Disclosure: I am writing this to fulfill an assignment for Introduction to Humane Education, a wonderful course in my first semester as a Humane Education PhD student at Saybrook University in conjunction with Valparaiso University and the Institute for Humane Eduction. I am reading The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird (awesome names). The assignment is to bring these elements to others through my teaching. Since I am not a teacher in a clssroom, I am applying the elements to how I might approach pet adoptions during my volunteer shifts at the East Bay SPCA. The views expressed are solely those of the author, not of any organization. I am paraphrasing the 5 elements, not quoting the authors.
So, you want to adopt a shelter pet?
Element 1: Examine your understanding of the basics.
- Why do you want a pet? Ask yourself why you want a pet. You might be surprised at the real reason and it might be that a pet is not right for you or it is not the right time. The following are responses I’ve heard and my reaction to them:
“My kids keep asking for a dog/cat.” Not the best reason if it’s the only reason. Knowing as the parent that unless your kids are extraordinary you will be doing a lot of the pet care (and paying the expenses), do you want a pet? And why does your kid want a pet? If it’s because of a cute movie like 101 Dalmatians, chances are the pet will end up back at the shelter. Celebrities with pets are often not good role models either.
“I want a cat to catch mice.” or “I want a guard dog.” At shelters, we are looking to place companion animals as members of families, not working animals. And we can’t guarantee that a cat will be a mouser.
“I want a present for my wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/child/children.” Are you sure the recipient wants a pet? Wouldn’t it be better for them to meet the pet, and make the choice themselves? Giving pets as surprise gifts is not encouraged. At the East Bay SPCA everyone in the household must be on board and present to meet potential adoptive pets.
“I have a cat/dog at home who is lonely and needs a friend.” Maybe. Maybe not. Do you know your pet gets along with other animals? Maybe your cat/dog is happy as an only pet. If you have a dog and want another, be prepared to bring your dog in to meet potential adoptees; it’s required at the East Bay SPCA.
“I love animals, grew up with them, can’t imagine life without them and have done my homework on adoption.” First, I will ask for permission to hug you. Then I will start introducing you to the animals. Gold star!
- Are you interested in cats or dogs? Some people aren’t sure when they come in. There is a difference. Dogs typically need more of your time and energy than cats, but cats have their own issues too. The American Humane Association’s website offers the pages Is a Dog Right for You? (http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/adoption-pet-care/is-a-dog-right-for-you.html) and Is a Cat Right for You? (http://www.americanhumane.org/animals/adoption-pet-care/is-a-cat-right-for-you.html) that are good to look over.
We will get to more questions in Element 3: Ask questions!
Element 2: Learn from your mistakes.
Meet several potential animals and find the temperament that is right for you. Take your time and find the right fit. If you meet an animal that you don’t connect with, figure out why and look for a pet with the characteristics that would facilitate a connection. Some people want lap cats, some want aloof cats, some want dogs that they can dress up, some want dogs that will go jogging with them. Are you a couch potato? A highly energetic pet won’t be the right one. There are couch potatoes waiting for you at the shelter, too! An older person might do well to consider an older pet. Senior pets are wonderful! Some animals might be shy at first; is that okay with you or do you want instant bonding? Don’t feel shy about having a conversation with the shelter staff or volunteer helping you; they generally know the animals and can make recommendations based on what you are looking for. And remember, it’s not all about looks. Personality is much more important!
Once you find the pet that you think is the one, it’s time for adoption counseling.
Element 3: Raise questions!
When adopting a pet, there are many issues to think about and at the East Bay SPCA, a volunteer adoption counselor or a staff associate will guide you through some questions and answer any you have. For example:
- Where will the pet sleep at night? With you? In a crate? (Please don’t say outdoors.)
- What behaviors can you tolerate and what not? Have you ever dealt with problem behaviors in pet before? There are ways to correct behaviors if you are willing to put in the effort.
- Do you have the willingness to deal with litter boxes or picking up after your dog? Potty training a dog?
- Have you considered the cost of toys, grooming, veterinary services? At the East Bay SPCA, you will be informed if they are aware of any pre-existing medical issues, but the cost of care will be yours.
- Do you have time for keeping your pet from being bored? Dogs need walking, cats need activities.
- Do you have your landlord’s permission?
- Who will look after the pet if you go on vacation or have an emergency?
The list goes on!
Element 4: Add it all up (look at the “flow” of ideas).
After going through all the pluses and minuses, are you still on board? Have you met a pet that you can do everything in Element 3 for? Do you feel like all of your concerns have been addressed in the adoption counseling? You can change your mind and there won’t be any judgment. The shelter wants what is best for you and the animal. Don’t feel obligated!
Element 5: Embrace change!
If you adopted an animal companion, congratulations! Your life will change, for the better. The human-animal bond has mutual rewards. And if you have children, there will be lots of learning opportunities ahead. If you didn’t adopt, think about why not. Did you decide maybe the best pet for you isn’t a dog or a cat but some other small animal? There are plenty of private rescue groups for rabbits, birds, all kinds of creatures. Oakland Animal Services, not too far from the East Bay SPCA, has other small animals for adoption. Maybe a younger pet takes more time and energy than you have so you want to look into senior pets. Or if you realized it’s not the right time for you but you’d still like to be involved with animals, you could look into volunteering at a shelter. And start planning for the future when the time is right.
This week is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week; consider making a donation, becoming a volunteer, and/or adopting a pet in need!