There’s a funny song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” – did you get one of those? Sometimes families or individuals bring home a new pet as a Christmas gift, maybe not a hippo but a dog, cat, or guinea pig. Is that you this year? No matter what time of year you bring a new pet into your household, your life is going to be different – just as it is when a new human baby arrives. Here are a few tips to help you, your family, and your new pet friend adjust to the “new normal:”
These are just five tips to consider before and after you bring home a new pet. There are many other ideas offered by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Petfinder, two sites which provide pet adoption opportunities and pet care tips:
Pets bring people deep joy through their antics and their devotion. Studies show pets benefit people emotionally and physically, helping with depression, cholesterol, and blood pressure, among other things. A pet is a special gift, and it’s a gift for life. Take care of your new pet and it will take care of you!
“So far, we’ve done 72 cats and kittens and we still have 20 to 30 more to go,” explained the woman who sat across the table from me.
We shared coffee and conversation during my recent visit to Oregon for a family reunion. I learned about the all-volunteer pet rescue organization Hope 4 Paws – Grant County from two different people while visiting relatives in Prairie City, Oregon, and after garnering a contact phone number, I was now learning more about the group. With so many feral, unaltered cats in the community of John Day, this group had secured a grant as well as local donations and was working with an area veterinarian to spay and neuter cats in a mobile home park. Most of the felines were being fixed under a Trap-Neuter-Return program, while many kittens were being vaccinated and altered then adopted to loving families. This small group of people (less than 12 volunteers) made a commitment to their community and to the animals of that community to help animals in need. I left a small donation to help toward the next round of vaccinations and spay/neuter as well as two of my books to use as part of a future fundraising endeavor.
Commitment is critical to pet rescue. For the past 10 years in my state of residence, Wyoming, a pet rescue organization has committed to not just helping pets in need, but to saving lives of animals in the state’s kill-shelters. Black Dog Animal Rescue (BDAR) began saving dogs’ lives throughout the state, fostering them in volunteers’ homes, and adopting them to new loving families. During the past decade, the organization has grown, now also taking in cats, and instituting a partnership with a medium correctional facility to implement a program preparing dogs for adoption behavior and training program called P.A.C.K. – inmates work with the dogs on obedience and some agility training. A recent program graduate named Niffy, now christened Tiffy, was adopted by one of my friends.
Barb began looking for a dog a few months ago and asked me for advice on where to adopt. I gave her several suggestions, including BDAR. She was familiar with the organization from a family member living in Cheyenne, the community where BDAR is located, about a 3-hour drive from our town of Casper. Barb and her husband took a day to drive down after putting in an adoption application for this 2-year-old border collie cross they had seen on BDAR’s website. Barb was looking for a dog which would hike, run, and bike with her, and Niffy appealed to her due to the border collie’s nature of being energetic. She also considered putting the dog into an agility program, another activity for which border collies are skilled. Barb was impressed with both the dog and the organization.
“They were very knowledgeable and answered all of my questions,” she told me after adopting from BDAR. “It’s been a long time since I’ve adopted a dog. It was a pleasant and positive experience, and I’d recommend BDAR and do it again. And Tiffy – I just love her! She was shy the first few days but now she has learned the routine of the house. She is smart, she is affectionate, and she learns quickly. I’m excited to see how she does with agility.”
Why do I support animal rescue? For several reasons, including the fact pet rescue is necessary. With nearly seven million animals going into shelters across the country every year, and the many strays and community cat colonies with little to no medical needs met, rescues are critical to the health and welfare of both community animals and humans. All this takes commitment. Many times, as in the case of Oregon’s Hope 4 Paws, it’s a group of volunteers who make that commitment. BDAR began as an all-volunteer organization, but saving the lives of dogs and cats across an entire state is a huge, fulltime job. Therefore, the group now provides a small staff; but, they continue to rely upon volunteers to help, as most non-profit organizations do. The commitment of people to help animals in need inspires and awes me; therefore, I suppport these organizations who do this work.
Without commitment from staff members and volunteers, where would the animals, and the communities, be? I’m so grateful to these and all the animal rescue organizations for what they do, and I will continue supporting pet rescue groups in various ways as long as I live.
