Things to Consider Before Adopting A Pet

Paws and Claws volunteers work very diligently to find stable, responsible homes for the dogs and cats in our care. We look for established, dependable homes with people ready for the challenge of a puppy or kitten. Many of the critters in our care already have security issues, and we want to ensure the adoptive home is the forever home. Also, the older an animal is, the harder it is to re-home it, so we want try to make the appropriate choice from the start.

The following delves deeper into issues many people don’t consider when thinking about a puppy or kitten. It is hard to think of the realities when faced with a cute puppy or kitty, but the following is extremely important. The average life span of a dog is 10 – 15 years, a cat 14 – 18 years.  Your pet will need your love and care 365 days a year.  Dogs, cats and other animal companions cannot be ignored just because you’re busy or tired.  If you look in any newspaper you will see ads "dog or cat free to good home". Many of these owners will tell you things like:, "we are never home, it is just not fair to the dog", or "it needs a good farm home". Before adopting a pet, do some research; consider the dog's size, activity level, temperament, etc.  That way, you will ensure that you have chosen an animal who will fit into your lifestyle and your living arrangements.

1. Do any members of your family suffer from allergies? Don’t let adopting a puppy or cat be the allergen-trial. We have seen too many heartbroken children and their families when they have to bring back a puppy or kitten. Visit friends with animals, and pet stores to test for allergies. Ask your pet-owning friends not to vacuum before you arrive (they will be reluctant)! Ask if your children may brush the dog/ cat (make sure they do so gently and avoid the pet’s face). Let the dog lick the kids’ faces. Visit several dogs, as some breeds are more allergenic than others. Mild allergies tend to worsen upon exposure- don’t assume they’ll stay in the background.

2. Costs!! It may not be as costly to raise a dog as it is a child, but it sometimes seems as though it might be close. The cost of adopting a pet is a pittance compared to what you will spend on the dog or cat throughout its lifetime.

  • First year- responsible pet owners pay about $1200 to $2000 in the first year of a dog’s life; cats are only a bit cheaper. The spay procedure (which pays for itself many times over) will run from $175- $450 depending upon where you live. Vaccinations will be around $75 to $200. Responsible owners also ensure their dogs are safely contained; dog runs, fencing, or electronic roaming-control collars run from $400 to tens of thousands. Food will be about $40 to $50 per bag per month on average; you can buy cheap food, but it isn’t really a bargain as the dog will likely eat more of it, possibly lack nutrients and may suffer allergies or gastrointestinal distress eating it (and have giant poos!) in addition to increased shedding. (12 months x $50 per bag per month= $600/year on average) Crates run from $50 to $400, and dog-houses $150 and up. Behaviour classes to ensure you have a well-socialized dog that follows your commands can cost upwards of $200. Kennelling during a vacation ($20 and up per night.) Accessories (pet beds, collars, leashes, bowls, chew bones, toys, shampoo, etc.) can also add up. De-worming three times per year. Grooming. Stain Cleaner. Training aids. Treats.
  • These are the costs if everything is normal! Every one of our volunteers has had to pay for unexpected surgery for a beloved pet. This can easily be in the thousands of dollars, even tens of thousands. (Another dog attacked one of our volunteer’s shelties; veterinary costs for one was $5000 and the other $3000. In another instance, a dog was hit on the road, and after multiple surgeries the total cost escalated to $10 000.)
  • Second year and beyond- Yearly veterinary examination, three times-per-year de-worming, yearly vaccinations, food, grooming, accessories (approximately $1000 per year)
  • Geriatric animals usually require special expensive foods, dental care, medications, increased vet visits, lab blood-work, and very possibly a humane euthanasia procedure to end its suffering should it arise. ($1500 and up per year in geriatric aged dogs and cats.)

