One of the concerns we hear the most often from people looking to adopt from a shelter or rescue is: “How do you know what you’re getting when you adopt a pet?” The truth is, no matter where you get a pet from, there is always an element of uncertainty. Pets aren’t cars with standard features that can be guaranteed to be found in every model — even within purebred pets from the same litter, personalities can make a big difference in each of those sibling pets! Of course, most people don’t want to adopt a total unknown. But not to worry, adopting a pet is nothing like agreeing to marry a blind date! Shelter and rescue volunteers and staff who are professional adoption counselors, and pet trainers and behaviorists can get to know a pet very quickly in a shelter or foster home, and can tell you a lot about the pet you’re interested in adopting. Below are some examples what you can look for to know more about what you’re getting when you adopt a pet.
- FRIENDLY? You can tell if a pet is friendly with you and other people he/she meets. Even if you can’t take a pet out of his/her cage, you can spend time in front of the cage watching how they interact with people and any other pets that may pass by. In rescues, many pets are in foster homes, where they will know a lot about the pet’s personality. Some shelters do behavior testing which can reveal a lot about a pet’s friendliness towards people too.
- GOOD WITH KIDS? Many rescues have pets in foster homes with children. This is a great way to know if the pet will be good with kids! Even in a shelter, if you are an experienced pet owner and are able to have your kids interact with the pet in a play yard or meeting room, especially if you can have a professional trainer/behaviorist come with you for an expert opinion, you can get a good idea of how the pet interacts with your kids.
- GOOD WITH OTHER PETS? This can be a bit more of challenge, as chemistry between individual pets varies greatly. If the pet is in a foster home with other pets, that’s one great way to get a good indication. Some shelters let or even require dogs be introduced, and more and more have community cat rooms where cat-friendly cats get to live together freely, which means they are more likely to get along with your cat too.
- HEALTHY? You can see if a pet appears to be healthy right now. The most common (and usually easily treatable) illnesses have easy-to-recognize symptoms like goopy eyes, sneezing, or coughing. In addition, many shelters give pets a basic health check exam and vaccinations. Many rescues get extensive vet work done too. You can’t possibly know if a pet will stay healthy, no matter if you adopt the pet from a shelter, buy them from a pet store or breeder.
- ENERGY LEVEL? If you are looking at baby pets like puppies and kittens, you won’t know what their energy level will be like as an adult. In a shelter setting, this can be a little hard to know at first glance. The longer you can spend with a pet, the better you’ll get a chance to see their energy level. Dogs especially can be frantic or depressed in a kennel, so if you can take them out for a long walk, you’ll get a more realistic energy level assessment.
- ALREADY TRAINED? One of the great things about adopting an adult pet is there is a good chance they are already trained! If you can’t take the pet out of their cage at the shelter, you can see if a dog responds to the most universal command “sit”, and cats you can see if they are litter box trained. If you can take the dog out for a walk, you’ll know within 10 minutes if they are leash trained and what other manners they have been taught, like not to jump up or mouth you. If you are looking for an already-trained dog, if they already know sit, walk well on leash, and are polite, chances are they have been trained already in other areas too.
- HOUSEBROKEN? Many potential dog owners want a pet that is already housebroken. While housebreaking a dog is usually one of the easiest things you can train a pet to do, some people know that their busy schedules will make it hard for them to take a pet out on a regular schedule and want a pet that is too big to pee-pad train. Fostered dogs will likely be known to be housebroken or not, and owner-surrendered dogs at shelters may have that information too.
- PUREBRED? Shelters offer a huge range of animals to select from including both mixed and purebreds. Studies show about 20% of dogs and cats who end up in shelters or with rescue groups are purebred. That means millions of purebred pets are available for adoption each year!
So you see, you can know (most of) what you’re getting when you adopt a pet!