How about you? What can you do to help pet rescue groups in your area? For ideas, visit these websites:
Earlier this month, a day was dedicated to pets with special needs, also known as “specially-abled” pets. Once termed “disabled,” that label infused “not able,” and though pets that are blind, deaf, three-legged, diabetic, etc. may require additional care and patience, these animals are first and foremost dogs and cats, just like any other.
I lived with a blind dog for more than a decade. Her name was Sage, and she taught me many valuable life lessons. In fact, my authorship sprouted because of her. We visited schools, libraries, and bookstores, and she inspired many others with her abilities despite her disability. Other specially-abled pets do the same – they are amazing in how they adapt to their limitations. For example, given the opportunity to have a K-9 cart, pets with immobile back legs race around in play and fun just like an animal with all four functioning legs. I’ve even seen dogs with short front legs adapt to using their hind legs for propulsion, much like a kangaroo.
Their courage, perseverance, joy, and adaptability are inspiring. Sadly, many blind, deaf, two-legged and other specially-abled pets are euthanized because they are perceived as less adoptable; many consider it “more humane” to kill them. Do we perceive the same of people who are blind, deaf, or in wheelchairs?
A wonderful blog post at Pets for Patriots discusses the beauty and joy, as well as some of the challenges, of having a special needs pet. Here’s a link to the post – I hope you’ll take time to read the encouraging words and view photos of some veterans who have specially-abled pets sharing their lives. https://petsforpatriots.org/understanding-the-special-in-special-needs-pets/
Don’t be afraid to adopt a dog or cat with special needs. Not only will you likely be saving a life, but your own life will be enriched by the presence of these loving, fun animals who know no difference between themselves and other pets. Watch this delightful video of a blind and deaf puppy named Piglet, who has learned commands through touch and plays energetically with his canine siblings:
Below is a photo of Sage, my blind dog, navigating stairs. Blind, yes, capable, yes, inspiring, yes!
February is known for two main things: Valentine’s Day and Hallmark Movie love-stories.
Love is a Hallmark movie… well, not for everyone, and certainly not for every companion animal. Pets are called companion animals for a reason – to provide companionship to people, to be devoted, loving, faithful… and they would be, if only we let them. Instead, many cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, even turtles and lizards are mistreated, neglected, and abused. Where is their Hallmark Valentine hero/heroine?
In truth, humans and animals share this one thing in common: rejection. The person you love and trusted abandons you, mistreats you, breaks your heart and spirit. Yet, many people and pets have another thing in common: resiliency. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, as they say, and carry on. That perseverance may take months, even years, but when we dig deep inside ourselves and we let others help and encourage us, we discover that fortitude and we move ahead to a brighter future.
For animals as well as us, that brighter future involves compassionate, kind people. When you watch a Hallmark movie, friends surround the broken-hearted, hurt individual, encouraging them to be open to love again. And, surprise, surprise, s/he comes along! That can be true for pets as well. Rescues, SPCAs, Humane Societies, and others step forward to lift pets’ spirits, saving their lives from abuse and neglect, and then prepare them for adoption. But, there needs to be more adopters, more heroes and heroines to help the light shine more deeply into the spirits of those animals cast-away, those treated not just poorly, but many times cruelly.
Can you be an animal’s Hallmark Valentine this year?
Five years ago, my husband and I adopted a springer/cocker mix named Mary. She wasn’t abused or neglected; in fact, she was deeply cared for by her previous owner. Sadly, that person died, and Mary needed a new loving family. Greg and I answered the call, and we have been her Valentine ever since! She is devoted to us and she has also impacted others, serving sometimes as a library read-to-the-dog companion, nestled among a group of children and giving them affection as well as courage. Her stories which I’ve written take kids on adventures and teach them lessons like kindness, friendship, and joy. I love sharing Mary with others and teaching them the value of adoption.
Then, there’s Jeremiah, whom we adopted last fall. He came from a puppy mill, serving as a stud for three years. He lost 28 teeth due to poor nutrition and came to us from a rescue still timid and uncertain about living in a house. Now, five months later, he realizes kindness and compassion can come from human beings, and he’s settled in well, with Mary as his best friend. He walks proudly on a leash, dashes through our fenced-in backyard with joy, and cuddles next to me on the couch with thankfulness on his face. His Valentine’s Day gift this year is a warm home and caring people (plus a canine BFF!)
