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Responsible Pet Adoption: Guarantee a Forever Home for a Furry Friend

Oct 31, 2023 09:30AM ● By Sheila Julson
Responsible Pet Adoption


The idea of bringing a new pet home conjures up images of endless cuddles and joyful frolicking, but there are crucial responsibilities to consider, too. A successful adoption requires thought and preparation well before the furry friend joins the family. The goal is to build a happy environment for the animal’s entire lifetime. Think of it as unconditional love with a no-return policy.

Ruth Allen, director of admissions and placement for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, encourages people to adopt from a local shelter or rescue organization, where “you often have the advantage of learning valuable information about the animal’s background, including any important medical or behavioral needs.” Another option, she explains, is to identify a responsible breeder and avoid a so-called puppy mill that engages in cruel breeding practices.

Angela Speed, vice president of marketing and communications for the Wisconsin Humane Society, observes that most people come to their shelter with a specific breed in mind. Adoption counselors help people focus on a pet’s needs, too, so they can find an animal that blends well with their family lifestyle.

“Are they looking for a running partner or a couch potato? Is size a factor for their living situation? We talk about home setting, training and exercise needs, pet care costs, balancing work and animal ownership, and the tools and supplies you need to set yourself and your new companion up for success,” Speed advises.

It’s easy to let emotions or an affinity for a certain breed take precedence when choosing pets. Mike Spiotta, lead kennel manager of North Shore Animal League America, reminds us to keep lifestyle factors at the forefront. He notes that herding dogs, such as border collies or Australian shepherds, are fluffy and attractive but were bred to be active and require lots of space. Other dog breeds may be excessive barkers.

“Animals can develop behavioral challenges because their needs aren’t being met, which can lead to frustration by the owner and the dog eventually being returned to an adoption facility through no fault of its own,” Spiotta cautions.

For those unsure about adopting an animal, most rescue organizations offer foster programs that allow potential pet parents to determine whether a furry addition is right for them. Many municipal shelters also welcome volunteers to help with dog walking, animal socialization, cleaning and laundry.

Before adopting or fostering, it’s important to make sure everyone in the house is prepared to have a pet. Chores such as feeding, grooming and walking the dog or cleaning the cat’s litter box can be divided among family members. “Keep an open mind and heart, because you may fall in love with a pet you’d never considered,” Allen asserts. “Dogs and cats have so much love to give, though some are sometimes overlooked due to their size, breed or even their age.”


People tend to gravitate toward young pets, but senior animals also need a chance to live out their golden years in a loving home and can offer key advantages. Older animals with a history of living within a family may settle in more quickly than a puppy or kitten. Many older pets are already house-trained, have mastered basic commands and are beyond chewing phases. The personalities of puppies and kittens tend to change as they grow, but personalities of adult animals are often fully formed, although still adaptable.

Allen notes, “It’s okay to give pets as gifts if the person has an interest in owning one, though the easiest way to be certain is to ask the recipient and go through the process together.”

Spiotta cautions against giving an animal as a surprise, saying, “The last thing most people want is more responsibility, especially an unexpected responsibility in the form of a life.” He recommends gift wrapping a collar and including a handwritten note inviting the recipient to choose a pet when they are ready. Many local shelters offer gift certificates for adoption, which allows the recipient an opportunity to make their own decision.


Populations of animals vary by shelter. Learn more by visiting or contacting local shelters in the community, or

 Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings.

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