This week’s Sisco Miyagi post is a little belated. I went into last week with full intentions of staying on track with my weekly posts, then a few long days at work coincided with the 2nd anniversary of Sisco’s passing and I chose to curl up on my recliner covered in dogs and have an early night instead. It’s funny that I never really thought of Sisco as providing emotional support for me while he was alive. He was a staunch ‘pull your socks up and get on with it’ personality and, unlike both of my rottis who immediately crawl into my lap and demand overt affection when I’m sad (or just physically low enough to function as a warm spot to lay), tears were not high on his list of reasons to cuddle with his humans. As much as I thoroughly adore the comfort of falling to sleep under a blanket of dogs, I deeply miss his judgemental ‘I’ll hang out with you while you need me but don’t talk to me until you’ve pulled yourself together’ expectations. Turns out that sometimes being supportive is giving you what you need, even if it’s not what you want – wise old man he was!
Additionally, the topic of this post has morphed a lot since I initially planned it out in my head. I was aiming for a short and sweet guide to maximising your chances of finding your perfect pet in the complicated world that is the welfare sector. However, after several discussions following my last post ‘How much suffering is hope worth’, I thought I’d pop in some info on what good post-adoption support actually is, because it’s important for adopters to know what they can and should expect from rehomers.
Before I get cracking, I want to make something clear. Whilst I absolutely encourage everyone to seriously consider adoption, sourcing a pet from a shelter or through a rescue group is not the only ethical or responsible way to add to your family. As a sector, we in animal welfare have focused so hard for so long on creating adoption opportunities for our pets, that we’ve neglected to focus on ways to stop animals coming into the shelter in the first place – educating and supporting owners on how to find and live happily with great pets is how we do that.
So, if you are considering sourcing a purpose-bred puppy or kitten from a caring and knowledgeable breeder who thoughtfully matches the needs of you and your new pet, please know that this is no less ethical or responsible than adopting an animal from a shelter. Whatever option you choose, you do your part to make the world a better place for companion animals by basing your choices on both yours and the pet’s needs, and then committing to giving your new pet the best life you can offer. Also, donating to a welfare organisation near you is always helpful and greatly appreciated too!
Now, on to the part about finding yourself a fabulous new pet. The advice below is written for people adopting from a shelter or rescue, but the same principles apply to sourcing a pet from anywhere else. So, here we go:
- The best pet for you is the pet that fits best into your current lifestyle. Not the life you think you should be leading. Not the pet you feel the most sorry for. Not the pet with the roundest eyes, floppiest ears, or softest coat. Be brutally honest with yourself about the life your pet will be leading and base your search around those requirements. If you work away from home during the day and come home tired and want to cuddle on the couch, that is A-OK by many pets who will think you are the bee’s knees of brilliant because they are also Netflicks and Chill personalities. Compromise on everything other than the important ‘fitting in’ bits because you will grow to love the rest when the main bits fit – I promise!
- The person matching you and your pet should be just as invested in getting the fit right as you are. This means having an open and in-depth conversation with them about what your ‘dream pet lifestyle’ is to see if the pet they have available is a good fit, or is likely to become a good fit with a bit of tweaking on your behalf. If not, that’s OK too – your perfect fit is out there, and they may even have another pet available that would suit you fabulously. However, if at any time you feel like you are dealing with a used car salesman, walk away.
- ‘Death by application form’ and blanket screening out of potential adopters because of random rules (like the existence of a fence or children) aren’t a good sign for a successful outcome. Nor are they superior to, or even a proxy for, an open and friendly conversation with the rehomer about how well your expectations and their knowledge of the needs of their pet are matched. Rehomers do the whole ‘gotcha’ gig for a bunch of reasons, most of which involve the false sense of security that heavy screening processes create (I discussed this in my post about Open Adoptions). As so many organisations do this for understandable reasons, I’ll personally entertain a bit of give and take to try and build a positive relationship with them. What I won’t entertain is controlling, judgmental or coercive behaviour or a lack of transparency – nor should you. These people should be your support through a big change in your life, so if at any time you feel like you are being judged, spoken down to or required to jump through hoops, walk away – that’s not support!
- Complicated pets required experienced homes and informed consent. In the interests of honesty and integrity, I have to warn anyone looking for a pet in welfare (or via any other source) that there are people willing to rehome pets with serious behaviour or health problems to anyone who is willing (and dare I say, naïve enough) to take them. These include pets with damaging bite histories or other indicators of problematic aggression, pets who have serious mental health issues, pets who have killed other pets and more. Love does not fix serious behaviour problems, and many serious behaviour problems can’t be fixed full stop. Unless that pet’s needs match your expectations for a pet (which by default means you have worked with or owned a pet with similar needs before and fully understand what you are signing up for), then you need to think with your head and not your heart and walk away.
- Additionally, not all rehomers are honest about the history and needs of pets in their care, or even knowledgeable enough to understand those needs themselves. Knowledgeable and responsible rehomers will be frank with you during adoption conversations about what the pet requires and what the consequences will be if these needs aren’t met – especially if that means you will walk away. They will then reiterate what the pet needs, ask you how you are going to meet those needs, and develop a plan with you to ensure that you are able to do what’s required to care for that pet properly and that you actually want to take on the responsibility of owning a complicated animal. Then they will remind you about what will happen if you don’t meet the pet’s needs, and probably do a bit of a deep dive into how you came to possess the skills required to manage a high-needs pet successfully. And then they will tell you point blank that they are your first point of call for anything that you need. Anything less than this and you should run, not walk, away from that situation.
- Responsible rehomers are accountable and supportive after the adoption has occurred. The two things that best predict a successful placement of an adoptive pet are how well the pet meets the adopter’s expectations (that’s your needs for your new pet!) and how well the rehomer supports you and your new pet through the settling-in period. This means that the rehomer should be doing everything they can to ensure that you are fully aware of what to expect when you get home and that you feel comfortable calling them to discuss anything about that pet. They should be proactive about getting in contact with you and seeing how you and the pet are going. Most of all, they should provide effective, evidence-based and supportive advice and help if you need it. Before you commit, ask what happens if things don’t work out. Ask who you call if you need some advice (but don’t forget to look in your adoption pack and on their website for the basics too – great rehomers provide support through more than one channel and they provide printed info for a reason!). Ask who they use for behavioural support and check out the website of their trainers to see what you can expect from them. If you aren’t 100% confident that they will be there, willing and able to help you if something goes sideways, then find someone who will.
Lastly, don’t forget that getting a new pet should be a happy time in your life and you are absolutely entitled to feel great about adding to your family, especially when that new furry friend needed a soft place to land and that was with you. A little bit of preparation and patience, coupled with a clear idea of what you expect both from your new family member and your new support crew, go a long way to making sure you get the outcome you imagined when you decided to add to your family.
In all fairness, I should probably also remind you that puppies (and kittens!) are hard work, particularly if you have recently lost an older animal and have forgotten what getting up at 3am to do a toilet run is all about. You have about 2 years of solid input before your puppy grows into the sensible, trained adult dog you imagine owning. In comparison, a well-matched adult pet will typically settle into your home and routine over 2-3 months and you don’t risk any ‘turned 18 and discovered a rebel streak’ surprises with their personality. Also, someone else has done the vet work for you… Shelter pets definitely have some features working in their favour!
For me, I have a soft spot for teenagers of the four legged and hairy variety so my last three additions have been adolescent dogs. Of course this means we have lots of moments like the photo above – that’s Shinto sitting on Bolt’s head because he wouldn’t move over and make space for her on my lap. She’s the little sister of our household and she knows it!