It takes special people to bring a new furry friend into their lives, especially one that may have undergone tremendous hardship. You're embarking on an honorable, joyous journey that will help improve your life and that of your newly adopted pet. But before you rush out to your nearest rescue shelter, there are a few things you should know to make this process easier. If you're contemplating becoming a pet parent by saving a dog or cat from the harsh realities of animal shelter life, we have some essential rescue adoption tips for you.
At HolistaPet, we're no strangers to helping pets in need. Our work with Dr. Kwane Stewart's Project Street Vet and our continued efforts with HolistaPet Helps, our community give-back program aiding at-risk pets, gives us valuable insights into the rescue adoption process that other pet wellness organizations can't provide. If you're looking to adopt, you owe it to yourself and your soon-to-be furry family member to read our helpful guide on making the rescue adoption process a success.
Are You Ready To Adopt a Pet?
Rescuing a new shelter dog or cat starts with you, and it's essential that you're prepared to bring a new member of the family into your home. Caring people with warm hearts adopt an average of 4.1 million shelter animals every year. A smooth transition has profound implications for you and your new, four-pawed loved one.
When you first walk down the cold, hard floors of a typical animal shelter, you'll find it hard not to feel a range of emotions. Hope fills your heart, but the endless staccato of barking dogs mixes with empty stares as you slowly search for your new soul mate. And then, it just happens. Your eyes connect, the tail wags or the kitty slides up against the gate while the purrs rev up. At that cherished moment, time seemingly stops, and you smile, knowing that you've found the one.
But long before this loving commitment arrives, you need to ask yourself if you're ready. Here are three main rescue adoption tips to consider before you bring home a rescue pet.
Is Everything Okay at Home?
The first few hours, days, and weeks of a rescue adoption are critical. Any sudden schedule change, like moving, going back to school, or starting a new job, can be stressful for you and your newly adopted dog or cat. Ensure your home life is stable and that you're ready for expansion. It's also important that your home is a calm environment.
A Neglected Pet Is an Unhappy Pet
Time is the most precious resource. Whether it's you or someone else in your home, designate a caregiver responsible for daily feeding and cleaning up, such as maintaining a litter box. Make sure this person is also dedicated to hours of playtime, especially with younger pets. Daily walks are a necessity with rescue dogs, and playtime is essential for frisky kittens or cats.
If possible, share these duties with other house members to ensure your new pet is always cared for. Always remember — a neglected pet is an unhappy pet.
Expect More Bills
Caring for a newly adopted dog or cat increases your monthly expenses. Expect to add dog food, cat food and litter, wellness treats, and toys to your budget. Veterinary care and maintaining a new cat or dog's health can get expensive if there's an unexpected issue. Consider enrolling in a pet insurance program, especially for adult dogs and cats.
Why Adopt a Rescue?
Adopting your own dog or cat has many benefits, mainly filling your soul with joy and bringing new, loving energy into your home. For many pet parents, the real question becomes, who's rescuing who?
From the glorious moment when you first meet, your pet senses they may be rescued, and the love will follow. Dogs understand they literally have a new leash on life, and cats thrive in a caring, safe environment. But more importantly and unfortunately, too many shelters must euthanize animals every day. So when you adopt a dog or cat, you're not only saving a life — you're gaining a new best friend.
Locating a Rescue Shelter Near You
There are many local and county rescue shelters to choose from. If you're unaware of one in your area, you may need to do some online sleuthing to find one nearby. But we took the liberty of making this easier for you!
Here are some great resources to find your nearest rescue adoption shelter:
- The American Kennel Club Rescue Network: Search for a specific breed within this nationwide network of dog rescue groups.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA): Use their nationwide database to find a local shelter for adoptable cats and dogs in your area.
- Adopt a Pet: Search for adoptable pets from rescue shelters near you.
- Petfinder: Locates animal shelters and rescues in your area.
