Adopting a pet: Things to consider

Adopting a pet can be wonderfully fulfilling, whether you’ve loved and lost a beloved pet in the past or this will be the first animal you welcome into your home.

There are so many animals currently under the care of rescue centres and rehoming charities who deserve the chance of a loving home. Just a brief glance at some statistics show the staggering scale of this issue and why adopting a pet can be such a life-affirming decision:

It’s not just dogs and cats that need rehoming. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, hens, other birds, reptiles all need a proper home where they can live a happy, fulfilled life.

Before you adopt

Although adoption is incredibly worthy, it’s important that you go into adopting a pet with your eyes open.

Think about the following:

  • What type of animal would you like to adopt?
  • Do you have experience with this species?
  • Can you provide the living space, food, exercise and so on that the animal will need?
  • Should the animal be kept alone or in pairs/groups?
  • Can you afford the costs of having a particular animal, including the monthly insurance and/or any vets bills?
  • How long are you out at work every day? How will this affect your chosen pet?
  • Newly adopted animals often need a lot of your time and attention – are you able to give this around your existing commitments?
  • Do you have children? If so, what ages are they?
  • Do you have other pets? How will adopting a new animal affect them?
  • Does the animal have any special needs, such as medical problems?
  • What age of animal would suit your family?

By pinpointing what you can offer to an adopted pet as well as what kind of animal would be the best fit for your home, you have the best chance of the adoption working out.

Adopting a rescue animal

Many animals end up in a rescue centre because of challenges with their behaviour. Dogs are prime examples. In recent research discussed by The Dog’s Trust, it was found that dogs are often surrendered because of fearful behaviour, aggression to other dogs and/or people, and separation anxiety.

If a dog is already dealing with these issues, they can be exacerbated by being constantly moved from one home to another. It’s important to be aware of this.

In fact, rescue animals of all shapes and sizes can come to their forever homes with a wide range of problems and anxieties. You may be told something about their background or their life before being rescued may be a complete mystery.

Love, patience and care can make a world of difference but positive changes rarely happen overnight.

Will you be OK with that?

Sadly, many pets that leave a rescue for their ‘forever’ home find themselves being returned weeks, days or even hours later because the adopter hadn’t fully understood the scope of the issues they might face. This leaves more challenges for the next adopter to tackle because the animal isn’t able to trust that they won’t be moved on.

Be prepared

A good rescue centre will try to prepare you for the issues you could face and offer support after the adoption. Even armed with information though, taking on a rescue animal can be challenging, especially with dogs and cats.

It’s crucial to recognise that your adoption may come with highs and lows and to be honest about what you can take on.

  • How would you cope with an animal that has been abused?
  • What would you do about an animal that hasn’t been handled by or socialised with humans, especially if that animal is withdrawn or reactive?
  • Do you have a support network around you? This might be crucial if, for example, you have a dog with separation anxiety who becomes destructive or distressed when left at home – you might need your friends to act as dog sitters.
  • If you’re adopting a dog, would be you be prepared to pay for training classes or work with a behaviourist of some description?

Not all rescue pets have behavioural or emotional issues – rehoming charities can help you find the animal with the most suitable temperament.

Do your homework

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to rescue an animal, we’d recommend that you find out about the various rehoming charities for the species or breed that you would prefer. Look nationally and locally.

Some charities list animals for rehoming on their websites but it can be time-consuming for them to keep this information updated so don’t despair if you can’t see the perfect pet online. It’s often possible to visit a rehoming charity or foster family by appointment or to have a chat over the phone or via email about the most suitable adoptee. They may have someone in mind who hasn’t been listed yet.

Terms and conditions of adopting

Depending on the type of animal, charities may insist on doing home checks and introductory and follow-up visits to make sure you’re paired with the right animal. This is to ensure that the transition into your home goes as smoothly as possible.

If your new pet needs an enclosure, you may be asked to set it up before you adopt so that someone from the charity can check the size and appropriateness. For example, hutched rabbits must have access to a large run safe from predators.

You will also need to find out whether there is an adoption fee, as well as other terms and conditions.

A local guinea pig rescue, for example, might only let female piggies be adopted if you sign a declaration that you will never breed from them. Equally, you might have to adopt a pair of guinea pigs or prove that you have another pig at home to live as the adoptee’s companion. A good charity will let you introduce your existing guinea pig to potential companions to make sure they’re well matched.

If you’re rehoming a young dog or cat, you might be asked to have them neutered at a certain age and to provide proof that this has been done or even arrange it through the charity’s preferred vet.

You might also have to promise that, in the event that your pet needs rehoming in the future, they are returned to the same charity. Make sure that you read and understand the terms and conditions of the adoption. Rehoming charities would much rather answer your questions now than have to rehome an animal a second time in the near future.

Avoid free listings

While we’re aware that animals are often listed for adoption on free listings sites, we would urge you to find your new companion through a recognised charity or rescue centre.

This is because animals rehomed through these organisations will usually have had thorough health checks, relevant vaccinations and been assessed for their suitability for rehoming. You should also be able to call on the charity for advice after the adoption.

With animals that are offered ‘free to a good home’ online, you may have no recourse if you hit problems.

Fostering a pet

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to adopt a pet, you could consider fostering. Many charities are crying out for fosterers as it gives pets up for rehoming a chance to decompress in a home environment until a suitable forever home is found.

As a fosterer, you’ll probably be given first refusal on adopting any pets you temporarily home. Rescue centres love a failed foster!

Fostering is a powerful way to make a difference to animals even if you’re not ready for a lifetime commitment. Rehoming charities will usually cover vet’s bills, etc. while animals are in foster care – all you need is love, a safe space, food, water and time.

A life-long companion

If you do decide to go ahead with adopting a pet, we’re sure it will be one of the best decisions you ever make.

The experience of giving an animal the loving home they deserve is incredible. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal come out of their shell and learning to relax and trust.

There may well be challenges ahead but this just makes all the victories sweeter.

With so many animals desperate for a first or second chance with people who genuinely care for them, adopting is a way to put some good back into the world. If you’re grieving for a lost pet, it can also be a beautiful way of honouring their memory (but only if you’re ready).

Until next time, Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

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