Sharing a home with a four-legged friend can be one of life's greatest joys. But while pet ownership is rewarding, it's also a big decision. Dogs require lots of time, money and responsibility — 10 to 15 years' worth, in many cases.
Dr. Pia Salk, author and spokeswoman for the non-profit pet adoption website AdoptaPet.com, warns against taking home a pet on a whim or because you feel it's "love at first sight."
"Do your research and carefully consider all aspects and implications of owning a pet before you make a decision," Salks advised. "When you adopt, you need to make a real commitment to care for your pet for its entire life."
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Here are few things shelters hope prospective pet parents will consider:
Falling in love with a tail-wagging Maltese or adorable boxer is easy. But pets can't be ignored on those days when you're too tired or busy. Dogs require daily food, water, exercise and companionship. You'll have to account for your pet in making all kinds of decisions, including travel, social life and overtime at work.
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If you work long hours or travel often, you'll need to arrange for someone to walk or dog-sit your pooch, according to Alberdina Schmidt, director of A Different Breed Animal Rescue in Dallas, Texas. Most cities have dog-walking and boarding services, as well as swanky day spas, if you can afford the investment.
COST OF PET CARE
As a pet parent, owners have an obligation to care for their furry friends in sickness and in health.
The first year of pet ownership will cost about $1,300 for a small dog and upwards of $1,800 for a larger one — not including emergency visits to the vet, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Those figures include initial one-time expenses like spaying, vaccinations, training and start-up supplies (such as a collar and leash), as well as the annual cost of food, treats, pet insurance, grooming and vet visits. Make sure you're prepared for emergency expenses if Buddy swallows his chew toy or your earrings.
Every subsequent year, dog owners should expect to spend about $700 on their four-legged friends. Owners of small mammals will spend closer to $300, while bird owners will spend $200. Fish are the least expensive, at just $35 a year, the ASPCA estimates.
If you're thinking of bringing a dog home and are concerned about the financial overhead, don't be discouraged. Dogs from shelters and rescues are usually neutered and up to date on shots, eliminating that expense from the first-year total. You can check out some other cost-saving tips here.
Is your living arrangement suitable for the animal you have in mind? If you live in a shoe-box apartment, a large dog may not be the best choice. Do you have a backyard? Make sure your fence is properly secured before bringing your new puppy home, especially if the dog is a smaller breed. Pet-proof your home to make sure toxic materials and valuables are out of reach.
It is also important to know if and how you are limited by housing-related pet policies. Some landlords don't allow pets or have size restrictions.
Many rescue groups, such as A Different Breed, require renters to provide written permission from the property owner as part of the adoption application. Certain breeds are often excluded from homeowner insurance policies, so it's important to double check before bringing home your new best friend.
If you're adopting a pet for your kids, understand the responsibility is ultimately yours. Jacque Lynn Schultzm, companion animal programs adviser for Petfinder.com, said children by nature often tire of things that were once new and exciting — and this includes pets. Expecting to impose the sole pet-care responsibility on a child is not fair to the child or dog, Schultsm said.
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Research different breeds and figure out what size, age and energy level is most appropriate for you and your family.
Whether you buy a puppy from a breeder or adopt an older dog from a shelter, your pooch is going to need some basic training. Pets need plenty of guidance when it comes to abiding by human rules.
Diane Summers, program manager at the Orange County Animal Services in Florida, urges pet owners to plan for a several-week adjustment period during which there will be challenges. Remember, bringing a new dog into your home is just as much an adjustment for the dog as it is for you.
Private training costs vary widely. An expert trainer in New York City, for example, can charge as much as $200 an hour. Nationwide pet retailers like Petco and PetSmart offer six-week training courses starting at about $109.
According to angieslist.com, states don’t require that dog trainers be licensed, so make sure to ask about the trainer’s education, credentials and experience. You can also ask your local veterinarian for recommendations or, if professional training is out of your budget, for suggestions on a good how-to book.
SHELTER OR RESCUE?
So you've done your homework, reviewed your checklist and even brainstormed a few names. Now you're ready to bring home your new best friend. The last question to consider is: From where do you adopt?
Public animal shelters are run and funded by local governments. Also known as "the pound," these facilities house animals that have been seized by animal control for various reasons or picked up as strays, according to Jennifer Jacobsen, director of shelter programs at AdoptaPet.com.
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Local municipalities also subsidize private shelters affiliated with the Humane Society or SPCA, Jacobsen said. Humane societies only take in animals when they have room, unlike animal control, which must house all strays.
There are two types of shelters: "kill" and "no kill." Pets in "kill" shelters are given a grace period for adoption, then humanely euthanized as the shelter runs out of room. "No kill" shelters have limited admission and usually don't accept animals over a certain age or with medical or behavioral issues.
Animal rescue organizations, on the other hand, are funded mainly by private donations, staffed by volunteers and typically have limited admission, according to Adoptapet.com. Unlike shelters, which house pets on-site in kennels, rescue animals are fostered into temporary homes until they find a "forever home."
The biggest difference between shelters and rescue organizations is the adoption fee. Because animal rescues rely solely on public and private donations, a higher fee is used to offset some of the veterinary and pet-care expenses.
"When you adopt a pet, your new best friend is usually spayed or neutered and up to date on shots, etc., and the adoption fee is often a fraction of what was spent to do those things and care for a pet with food and supplies in the time leading up to adoption," explained Diana Puglisi of AdoptaPet.com.
Whether you choose to adopt through a shelter or rescue, you'll be saving two lives — the one you take home and the space it opens up for a another dog to take over.