15 years, then don’t. Period. End of story.
And if you can’t commit just yet, try fostering first. Or petsitting for a friend. You might end up preferring that to long-term ownership, particularly if you can’t make time to care for a pet that they would otherwise deserve.