Adopting a new pet should be an exciting and rewarding experience. But just as all families are different, so are all pets. Learn what to consider before you venture out to find your new furry (or scaly, shelled or gill-filled) family member.
All pets require their owners’ time, but KC Theisen, director of pet care issues for The Humane Society of the United States, says how much time you have to give is the top thing her organization’s staff asks people to consider when looking to adopt. “If you adopt an 8-year-old cat, she’s not going to need the same amount of care as an 9-week-old puppy,” says Theisen.
Related: Learn more about the Humane Society.
Like dating and finding the perfect partner, you want a pet that reflects your interests and activity levels. Particularly if you’re looking at dogs, “consider activity levels in the household,” says Theisen. “If you’re a couch potato, if you’re a homebody. Look for a pet that matches that activity level.”
Some dogs, like Dalmatians and terriers, can be loud and rambunctious and demand a more active lifestyle and room to be outside; they might not fit as well in apartments or other close-quarter living situations as more sedentary breeds like bulldogs and basset hounds. The Humane Society of the United States encourages potential owners to research books and websites and talk to other pet owners when considering what breeds work well with your home environment.
Watch Their Behavior
Theisen says that animal shelters are making strides in “pet profiling” -- matching animals to prospective owners. The shelter experience can affect an animal's behavior, but Theisen says that potential owners should go beyond the first instinct of cuteness and watch how the animals interact with them. "There are dogs that will jump to the gate to meet you,” says Theisen. “And there are dogs that sit there with their sad doggy eyes -- you know they’re not going to be high-energy dogs.”
Adopting a pet also means committing to pay for its food, water, veterinary checkups and other needs. Pet care costs vary. The ASPCA reports that dogs have an average yearly care cost anywhere from $1,314 to $1,580 -- and that's not including things like re-sodding the yard after Fido goes on a treasure hunt. “Even a guinea pig has some real investment involved in getting a good cage set up and regular veterinary care,” Theisen says.
Related: ASPCA: Pet Care Costs
Some exotic pets, like tortoises and parrots, have life spans that mean they'll likely outlive dogs and cats -- and even their human owners. They can also grow to be much larger than they were when they first came to live with you. Owners should accept that their living situations will need to continue to accommodate these animals and also prepare for the animals' futures.
Home renters and condo owners should consider their property owners’ and co-op boards' rules before adopting a pet, but should try to work with them to show that some pet policies could be amended. “Don’t fake it and sneak a pet in,” says Theisen. “And educate [your] property owners as to why limiting a pet policy based on odd things like a dog’s size or weight isn’t necessarily the best way to ensure that all residents are great pet owners.”
Theisen encourages families with children to adopt a pet as a way of teaching responsibility, but all animals require daily care. At the very least, there will be days or weeks where the child fails to take care of their new pet and the parents have to step in. With toddlers and very young children who can accidentally harm (or be harmed by) a pet, she says, “parents need to understand that unless they can supervise every second, then, yes, probably fish are the best call.”
If this is your family’s first experience with pets, it’s advisable to get tested for allergies. “Visit a shelter and talk to your physician,” says Theisen. “Visit with pets. See if you feel reactant. If you do, and you still want to adopt, speak with your physician about how you can manage allergies."
Still can’t decide which pet is right for you and your family? Consider volunteering at local animal shelters or look into fostering pets until they can find permanent homes. This will give your family more exposure to the animals and allow them to decide together on a pet that’s right for everyone.
Whitney Friedlander is an online and print journalist whose work has appeared in "Los Angeles Times," "LA Weekly," and "Los Angeles" magazine. She writes about fashion, home & garden, lifestyle, celebrities and more. She received her bachelor's in journalism from University of Missouri in 2002.