Once you have an option, we recommend contacting your local shelter or rescue. Shelter employees and volunteers love nothing more than seeing resident pets go home with loving caregivers. Contact the shelter to learn about their adoption process, fees, and available breeds, colors, and personalities. They'll be happy to hear from you!
Other rescue options that may be available in your area include:
- In-person adoption drives. You can typically find adoption drives at pet stores, vets, and community service organizations. They tend to be more intimate events with fewer overall choices, but your new pup or kitty cat may be at one!
- Specific breed rescue groups. Breed-specific rescue organizations are wonderful adoption sources. The best ones screen potential families with interviews and even require pre-placement home visits. These organizations typically charge higher adoption fees than shelters, but they are a fabulous resource.
- Online adoption listings. Do your research and look for reputable people on social media offering adoption events. They're most likely good-hearted people who want to find good homes for pets.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Are you a dog person, a cat person, or both? If you're a dog person, do you prefer big, bounding breeds, medium-sized howling hounds, or little yapping yappers? Parenting a canine takes some effort, so ensure your personality and lifestyle match your pet's needs.
Cats absolutely have personalities, so choose accordingly! Are you looking for a purring, cuddly kitty cat or more of an I love you, now feed me, pet me, and leave me alone kind of feline? Either way, here's some food for thought for both dogs and cats.
Rescue Adoption Tips for Dogs
Why are you adopting a dog? If you already know the answer, you're in a good place. But whether you're searching for a puppy or an older, trained companion, there are several things you must take into consideration. These include:
- Scheduling care. Dogs require a lot of care from their human family members. Whether it's you or others in your home, determine who will be responsible for your new dog's upkeep. That includes walks, feeding, grooming, accident clean up, and playtime.
- Interacting with children. Consider getting baby gates to control access if you have young children at home. Kids might be too rough with a young puppy, so you might want to bring a dog home that's at least five months old or of medium size.
- Sleeping arrangements. There might be a point where your new pup is lounging next to you in your bed. But for the time being, get them acclimated to their new environment and provide a comfortable sleeping bed for them. Crate training is also useful during these first few weeks and offers a safe spot for your dog to sleep at night.
- Other pets in the home. Are there other dogs or other pets in the home? If so, monitor your new dog closely and how they interact with them. Let your dog determine their comfort and pay attention to body language during interactions to keep your new dog safe.
- Breed bias. Many dog breeds are misunderstood, and their reputations precede them. Always remember that any breed can be loving but, in the wrong hands, can be aggressive. A dog's confidence, behavior, and bad habits largely depend on its previous treatment and experience, not the animal's nature itself. Positive reinforcement can help.
Rescue Adoption Tips For Cats
For most cats, it becomes their house within the first few weeks of bringing them home — you're just living in it! While their natural independence generally means less overall effort than caring for a dog, a few things to consider for your purrrfect puss include:
- Indoor or outdoor cat? Some cats yearn to go outside, while others become scared and may run off in fear, choosing to stay and play in the entire house instead. Go easy and see how your kitty reacts when in a controllable outdoor space.
- Cats have sharp claws. Ensure you have designated scratching structures to avoid damage to couches, pillows, chairs, carpets, and rugs...the list never ends! We recommend getting a scratching post to take your cat's attention away from these items.
- Cats are very independent. Your feline will tend to roam around the house. Ensure snug screens on all your windows and that doors close completely to avoid unnecessary injury or escape.
- Household dangers. Avoid dangerous decorations and choking hazards such as electrical cords, and pull strings for drapes and window blinds. Plants and flowers can be deadly to cats, so ensure there are no issues.
Preparing Your Home for a New Rescue Pet
Intelligent dogs and cats are curious animals, so when bringing home a new pet, ensure everything is set for their arrival. Remember, the first night and the first few days are a learning, transitional experience for you and your new dog or cat. The new relationship does not happen overnight and will grow in time.
