But there’s good news, too: More and more people are choosing to adopt their pets, giving these animals a loving, forever home. If your family is thinking about adopting a shelter dog or cat, consider these five factors to ensure your furry friend is the perfect fit.
1. Animal background
Find out as much as you can from the animal shelter about your prospective pet’s history. Why was he brought to the shelter in the first place? Does he have any behavioral problems that would make him unsuitable for living with kids? “It’s vital to do your homework to learn as much as possible about where the animal came from,” says Victoria Stead, an animal behaviorist and author of The Rescue Dog: A Successful Guide to Re-Homing (The Crowood Press Ltd).
2. Care plan
“Pets require consistent mental and physical exercise and don’t do well left alone for long periods of time, or [for dogs and some cats] in homes where they never go outside,” Stead says. If your family loves to travel or spends most of the weekend hopping from soccer to basketball to birthday parties, think about how you can provide care for your pet when you aren’t around. Is there a reliable friend or dog walker available to take your dog out? Does your town have an adequate boarding facility?
“When you get a pet, you need to be ready to make a lifelong commitment to it—so it’s needs should mesh with what you can offer,” says Stephanie Krol, board president of the Humane Society of Elkhart Country in Bristol, Indiana. Active families will be able to provide a high-energy dog, like a lab, with the exercise and playtime he needs. If you’re the indoors-y types, a cat or lower-energy dog, like a bulldog, might be a better choice. Also consider whether you’re up for the additional challenge of raising a puppy or kitten, which “need even more time, training, and dedication to help them grow into well-adjusted adults,” Stead says.
4. Family life
Families with pregnant moms or little kids might not do as well with super energetic pets, who require lots of exercise time and may not be as patient with small children. “Young families often want puppies or kittens—but older pets are easier to train and are usually more mellow,” says Krol.
“There’s no such thing as a free cat or dog,” says Krol. In addition to food, pets need preventative monthly supplements (like flea or heartworm medication) and routine vet visits. Puppies or kittens will also require several vaccinations as well as spaying or neutering. According to the ASPCA, care for a medium dog costs about $700 annually, while care for a cat costs $670. (Find a full pet care cost chart at aspca.org.)