3. Time! Most people do not realize how much time a pet will consume.

  • One myth that is prevalent is that cats do not need much attention. They may be more independent than dogs, but cats still need a great deal of attention. Behaviour problems can arise if they are neglected. A neglected cat may shred paper or furniture, dig out plants, and urinate or defecate inappropriately. It is the only way s/he can communicate dissatisfaction to you.
  • Puppies need to be let out every couple of hours to “do business”. An unattended puppy will chew just about anything, even the walls and door of the room it is contained in. Shoes, electronics, furniture, toys, everything is fair game.
  • Dogs need a great deal of attention and exercise. An adult dog can only remain alone for maximum of eight hours, and needs to be in a routine. Ideally you are able to come home on your lunch hour to let the dog outside, or have a neighbour do so.
  • You need to exercise your dog for at least thirty minutes every day. Ideally you are able to access an off-leash park so your dog may run strenuously. Exercise will keep your dog leaner (the human companion too!) and less prone to illness. Exercise relieves boredom, and a well-exercised dog has less energy to chew on your possessions. Walking together, playing fetch and other interactions will strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
  • If your lifestyle is that of travelling, socializing away from home, running kids to sports etc., or working/ studying long hours with no one else at home to see to the pets, you may want to postpone pet ownership to a time when your lifestyle is more conducive to caring for an animal. It isn’t fair to Fido to have to sit at home lonely with his legs crossed.

4. Most people know that puppies are cute- what they don’t realize is that they are also exhausting bundles of drudgery. Looking after a puppy is hard work. What to expect:

  • Several times per day cleaning poopy messes- often on the carpet- and pee stains is pretty standard. Enzymatic cleaners are expensive, though effective.
  • If you take your eye off puppy even for a moment, your cell phone may be chewed, junior’s precious toy, your expensive dress shoes, a briefcase, etc. They seem to go for things that smell like you, and these items tend to be what you handle/ treasure most.
  • You have to get up in the night every couple of hours to let puppy “do business” for weeks on end. A foster parent in our system who has children herself tells me that caring for a puppy is similar to caring for a newborn child.
  • Puppies bite and chew. This isn’t aggression nor hostility, it is how they learn about the world around them. Puppy teeth are horribly sharp, as are their claws, and it takes the patience of a saint to stay calm and discourage them kindly over and over and over from nipping and jumping up. They often try to play with children as they do other puppies. Small children will be in tears, and feelings will be hurt because they mistakenly think puppy is being “mean”.
  • Puppies bark. Puppies dig. A bored puppy (or adult dog) will chew, dig and bark from boredom. Neighbours get annoyed, and the bylaw officer may present you with a ticket. How are you going to deal with these problems as they arise? You need a back-up plan. This might include crating your dog while you are gone, but this must be done properly. You might also keep it in the house, but you need to take measures keep your furniture safe. Doggy daycare is another great though costly alternative.
  • Puppies jump up. They need hours of training to break bad habits, and learn more appropriate ones in their stead.

5. Many people say they want a dog for the kids to grow up with.

  • You must be prepared for an excited puppy jumping up, biting, and unwittingly clawing with sharp nails. When your children run and make squealing sounds, the puppy will take this as an invitation to play, and will likely run and tackle a toddler. You need to be aware of this, and ensure that a well-meaning, exuberant puppy doesn’t injure small children. You can never leave the two together unsupervised.
  • Many people adopt an older dog to circumvent some of these troubles. Older kids will promise you the world if they can please please please get a puppy. (They will get better grades, walk the dog, feed the pet, clean up the poop, etc…) These promises are usually short-lived. An adult must be prepared to be the primary caregiver and cannot rely on the children to look after the dog.

6. Alberta has a very low vacancy rate- some cities have a 0% vacancy. Landlords usually will not allow pets on their properties. Paws and Claws needs to see your original lease agreement indicating that pets are allowed.

  • The Red Deer Advocate published a story about a couple that recently moved to Alberta. Despite both being gainfully employed with plenty of money, no one will rent to them as they have two large dogs. They are camping out until they can find a house to buy, as they consider the dogs to be family members and refuse to part with them.
  • Please make sure you are allowed to have animals on the property before getting your heart set on pets.

This article may appear discouraging, but it is important that potential adopting families are aware of these aggravations and costs. Pet ownership is very rewarding, but families must be aware of its challenges. You may wish to consider a mature animal to avoid some (not all) of the problems. Our Paws and Claws volunteers will work with you to figure out what your family’s unique challenges are, and may suggest alternatives to solve them.

Janet Sigurdson, Vice President
Paws and Claws Animal Rescue