A bit of nervousness is completely normal, so being a gentle leader will go a long way toward your dog's comfort or your cat's sensitivity to their new environment. The best advice is to remain calm and provide the following:
- A welcoming, personal space and quiet place to call their own.
- A chew toy and other appropriate toys to help relieve stress and separation anxiety.
- Mental stimulation through attention and playtime.
- Oversee managed, careful introductions if other animals and people are in the home.
- Cat and dog-proof your home and keep your pet safe from potential hazards such as access to household chemicals.
Is There Space for the Rescue Dog or Cat?
We all need a livable space in which to thrive, and pets are no exception. If you're living in a small apartment, a large dog may not be the best choice or even allowed by a landlord. But even with a perfectly proportioned canine, it's important they have a bed or crate, feeding area, and play space.
Cats love to climb. Is there room for a multilevel cat castle or climbing tree? Like dogs, cats prefer having their food and water bowls in one location. That's also true for their litter box. It's important your living space can accommodate these necessities.
Moving from the shelter or foster situation, rescue dogs and cats need space and time to adjust to their new surroundings. If they don't have access to the entire dwelling, ensure they have a place to call their own!
Your Responsibilities as a New Rescue Pet Owner
First-time rescue owners must adhere to several responsibilities. The foremost rescue adoption tip is to give your new pet time to relax and adjust to their new environment. This is true even if they're hiding under the bed or other safe spaces.
As a new cat parent, your feline will view you as the new food giver and litter box maintenance technician. Rescue cats may be a bit skittish in their new home, so surround them with love and kindness. They'll come around, as will the endless purr fests! For canines, you're the new alpha dog, and training for the new home begins on day one.
With all rescue pets, it's important to follow a few essential rules and responsibilities as you begin your new lives together:
- Never, under any circumstances, leave the new pet alone with children, especially young or visiting children. Properly supervise your new rescue pet at all times as they learn about their little human packmates. Most children tend to be too playful and might end up upsetting your new friend.
- No rough play by any member of the family until you know your rescue pet well. The pet may interpret the rough play as aggression and respond inappropriately.
- Gradually discover some commands, like sit, stay, and come. If they respond correctly, reward them with praise and a healthy treat!
- Keep the food consistent with the initial offerings and gradually change it over time if needed. Ask your vet about transitioning to new food. Again, ensure dogs and cats have their own feeding area.
When To Call The Rescue Shelter for Advice
Sometimes we all need advice about our new family member's behavior. Dogs are pack animals, and different breeds have varying personalities and may not know the rules about proper pack interaction. Shelters employ extremely helpful professionals and compassionate volunteers who offer timely rescue adoption tips.
Don't hesitate to contact the shelter for further rescue adoption tips if you observe your dog or cat:
- Showing signs of rough play or aggressiveness to a child or adults.
- Growling, even during playtime or when eating.
- Snapping, biting, or nipping at any time.
- Mounting or humping. This is an attempt to establish dominance and must be consistently discouraged.
- Avoiding or not seeking physical contact. Dogs and cats are social animals and love attention.
- Showing fear or jealousy towards family members or strangers.
- Possessive behavior over food, toys, or space.
- Willful, disobedient behavior despite your best efforts to train them.
Final Thoughts — Rescue Adoption Tips
Adopting a pet is an important decision that requires thoughtful and physical preparation. The time spent before the momentous, jubilant day helps ensure a successful adoption. As any responsible pet owner, it's up to you to make sure you can provide a safe, welcoming, and pet-friendly living space for your new pet to call home. These simple rescue adoption tips will help make the process easier.
Rescuing a dog or cat to begin a new life in your home is an act of kindness that rewards you with unconditional love. You have the power to completely transform a life — your new pet's and your own! As your new best friend shows endless and loyal gratitude, you may ask yourself, who's rescuing who? In the end, you saved an animal's life by choosing to adopt a rescue, and we profoundly thank you for it.