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A Guide to Adopting Responsibly

Bringing home a new, four legged addition to the family can be a very exciting time for everyone involved! The ASPCA estimates that approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter US shelters every year, which leaves a wide variety of dogs and cats looking for loving homes. With all these choices, finding the right dog or cat for your family sounds like it should be a walk in the park. However, time and experience prove that it isn't always as easy as it sounds! An animal's breed, size, energy level, behavior, and even grooming needs all play a role in whether or not he or she is the right fit for your family. On top of that, ensuring that you're ready to take on the cost associated with owning a pet can be a daunting task, especially when a shelter pet's breed, medical history, and behavioral history are not known. Not to worry, though! A little extra preparation up front goes a long way toward ensuring that adopting a new pet is the exciting event you hope it will be!

Choose Carefully

Selecting a specific breed of dog or cat can be a huge help in determining which shelter pet is the best fit for you and your family. However, the majority of animals that find themselves in shelters are of uncertain parentage, and can be labeled nothing for than a "mix" or "mixed breed." In cats, there's little variation in breed mixes in most shelters, so the personality, size, and age of the cat play the biggest role in helping you determine which cat is right for your family. For example, if a cat is shy, hides, or resists being handled, it is likely not the best choice for a family with young children who will want to chase, pet, and otherwise be an active friend to your new cat. Want to learn more? Check out the Humane Society's guide to choosing the right cat, which helps to narrow down which cat is right for your household. Looking for a dog, instead? The process isn't all that different. Although dog breeds vary much more widely in shelters than those of cats, the breed listed for each dog you see is more than likely just an educated guess on the part of the shelter. As a result, no matter what the listed breed, you will still need to take things like size, age, and temperament into consideration. Before starting your search, put some thought into what size, age, and personality you're looking for in a dog, and make sure you're willing to say no to a dog that isn't right for your family. It may be heartbreaking to look a homeless animal in the eyes and then leave it behind, but it's important to remember that if a dog isn't the best match for you, he's better off waiting for the right family than he is going home with your family only to make you unhappy! Not sure how to determine the temperament of a dog based on only a few minutes of experience meeting her in a shelter? Try asking the shelter staff questions about the dog you're thinking of adopting. They might have limited information too, but they can tell you much more than you could learn just by looking at a dog or meeting her for just a few minutes. For example, did the dog arrive as a stray or was it given up by its previous owner? How long has the dog been at their shelter? Do they know anything about the dog's medical history? What can they say about the dog's energy level? Is it good with other dogs? What about kids? It is inevitable that there are a large number of unknowns when it comes to bringing home a shelter pet, but doing a little research up front and doing your best to carefully consider what you're looking for in a pet goes a long way toward ensuring that the cat or dog you choose will be a good fit for you and your family. 

Create a Rainy Day Fund

Having a rainy day fund for your pet in case of an emergency or unexpected expense can make the difference between feeling free to take care of your pet and having to make some difficult decisions. Just walking into an emergency hospital can run between 150 and 200 dollars, and that doesn't include any testing, surgery, or medications that might be needed to get your pet back into working order. As a result, it's important to be as financially prepared as possible. Pet insurance can help offset some of the cost if you choose a company and plan that meets your needs, but most insurance companies will not cover any condition that existed prior to the start date of the policy, so it can be tricky to handle if you adopt an older pet who has any known medical conditions. In addition, pet insurance companies require that you pay your veterinary bills up front and then submit for reimbursement, so it still pays to be financially prepared, even if you have pet insurance on your side.

Invest in Your Pet's Health

Investing in your new cat or dog's health by being proactive with care helps to minimize future health problems by preventing them, or by catching them early to improve your pet's chance of recovery. Seeing your veterinarian at least once a year for a wellness exam allows your vet to get to know your cat or dog and notice when any changes occur. In addition, working together with your vet to talk through any subtle issues you notice can catch a number of treatable conditions early, including kidney disease, thyroid issues, joint pain, and more. Your pet may not be able to tell you where it hurts, but your veterinarian has been trained to look for non-verbal signals that something is wrong, and to make recommendations for follow-up care that is right for you and your pet.

Consult an Expert

Advice abounds when it comes to fuzzy, adorable creatures! Whether it's your friends, family, coworkers, pet store employees, or the internet offering the advice, it is often in no short supply! While this advice is given with good intentions, it can be overwhelming to sort through it all and determine what's right for you and your pet. If you're having trouble wading through the sea of information available, consider asking an expert to help you navigate the waters. A good veterinarian can be a huge help to dog and cat owners alike when it comes to keeping your new pet healthy. They can help you determine whether issues that arise at home are being caused by medical or behavioral problems, and help you treat them accordingly. For most dog owners, a good trainer (along with your own committment to maintaining a training routine) can also be a valuable resource to help you and your dog have the happiest, healthiest relationship possible.


Adopting a new furry family member is a life changing decision, and with the right preparation, it's a very exciting one! Be sure that everyone in the family is ready for a new pet, and don't hesitate to ask questions of the shelter staff and your veterinary office along the way. They may not have a crystal ball to show them how healthy or well behaved your pet will be in the future, but they will do whatever they can to help you with your adoption journey!

Happy trails!

The CVH Team