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How to Choose a Shelter Pet

shelter dog

from the Gumtree Team

17 May 2024 6 mins read

In high school, my best friend and I volunteered at an animal shelter. Our job was ‘felinality’ testing the cats. We went through a series of scenarios and recorded how each cat responded, ultimately ending up with a result ranging from ‘Leader of the Band’ to ‘Secret Admirer.’ Years later, my husband and I went to the same shelter and brought home our very own “Love Bug”. While ‘felinality’ testing is not an exact science, it is one way that shelters can help promote the diversity of species, breeds, and personalities that are waiting for their forever homes. Your dream pet may be waiting, but with so many options, how do you choose the right shelter pet for your family?   

Be Ready to Commit

Adopting a pet is a huge commitment. Before opening your home and heart to a rescue pet, you must be prepared to provide for their needs. This commitment involves being financially ready to pay for food, supplies, and veterinary care, but also having the time and desire to actively engage with your fur baby through play, exercise, and mental stimulation. With one in three pets requiring emergency vet care in their lifetime, it’s also key to have a plan in place to cover unexpected expenses, such as pet insurance or an emergency fund. 

Consider Your Lifestyle

If you’re ready to commit to a pet, the first step is to get a rough idea of what you’re looking for, your reasons for adopting, and what species, breed, and age of pet will best fit. Making a list can be helpful, and be sure to include your whole family in the discussion. 

Honestly assess your goals and lifestyle, including your activity level, the amount of time you can dedicate to a pet, and your living situation. Do you have children or other animals already in the home? Do you have a fenced yard to accommodate a large active dog, or are you looking for a furry companion who might prefer to cuddle on the couch? 

Do Your Research

After you have a general idea what you’re looking for, it’s time for some research. All animals are unique individuals; however, there are specific physical and behavioral traits, as well as potential medical issues, that are more common in certain breeds. Remember that although mixed-breed dogs and cats may come with more unknowns, they offer equally amazing companionship! 

How to Assess a Potential Best Friend

An in-person visit is the best (and only) way to get to know your potential best friend and find that special connection. With so many cute faces, here’s what you may want to focus on. 

  • Personality trumps breed: While it’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for, be sure to keep an open mind as well. It’s also important to remember that many pets feel stressed and anxious in a shelter environment, so their behaviours and personalities may change after adoption.
  • Consider an adult or senior: Puppies and kittens are adorable but require significantly more care and training. An adult dog might already be housetrained and less rambunctious than their younger counterparts. 
  • Pay attention to body language: By observing body posture, ears, eyes, and tail position, you can get a feel for whether an animal is feeling relaxed and friendly, anxious and timid, or overwhelmed and fearful. 
  • Go slow: When approaching an unknown animal, speak softly, get down to their level to appear less threatening, and avoid direct eye contact. Offer a gentle hand for them to sniff before attempting to pet them and be sure to let them go at their own pace. 
  • Ask for help: Shelter staff (or a previous owner) can provide invaluable insights into an animal’s personality, history, medical condition, and special needs. 
  • Spend time together: Try to plan several visits to get to know a potential pet and spend time together in different situations. Ask if you can take a dog for a walk or use a play area to see how you connect. If you have a dog at home and are adopting a dog, having them meet each other is also a good idea. 
  • Watch for red flags: Keep an eye out for vague or inconsistent medical history, uncleanliness or overcrowding in the shelter, signs of illness, uncharacteristic behaviors (such as a very quiet and withdrawn puppy), and signs or history of aggression. If you choose to adopt a pet online, RSPCA also recommends keeping an eye out for these red flags
  • Be patient: Lastly, be patient and take your time. While you may be excited, don’t feel pressure to adopt immediately. Make sure you explore your options and that everyone in the family has time to meet the new pet and feels excited about the commitment. 

Making it Official and Bringing Your Pet Home

After you’ve found your perfect pet, there are several steps left to ensure that you are the best possible match, including completing an adoption application, checking references, a home visit, and taking care of adoption fees. Your pet may need to be spayed/neutered or receive other medical care prior to adoption, or you may be instructed to establish a relationship with a vet to take care of this. 

Bringing home a new pet is a big adjustment for everyone. Ask what you can do to help make the transition easier – for example, bringing home some of their favorite toys and keeping them on the same diet for the first few weeks. 

Although every pet is different, the 3-3-3 rule can help you know what to expect during these early days. During the first three days, your pet will likely be overwhelmed, may want to hide, and generally needs time to decompress. Over the next three weeks, they’ll start to feel more comfortable in your home, and after three months, you should be well on your way to forming a strong bond. 

Adoption is a wonderful and rewarding way to open your home and heart to an animal in need. If you’re ready to find your dream pet, visit your local shelter, rescue, or online pet marketplace!