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Are You Ready for a Dog?

By: Joan Paylo

Read By: Pet Lovers
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Before adopting a dog, take this test to determine if you are ready.

You've decided to get a new dog because:

A) The kids' whining has finally worn you down.
B) You hope to attract cool babes/guys while walking your dog.
C) You feel terrible for all the homeless pets in the shelter.
D) That puppy in the pet store window is just too cute for words.
E) You've been thinking about welcoming an animal companion into your home for quite awhile. Then, one day, everything is in place. Your heart opens all the way, and you know that it's time.

Although people have taken in pets for all of the above reasons, the right answer, of course, must be "E." It is crucially important to consider the impact a new pet will have on your family, as well as the feelings of the animal, before you adopt.

This Time, It's for Keeps

A visit to an animal shelter will prove that acting on impulse or appearance is not the way to welcome a pet into your home. The 8 to 12 million homeless cats and dogs that arrive in shelters each year – 25 percent of them purebreds – attest to that. Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Isabella Rossellini and Fabio have adopted animals from shelters, but not because it's trendy. They wanted to save a life, just like you do.

You stroll past kennels filled with hopeful animals, young and old, purebred and mixed breed, and must choose just one pet who'll depend on you the rest of her life. Cards on each cage door tell their stories: This 2-year-old beagle was brought to a vet to be treated for a broken leg, but his owner never came back to claim him. That poodle's owner died.

They've already seen bad luck. They are all intensely appealing. Do your homework before deciding.

Will Your Home and Life Accommodate a Dog?

First, you, your kids and all the adults in your household should agree that you want a dog. Look down the road for the life of the animal, which could be 10, even 20 years.

  • Do you have the patience and commitment to train your dog and understand his ways of communication? Dogs thrive on obedience classes; they're generally happier when trained.

  • How old are your children? If they're under 6, pet shelter experts recommend that you wait a few years. Puppies have extra-sharp teeth and claws and strike back when teased. Toy-sized dogs may be too delicate for an exuberant toddler; large dogs can knock a child over. Some breeds, despite size, are domineering or high-strung.

  • Is anyone in the house allergic? Different species and breeds elicit different reactions. Spend time with a similar pet at a friend's house before choosing yours.

  • Is an adult willing to shoulder ultimate responsibility for the animal's care? Pets can teach a child about loyalty and responsibility, but you can't expect a child to do all the work of feeding and walking.

  • How much time does your family spend at home? Animals like regular schedules. Dogs need to be walked and exercised. Do you know who'll take care of your pet when you go on a trip?

  • Does your yard have a fence? Does your lease or condo board allow pets?

  • Can you tolerate some damage to furniture and floors until your new pet becomes accustomed to your home? Will you take accidents, even flea infestations, in stride?

  • Do you have the financial means to support a dog? Shelter adoption fees are usually minimal, compared to prices paid to a breeder or pet store. But the costs of medical care, training, food, grooming, toys and other supplies add up. New dog owners need to have a plan for how to pay for both routine medical care and medical problems such as accidents and illnesses. Options include: a savings plan, a credit card with room for an unexpected emergency, or pet insurance. Pet insurance plans such as those offered by Embrace Pet Insurance will pay up to 90% of your vet bill if your dog encounters a medical issue. They also offer Wellness Rewards, a program that will help pay for your dog's routine care expenses such as vaccines, spay or neuter, and more.

    What Kind of Pet Do You Prefer?

    In addition to being a vehicle for rescuing animals, shelter adoptions offer potential pet owners the opportunity to choose from a variety of types and ages. Remember that puppies must be taught how to learn, says Stephanie Frommer, Shelter Operations Coordinator at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Adult animals are already housebroken, know how to learn and have developed personalities.

    If you think you prefer a certain breed, read up before making the commitment. Ask the shelter about local rescue groups dedicated to that breed. Mutts, or mixed breeds, generally have a better, varied gene pool and a sturdier constitution, but there's never a guarantee. Shelter personnel may be able to conjecture which breed is dominant in a mix by color, coat or face.

    A purebred's genetic tendencies toward temperament and medical problems are more predictable. For example, greyhounds and Labrador retrievers tend to be gentle; chow chows may be hard to train, and lively; irrepressible West Highland terriers crave attention.

    Adult size is sometimes an unknown with a young shelter dog. You know from the beginning that a Chihuahua stays tiny, while a bullmastiff needs plenty of paw room. You're never quite sure what genes a mixed breed may have. Females are usually smaller than males. Still, that cute puppy could shoot past 50 pounds.

    It's Time to Visit the Shelter

    Before you bring the kids, make sure the shelter meets high standards in staff and cleanliness. Also, consider how your child may react if she ends up leaving the shelter without "rescuing" at least one little creature. The sight of animals in need will be tough to bear. That's why you prepare yourself with the facts.

  • Are personnel knowledgeable? Observe the professionalism and sensitivity of shelter staff. Do they consult with animal behavior professionals and veterinarians?

  • Are you willing to answer questions? You may be asked for proof of identity and residence; the name of your landlord or condo board to verify that pets are allowed; the number of children and pets in the household; a history of pets you've owned; the name of your veterinarian; whether you have a fenced-in yard. Your work and travel schedule help determine if you could manage a puppy that needs socialization.

  • Will you agree to have your pet spayed or neutered? Most shelters won't allow you to adopt unless you do, and the low cost is factored into the adoption fee.

  • Shelters try to provide a background on every animal that comes in. In the case of a stray, a trainer or behaviorist may interact with the dog to evaluate her personality. Is she used to people in general? To children? How does she react to cats and dogs? If a shelter advisor recommends against placing an animal with children or an inexperienced owner, don't argue.

  • Notice how the shelter assesses the health of its animals. Are there veterinary records on the pet? Did she receive her shots? Some shelters provide a list of veterinarians who provide introductory discount services to their patrons.

  • Everyone in the household should meet the animal before she goes home. Ask the shelter workers to show you a limited number of animals, to prevent the kids from instantly "bonding" with an inappropriate animal. "Test drive" a few. Take the dogs for a walk; hold and play with a few before making your final decision.

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