Adopting a Pet? Ask These Questions First

Valerie Masi

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In my 33-year career as a trainer, county shelter behaviorist, and director of the Humane Society of the Coachella Valley, and through all the rescues I’ve given my time to, I’ve learned that most people who are adopting a pet choose that animal with their hearts and not their common sense.

I understand how difficult it is to walk away from the cutest animal in the world. All animals are cute until you see how much dedication they require from you. Caring for a pet, no matter how small, is a 24/7 commitment. No matter what is going on in your life, the animal has to eat every day, relieve themselves, and live in a clean environment. The number one reason people give up their pets is bad behavior. The number one reason dogs have bad behavior is lack of training and structure in the animal’s life—and that’s on the human.

So think before you adopt, and ask yourself these key questions before you take a pet home with you.

What type of pet is best for your lifestyle (dog, cat, pocket pet, bird or fish)? Not everyone has a lifestyle that’s suitable for adopting a dog, so consider whether another type of animal—a bird, fish, hamster or reptile—might work better for you.

If it is a dog you want, what breed works best? If you’re an active person, high energy breeds like Labs, goldens, shepherds, and all working and herding breeds would make a good companion for you. A couch potato, on the other hand, is better suited to a Basset hound, English bulldog, chow chow, Cavalier King Charles spaniel or an English or bull mastiff. There are breeds to suit any lifestyle, so do your research to find the one that suits yours.

What age dog should I be looking for? Often, it makes sense for very busy people to look for at least a 1- to 2-year-old dog. If you have help and or a flexible schedule, then a puppy can work, but be aware that proper and consistent puppy training is critical. Puppies can be challenging for older people. Small ones may seem easier, but in reality they are more dangerous to a senior, because they’re fast and can get under your feet and cause you to trip. If you’re a senior, consider helping out a senior dog that has been given up simply because they are old. This happens more than people know, and these loving, loyal friends deserve better. I once heard of a women who said she was giving up her poodle because she remodeled her house and the dog no longer matched the decor. If you’re a senior, taking in an older dog allows you to be able to keep up with them. Do keep in mind that they’ll need help standing as they get older, and that can be challenging as we get older ourselves. But what a gift it is to give a senior dog a safe, loving and caring place to live out the rest of their lives.

What kind of pet can I afford to have? Every pet you get has a maintenance cost. Fish, pocket pets and reptiles generally don’t break the bank if they get sick, and realistically, these animals simply don’t have long life expectancies. Now, a bird, dog or cat can cost thousands of dollars in healthcare over their lifetime, and you’ll want to make sure you can afford to pay for that care should your pet need it. Last year alone, I spent more than $10,000 to give my two older dogs a good quality of life before we said a peaceful, loving goodbye. These are real costs we must be prepared for. Don’t forget with dogs and even some cats, you may need to call in a trainer or behaviorist—before you adopt, ask yourself: can you afford the cost?

Should I buy from a breeder or adopt a rescue dog? We have so many stray dogs in Coachella Valley and some of these dogs come with baggage. Some have never lived in a home before. Most are not spayed or neutered and with hormones intact, they adopt some bad behaviors, like marking or aggression toward other dogs. Some are extremely fearful or are unable to trust. Are you prepared to commit to the work this dog will need? Even if you buy a dog from a breeder, you may still discover problems that have come with your new pet. If you feel a rescue is not for you, then be extremely careful when looking for a breeder. A breeder who is proud of their puppies and has nothing to hide lets you come up to visit and meet the parents. Do not buy a dog from a breeder that is breeding several breeds—this is a “backyard breeder,” someone who is breeding only for money. I also want people to be aware of all the doodles out there. If you are actually allergic, then buy a puppy from a doodle breeder that has at least 4th-generation doodles, because anything less is not a true hypoallergenic dog. Never buy from a puppy broker—responsible breeders care where their puppies go, so why would they want a broker to find their buyers? They don’t need to. Beware of pet stores that have a variey of purebreds—these are almost certainly puppy mill puppies. California law states that any store selling dog, cats, or rabbits must obtain these pets from a rescue only. As you know, most rescues have primarily mixed breeds and very few purebred dogs.

Should I get a kitten or an adult cat? The most important thing to know about cats is, if you have a quiet home with other quiet animals, most likely a cat of any age can fit in, unless the cat is particularly antisocial. If you have a more active household and other animals are more active, it will be easier for a kitten to adjust and create better relationships with the other animals than an adult cat.

If you would like to adopt a bird, what type of bird fits your lifestyle? People have many different types of birds as pets. If you want a low-maintenance bird, then stick with parakeets, love birds, or finches. A bit higher maintenance are cockatiels, Amazons and African greys. Very high maintenance birds are cockatoo’s, macaws, and any from the mockingbird family. Remember that some birds live 30 to 60 years. Are you ready for that kind of commitment? Not all veterinarians can care for a bird, so before you adopt yours, make sure you find a specialized vet.

Is a reptile right for me? Reptiles are very sensitive creatures, and it’s important that you do your homework before you adopt one. A reptile needs to eat very specific diet—shortcuts can cause death. Are you prepared to feed your reptile anything from crickets to baby mice or rats, known as pinkies? How about an adult rat? Some snakes need to be fed large rats, and some are raised on live rats as opposed to a dead, frozen version. Environment is also extremely important for turtles, tortoises, lizards, geckos, iguanas and snakes. It can be a challenge to get the environment and diet right, and again, not all vets know how to care for reptiles, so find one before you bring a reptile home.

What is the best pocket pet to get? Rats are one of my favorite pocket pets. They are very smart and like to learn. Mice tend to bite more as do hamsters. With Guinea pigs, it’s hit or miss with biting—some are more tolerant than others. There are so many different breeds of Guinea pigs, rats and mice, so learn about each one before you make your decision. Rabbits come in many different breeds, and are very trainable— they can even be potty trained. One thing you can count on for any of these pets is that they will always have a musty smell, so it’s important to keep their cages clean.

Finally, ask yourself why you are getting this pet and have you chosen the right pet for your lifestyle? You should always make a lifetime commitment to the pet you pick. The more homes an animal goes through, the worst their behavior gets. We are humans—it is up to us to uphold our end of the bargain with our pets, no matter what.

Valerie Masi, owner of Best Paw Forward, can be reached at (760) 885-9450 or visit bestpawforwarddogtraining.com.

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