Falling in love with a pet is easy. Sometimes it takes just one look into those soulful eyes, a curious paw reaching out, or a soft nuzzle under your chin.
We see it often at the SPCA Albrecht Center, and that head-over-paws puppy (or kitty!) love is frequently unexpected and unplanned. People who visit the shelter for an event or to make a donation almost always feel the need "just to look” and before you know it they’re completing an adoption application.
Impulse pet adoptions can work out, sometimes. Too often though, these adoptions result in pets being returned to the shelter due to "unrealistic expectations", which is stressful and sad for everyone involved, especially the pet.
That’s why it's important to be Pet Ready before you adopt. Adopting a pet is a life-changing decision, for you and the pet, and it requires committing years of your life to their care and thousands of dollars in expenses over their lifetime.
A pet's adoption fee, or lack thereof, is just the beginning of those expenses. The ASPCA estimates that the average cost of cat or dog ownership per year is well over $1,000.[i]
Those costs begin immediately after adoption when you will need to purchase food, bowls, a leash or carrier, toys, pet beds, and litter box supplies for cats. Some of those items will need to be continually replaced, and then there's spay or neuter and vaccinations (if not included with the adoption fee), flea control, heartworm prevention, testing, grooming, training and basic exams, not to mention added costs if your pet ever becomes sick or injured.
Next, consider your home: are pets allowed? If you rent your home, a significant pet deposit may be required, or pets may not be permitted at all. Some rental communities only allow small pets and may even ban certain dog breeds.
It's also important to think about your pet's alone time. If you and your family are away from home for most of the day for work or school, your pet may not get the attention it needs to meet your expectations as a well-behaved companion animal. Cats are certainly more independent and self-sufficient than dogs, but even they can get bored and act out in destructive or unhealthy ways.
Make sure you have reliable friends or family members to look after your pet when you're away, or be willing to pay for reputable boarding or a qualified pet sitter.
And finally, is the pet you've chosen the right fit for you, your family, and your lifestyle? For example, adopting a large Mastiff mix is probably not going to work out if you live in a small, third floor apartment. Some types of dogs require a lot of physical and mental exercise. If you are not willing or able to provide the enrichment and time they need, it's likely that your pet will display their frustration with bad behaviors like barking, chewing, digging or jumping.
All of this is a lot to think about, and I certainly don’t want to dissuade you from adoption, but after what many of these pets have been through before entering the shelter, they deserve nothing but our best efforts to ensure they are placed in a loving, truly forever home.
Remember these considerations to be sure that the pet you pick is the right fit before adopting, and make sure that you really are Pet Ready. They’re counting on you!
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the Albrecht Center since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA Albrecht Center.