Chatham Animal Rescue and Education, Inc.
Finding the Perfect Pet for Your Family

by Dave Cohen, with Chatham Animal Rescue and Education

Many articles discuss pets and kids, but little has been said about the most important aspect: how do you find that dog or cat that satisfies all or most of your wants and concerns? That is the goal of this article - to examine your options and guide you to sources that will greatly increase the odds of you finding that perfect pet for your family.

Potential animal adopters often look first to newspaper ads, or perhaps bulletin boards at work or school advertising animals needing new homes. While many people do find great pets via these methods, they are also fraught with problems. Many of the newspaper ads are from breeders, and many - but not all - of these are just in the business of selling animals. In any case, the thought of people purposefully breeding cats and dogs at a time when 5 million adoptable animals are euthanized in shelters every year is troubling. Most of the animals advertised are also puppies or kittens, which is fine except they have not really developed their true personality at that point.

Many other people looking to adopt a pet take the plight of homeless animals to heart and visit their local animal shelter. In my opinion, this is a huge step in the right direction, and clearly conveys a love of, and compassion for, animals to your children. However, overworked and underpaid staff (or volunteers) may not be able to adequately identify breed, temperament, personality, or other characteristics of current animals. While they want to find good homes for animals, they also want to save as many animals as they can. Perhaps the worst problem, though, is that if you bring home an animal and things don't work out, taking it back can be very difficult knowing that this animal that you selected to be your pet may end up being destroyed. Try explaining that to the kids!

Another option, adopting from a rescue group, has all the great attributes of a shelter adoption, but with none of the potential drawbacks. Rescue groups come in several main varieties: dog breed-specific, cats only, and cats and dogs. However, beyond that, they are very similar in their approaches and organization. Namely, they take in many animals from local shelters, strays, and some animals needing rehoming. As a rule, animals (at least dogs) go through temperament testing to identify aggressive behavior before acceptance. The majority of rescue groups are organized as a network of foster homes - each home takes in one or more animals, and thus can observe their behavior and how they interact with people and other animals. This closeness translates into an ability to evaluate potential adopters, and see if their needs and expectations are in line with the requested animal's characteristics. The foster homes exert a lot of effort and care into each animal, and thus they want to place each animal into the best possible situation. Best of all, the foster homes often allow 'trial runs', and most groups even require you to return the animal to them if things do not work out.

Most rescue groups 'advertise' adoptable animals on their Web sites (or perhaps on a site such as Petfinder.com that hosts many groups and shelters), and some also offer to match you and your family up with a dog or cat. For matchmaking, you provide information about your current situation and what you are looking for, and the group will offer suggestions for you to consider. For instance, do you need a dog or cat that can handle growing up with your one and two year old boys? Or, do you need a companion for an existing cat, perhaps one that must also get along with your dog? Also, most rescue groups have regular 'adoption days' at sites such as PetsMart, where your family can interact with a number of available animals as well as talk to volunteers.

One final issue worth careful consideration is whether to adopt a puppy/kitten or an adult dog/cat. While most adopters think only about getting a kitten or puppy, dreaming of the playful interaction between the rambunctious animal and their own rambunctious children, it is worth examining the positives and negatives. First, a young animal requires much more time and patience. Housetraining is the most obvious need, but there is also obedience training for puppies and teaching kittens when and where they can scratch. Most adult dogs and cats from rescue groups, on the other hand, are housetrained and have at least some training. Second, a puppy or kitten requires a lot of time - leaving a puppy alone 8 hours a day is a recipe for disaster. Adult dogs and cats generally do not need as much time from their guardians, though this may vary. Third, a puppy or kitten does not yet have an established personality. Although personality is largely molded as they grow up, an adult animal already has well-defined behaviors. For instance, did you really want a nice quiet dog to hang out with the kids instead of the one you have that races through the house at 3 AM, jumping on beds? Or, did you want a lap cat for your little girl instead of the maniac currently climbing your new curtains? Finally, puppies and kittens need frequent visits to the vet, and are susceptible to illnesses, some serious. Adult dogs and cats have stronger immune systems, and many serious illnesses have been effectively ruled out. For more pros and cons of adult animal adoptions, see: http://chathamanimalrescue.org/adoptadult.php.

While great pets come from all different sources, I believe a family looking for the dog or cat that is ideal for their particular situation can greatly increase their chances for success by going to a rescue group first. Regardless of the source, however, please do spay/neuter your pets. Rescue groups do this, or require it from adopters (as do many shelters), and it not only aids in the problem of pet overpopulation, but also demonstrates to your children a responsibility and compassion toward all living things.

One good list of local pet adoption sources, including both rescue groups and animal shelters, is at WRAL Weblinks: http://www.wral.com/weblinks/