Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

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November 5, 2012
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Pet column: How to adopt a shelter pet

It's finally time. All family members agree they want a pet. Responsibilities of pet ownership have been discussed and related tasks and chores assigned. A pet budget, perhaps including pet medical insurance, has been planned to handle emergencies as well as regular pet care. It's time to go to the shelter. How do you find your perfect match?

Some large shelters have programs to do just that. There are prospective adopter questionnaires which an adoption counselor matches to observed temperaments and tolerances of available pets. Considerations include how much time the family can spend with the pet, how active the adopter is, pet owning experience, the presence of children and other pets in the home, and other relevant factors. Some facilities use a color matching system whereby adopters match their personalities and lifestyles to kennel and cage tags indicating general traits. Smaller shelters do the same thing in a less formal way by relying on years of staff experience with both adoptions and returns, and their immediate knowledge of the pets in their care.

Commonly the actual human experience of a shelter pet is unknown. Just as people can be unpredictable, so can pets, pure bred or blended. Virtually all shelters specify a period during which the adopter can return the chosen pet for any reason. A time period also is specified for the adopter to have the new family member examined by the family veterinarian. Any discovered medical issues may be resolved by reimbursement for approved treatment or return of the pet.-

In a many states, spay-neuter surgery is mandated prior to a public or private shelter releasing an animal for adoption. Not only does this save all taxpayers money by reducing the costs of field operations and public sheltering of strays, but also there's a bonus to the adopter. The surgical fee which is included in the adoption fee is deeply discounted through shelter arrangements with designated veterinarians. In addition, vaccinations are made current.

The majority of orphan shelter pets were once beloved family members. Due to family life changes such as job loss, illness, accident or death, these bewildered animals must cope with their real or perceived abandonment. Some who are accustomed to being boarded in kennels wait expectantly for their family to return. Others immediately become depressed, going to the back of the kennel when strangers approach, barking fearfully, or averting their eyes. Cats in particular may have difficulty adapting. The wise and compassionate adopter takes this into consideration when evaluating a pet for the first time. Repeat visits are encouraged to see if there's a "connection" and to give the new family time to absorb the reality of bringing a new pet into their lives. It's routine to bring a shelter pet home and witness a quick blossoming of personality which is truly amazing as well as rewarding. The pets seem to understand their second chance and demonstrate true gratitude when being placed back into a home environment.

Today, in a more enlightened environment, both shelter staff and general public share a commitment to respect domestic animal needs and to provide enriched shelter experiences and well matched new home environments for human dependent pets. Some adopters have the experience, patience and resources to deal with challenging pet personalities. First-time and average pet owners are encouraged to ask questions and establish a relationship with professional shelter staff who can help assure the best match for both pet and prospective guardian. Adopters can be assured that they can find a loyal soulmate at a shelter with more support than ever before. There is a "right" pet waiting for every person with a little patience.

- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Nov 5, 2012 07:09PM Published Nov 5, 2012 06:51PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.