Choosing to bring an animal into your home and life requires careful thought and consideration. To adopt from the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County, you must meet certain qualifications – like understanding the financial requirements that come with animal care and a suitable home environment. But caring for an animal goes beyond these base-level qualifications.
When you adopt an animal, you have to evaluate your life, habits, choices and preferences. After all, your new pet will be a long-term companion that is dependent upon you. Honest self-evaluation is a critical step in the adoption process – as finding the perfect animal companion for your unique lifestyle decreases the likelihood that you’ll surrender the animal back to the shelter.
So, beyond the basics, what should you consider before adopting an animal?
1. How much time are you willing to spend at home?
Any animal you adopt will go through an adjustment period. During the first few days at home, it is important to spend time bonding, training, setting expectations and helping your new family member acclimate. The transition period is short and smooth for some animals – especially less-needy cats and older dogs – but can be elongated for puppies and kittens, or for animals with anxiety or existing medical conditions.
Spending increased time at home doesn’t just stop during the adjustment period. Dogs especially need human companionship, someone to take them outside, feed them and walk them regularly. You also have to consider how long house-trained dogs can hold their bowels and bladder. A general rule of thumb is that puppies can hold their bowels for as many hours as they are months old. If you are adopting a 3-month-old puppy, you need to take them out at least once every three hours. An adult dog can generally hold their bowels for a full 8-9 hour workday, but they may not know they are supposed to do that at first. Even adults will need to have frequent potty breaks, at least at first, while they learn their new schedule. For the length of your animal’s life, you’ll have to consider how long you’re away from your home when you’re making plans.
2. Are you prepared to help your animal adjust?
The adjustment period for each animal is different, but regardless it is a phased process. Even if it seems like your animal’s transition period is over, it’s important to know that it may take as long as 90 days for them to be fully acclimated to their new environment. This means that your immediate future, at least the next three months, should be clear in preparation for adopting an animal.
Responsible adopters should try to reserve the first three days to be with their animal. This initial post-adoption period can be confusing for animals, and they may exhibit a wide range of emotions. Consistent support and encouragement is important. At the three week mark, you should start to see shifts in your animal’s behavior. They will begin respecting boundaries and recognizing items like their leash and where you keep treats. By the three month mark, they should be well acclimated. Understand that the transition takes time for both you and your animal! If you’re not prepared to devote the first three months after adoption to supporting your animal’s transition, you might need to wait before you adopt.
3. Do you have a stable plan for your immediate future?
You don’t have to know the exact path for the next 15 years of your life before you commit to an animal companion. But if you anticipate several big moves, work changes or other major life adjustments are in your near-term future, it might be best to wait before adopting an animal. Even things that are seemingly unconnected – like a career change – could adjust your entire schedule, making it harder to care for your animal.
Don’t fret, though! You might still be an excellent candidate for animal fostering! Fostering an adoptable animal provides all of the perks of animal parenthood without the long-term commitment. Plus, you’ll get real-world animal-care experience that will benefit you when you adopt an animal in the future.
4. Do you value expensive or luxury items, placing them prominently throughout your home?
It might seem trivial, but taking a hard look at how you like to keep your home could determine the type of pet that is right for you. If you’re a fan of the finer things in life – nice fabrics, expensive vases, European crystal – you need to consider this when choosing your future companion animal. Curious cats that like to climb on shelves might ruin an expensive piece of decor with an inadvertent swipe of their tail. Playful puppies are known to chew on furniture, rugs and shoes. Bigger dogs are sometimes unaware of their size, and one bump could send red wine spilling down your luxury sofa. This can all add to the cost of your animal AND can build animosity toward your pet, which we want to avoid.
This consideration is less about whether or not you should adopt an animal and is more about the type of animal that might be best for you. Talk with your local shelter about your home and concerns – they can help match you with an animal that is right for your space and lifestyle!