If you've ever considered adopting a pet, you probably had plenty of questions. Staff and volunteers at the SPCA Albrecht Center answer questions every day, in person, over the phone, through emails and social media. Some of these questions are common and have come to be expected, so here are the top five in no particular order, in case you are considering opening your heart and home to a homeless pet:
1. What breed is that dog?
While up to 25% of dogs entering animal shelters are purebred, and we will label them as such when and if we know for sure, most of them are what's commonly referred to as mutts. We prefer "American Shelter Dog". The truth is, no matter what a dog's physical appearance or behavior resembles as far as breed traits, the label on the adoption information card is usually a best guess by shelter staff and no guarantees are made as to their predicted growth or temperament. More so than the dog's DNA, you, the adopter, have a greater influence on his behavior through the care, patience, training, enrichment and environment you provide.
2. Is he house trained?
Sometimes, though rarely, we can confidently say yes to this question. Some dogs arrive in our shelter by way of personal surrender, and have already established indoor bathroom etiquette which carries over into the shelter environment despite the drastic change in their lives. More often though, dogs arrive after living outside, whether previously owned or not, and will depend on their adopter for proper, positive guidance and training. We're happy to offer advice if you need it, just ask.
3. Do you have any dogs that are good with kids?
I like to turn this question around and ask instead, "do you have kids who are good with dogs?" While some lower-energy dogs may be more inclined to allow curious hands, hugs and even being crawled or laid on, every dog has his limits and has the potential to exhibit aggressive behavior if pushed too far. Unlike the calming compassion and patience adults can exude to dogs, kids can be unpredictable, loud, unruly, uncoordinated and more likely to get in a dog's face. A responsible adopter not only teaches their dog polite behaviors, but also teaches their children how to be gentle, patient and respectful of the dog's space and feelings. Check out stopthe77.com "to learn fun ways to teach your kids to stay safe around the dogs they love."
4. I see this dog/cat has been here a while, or was returned. What's wrong with it?
Typically, nothing at all. Some pets have longer shelter stays than others for many reasons. They may be a bit older than most adopters want, they may not adapt well to the shelter environment and therefore not seem as friendly, or they may just get overlooked because of their size or color (Google "Black Dog Syndrome" for an example.) Pet returns usually happen within the first few days or weeks of adoption because of reported "unrealistic expectations" on the adopter's part or a simple change of heart. My cat, Luna, was returned about a month after her first adoption due to gastrointestinal upset (gas & diarrhea). My husband and I adopted her and fixed the problem with a simple food change. Lucky us, she's a wonderful cat!
5. Do you declaw your cats?
No, we do not and we, along with most of the animal welfare community, discourage the practice of declawing. Unlike clipping nails, declawing is actually a serious, often painful, surgical procedure and it involves amputation of the last bone of the cat's toes. Risks can include paw pain, lameness, bone spurs, nerve damage, and even back pain because removal of a cat's claws changes the way their foot makes contact with the ground. According the Humane Society of the United States, declawing can also make a cat less likely to use the litter box and more likely to bite, not to mention a diminished chance of defending itself in the face of another cat, dog or other predator. None of these risks are necessary and there are safer, much more humane alternatives if you are concerned about furniture or playful scratches. Read this excellent article from the Humane Society of the United States for more information including alternatives.
Hopefully, this list will serve as a good start to some basic questions about adopting shelter pets. Have more questions? Give us a call at 803-648-6863, visit us online at LetLoveLive.org, message us on Facebook @spcaalbrechtcenter or come see us and some fantastic adoptable pets at 199 Willow Run Road, Aiken SC.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her family which includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.