What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Adopt)
You probably already know the benefits of pet ownership: they bring unimaginable, unexplainable joy. But it’s an enormous responsibility — and, most importantly, a lifetime commitment. Like any family member, a pet isn’t someone to be discarded when the going gets rough, the economy falls apart or there’s a monstrous vet bill. Unfortunately, as you probably already know, between 6 and 8 million animals end up at shelters each year. Friends of Animals is on a mission to change that.
To be sure, if you are able to make the commitment, we want you to adopt a pet. And we want you to adopt from your local shelter. That’s how you’ll make the biggest difference — for the animal you adopt and to the corrupt industry that perpetuates misery for millions.
Friends of Animals has been at the forefront of the spay and neuter movement since its inception more than five decades ago. Yet, millions of animals still languish and die in city pounds and shelters annually. The breeding industry still thrives despite a bad economy, because there will always be people who purchase animals, refuse to spay and neuter, or worse still, view other animals as commodities that can be bought, sold and discarded at whim.
I could write a book about how not to go about getting a pet. A deep source of shame and regret in my own life is the fact that I bought an animal from a pet store 14 years ago. An obsession with a particular breed — gone unexplored — led to an impulse buy with deep consequences, for myself, the dog I purchased and the dogs that died in shelters as a result. I would become a vegan within months of my purchase; I’d be forced to confront my relationship to other animals, the process of domestication and many other issues I’d long ignored. Buying that dog — Lulu, one of the great loves of my life — has been a tremendous source of joy, heartache and regret. To hold those emotional truths simultaneously is deeply painful.
Know this: when you buy a dog from a breeder, you support the misery, terror and pain felt by countless millions of animals the world over — a system that keeps animals in shelters across the globe. There’s no getting around it. When you — when we — ignore the animals in shelters, and get our pets from breeders, we doom other animals to die.
If the thought of adopting from your local shelter is revolting because of what you’ve heard, know this: shelters are where animals are unceremoniously dumped. Local shelters are mandated to take any and all animals, regardless of sickness, disease and overcrowding. While we hear occasional horror stories of neglect and mismanagement in city shelters, the best way to help those shelters and the animals who are placed in their care is to become their champions: adopt from them.
It’s not simply a matter of matching up loving, responsible, financially stable homes with the millions of dogs and cats that get abandoned annually. In truth, that trifecta — loving, responsible and financially stable — does not exist in great supply these days, even though all three qualities are necessary. A big heart simply isn’t enough.
Friends of Animals has also been taking the phone calls for more than 50 years: “I can’t afford my dog or cat anymore”; “the owner died and now I have to get rid of ________”; “I can’t afford the vet bills.” I have taken plenty of these calls myself over the past several years, and the tsunami of emotion is overwhelming. The reasons and excuses are endless.
Choosing a dog or cat
I discussed the adoption issue with Dr. Wendy Knight, a co-owner of City Paws Animal Hospital in Washington, D.C., who offers insight into the advantages of adoption from a local shelter or rescue: “Many organizations now perform behavioral assessments of dogs available for adoption, which can be very helpful in finding a good match for an individual or family. Matches can be based on the size of a household, activity level of the pet and owner, wishes for pet and owner (i.e., travel or hiking companion, lap/snuggle companion). Another advantage is that many rescued dogs have already been trained by previous owners. They are housebroken and many have outgrown that puppy chewing phase.” Although Dr. Knight recommends adopting any dog in need of a home, she notes that, “local shelters that rely on funds through donations and local government funding are unable to keep pets indefinitely; they’re faced with making a decision to euthanize. For that reason, I recommend going to a local shelter first.”
If you’re looking to adopt a pure breed, I urge you to research the breed carefully. Pure breed animals, while they’re readily available in shelters and breed-specific rescues throughout the country, are sometimes prone to debilitating, sometimes life-threatening, always expensive to treat illnesses — which is often why they are discarded in the first place. Pure breeds are not uniformly prone to disease, so be sure to do the research; ask your own veterinarian about a type of dog or cat that interests you.
Money: Expect it to Cost a Lot
There’s no way around it: It’s expensive to own a dog or cat. The cost of veterinary care, along with the many state-of-the-art medical advances, has sky-rocketed, as anyone who owns a pet knows. While I want to be encouraging, it’s a long-term, costly commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And there can be plenty of surprises along the way — a truth I know too well.
Pet Insurance: the Pros and Cons
Pet insurance is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that’s confusing to navigate. “The real advantage, I believe, to having pet insurance for your companion is that in the event that there is something unexpected, an illness or injury, the main focus can be on ‘What is the best choice of medical care for your pet?’ and not as much on “What can I afford?,” says Dr. Knight. “The reality, unfortunately, is that in these times, there are so many worries and emotions, and it is difficult for pet owners to be faced with asking the question, ‘What can I afford to do?.’” City Paws Animal Hospital, like many modern veterinary practices, accepts pet insurance.
Knight says insurance is not a slam-dunk, however: “Many insurance companies offer programs for routine exams and preventative medicine but the feedback has been mixed as to whether or not there is value for the cost. Routine exams and preventative care, most owners can plan for as well. The main con for pet insurance is that some policies exempt pets from coverage for pre-existing conditions or even potential congenital/hereditable diseases such as Keratoconjunctivitis sicca and hip dysplasia.” Another reason to carefully research the breed of dog, and if you want pet insurance, find out beforehand whether the breed is exempted.
Another good idea: keep a pet savings account. Aim for at least $1,000, which would cover most emergencies. Don’t ever touch this money. It sounds like a lot, but trust me — I’ve learned the hard way — one emergency vet visit can be devastating. There aren’t discounts, breaks or programs set up for pet emergencies. Maintaining this account ensures that you can provide a loving home for the duration of your pet’s life.
For emergencies, Knight points out that there’s CareCredit, which is like a credit card, with a flexible payment plan, available to veterinary offices. Like a credit card, however, it’s also subject to the applicant’s credit score and ability to pay, meaning it’s not available to those who may need it most. A savings account will ensure there’s money there when you absolutely need it.
Expect the Unexpected
Going into it, we know our beloved pets will die, that we’ll likely outlive them. That’s the assumption. That assumption is also why many animals end up in shelters: the owner dies first. It’s imperative to have a plan in case this happens, and it should never be an assumption that a family member will step up. It’s usually family members who send the animals to shelters.
If you don’t have the time or money, but love dogs and cats, then volunteer. Shelters can’t have enough help. There’s also the option of becoming a foster parent to dogs and cats, which has some real advantages in certain situations. Often these people, who take care of dogs and cats while they’re awaiting permanent homes, are compensated for some of their expenses; plus, it’s a great way to learn about living with cats and dogs, and whether that’s something you can do indefinitely. Practically every community in the nation has a devoted, tireless network of individuals performing vital rescue and foster services. We urge you, if you’re able, to get involved. As the expression goes, it takes a village. Working together, we can tackle this difficult and pervasive problem. The animals abandoned in shelters across the world deserve nothing less.
And if you currently own a pet, and s/he isn’t spayed or neutered, do it today. Not only does spaying and neutering help with pet overpopulation, it’s great for their health — preventing cancer and many behavioral issues. Friends of Animals sells low-cost spay and neuter certificates which can be purchased at www.friendsofanimals.org or by calling 1 (800) 321-PETS .