Even if we, as a man or woman, have been rejected by human love, there’s a way to share our love. Numerous animals – dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, and others – are waiting for their special Valentine. Nearly 1.5 million dogs and cats die in kill-shelters every year, and more than 10,000 animal mill facilities confine creatures (especially dogs and cats) simply for the act of breeding. They lack socialization and medical care. Several rescues, such as National Mill Dog Rescue and Hearts United for Animals, take in these animals and care for them while searching for loving, permanent homes for them to call their own, i.e., for their special Valentine.
Find your four-footed Valentine this month, knowing that creature will be devoted to you for its life, and then make some popcorn and sit on the couch together while enjoying some Hallmark movies!
NOTE: The Hallmark Channel features several films in which animals play important roles. Check out titles such as Like Cats and Dogs; Love at First Bark; Walking the Dog; and Eat, Play, Love -- some of these are scheduled this month and others in March. Enjoy, and especially enjoy your furry Valentine!
Adding a pet to one’s home can be a scary process. Many concerns can traverse one’s mind, such as “Will the animal adjust to my home?” and, if you already have pets, “Will the current pets I have adjust to the new one?” Yet, adoption is also a joyful experience, especially knowing you’ve saved a life (or two) and that you’ve given a loving home to an animal that may never have known what that means.
October is National-Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month, a time when many animal shelters and rescues promote the positives of dog adoption. According to Helping Hands Humane Society in Kansas, some of the benefits of adopting a shelter or rescue dog include:
There are many other reasons for adopting a shelter or rescue dog. My husband and I recently adopted a Shih Tzu from Hearts United for Animals, a Nebraska rescue that also specializes in rescuing puppy mill dogs. His name was Stormy (we’ve changed it to “Jeremiah”), and he was used for breeding purposes. His lack of compassionate care resulted in 28 teeth having to be pulled. He also needed neutering, which HUA did, and to be put on a healthy diet. The little guy has settled in quite well into my household; he is a very sweet, fun boy! He gets along wonderfully with our 2013 adopted springer/cocker mix, Mary; Jeremiah is her little shadow. When we were all outside a few days ago, Jeremiah raced through the backyard, his black ears winged back, his face skyward as if in thankfulness, my heart leaped for joy as my newly-adopted dog experienced the freedom and joy of running, playing, and basking in autumn’s sunshine. This is why rescues do what they do and why pet adopters like me do what we do – give an animal a second chance at life.
According to the ASPCA, more than three million dogs enter animal shelters every year; of those, nearly 700,000 are euthanized due to lack of homes as well as medical and behavior issues. There are numerous animal shelters and pet rescue groups across the country. In my state alone (Wyoming), there are 34 listed in Petfinder.com, a wonderful resource to find your next furry friend. In fact, Petfinder lists more than 270,000 adoptable animals from more than 11,000 animal welfare organizations across America.
Will you consider adopting a dog in need of a loving home this month? Dogs like Jeremiah are just waiting for a loving, forever home. You can save lives through adoption – believe me, there’s no greater feeling in the world than to see a dog (or cat) that’s been abandoned, neglected, or left in a shelter or rescue for another reason come out of its shell and lavish the adoptive “parent” with love and devotion!
Find your next furry friend at your local shelter or rescue, or via Petfinder.com, which by the way, is how we found Jeremiah!
More than a week has passed since my husband and I adopted “Stormy,” renamed “Jeremiah.” Overall, considering all the changes the little guy has gone through in this short amount of time, he is doing well. He certainly knows I’m his caregiver! Not a bad thing… except when I leave the house. Then, he whimpers, barks, and howls. He may be developing separation anxiety.
According to both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), separation anxiety can occur in dogs who experience a change in guardianship or family. Dogs which come from shelters and rescues, as Jeremiah did, become accustomed to certain caregivers while living at Hearts United for Animals, and since I’m the primary caregiver to our pets (feeding, going outside to potty, etc.), he prefers I be in sight. Sometimes he even whines when I’m just downstairs doing laundry!
Separation anxiety can be mild or severe. Behaviors range from barking and pacing to going potty in the house and destroying furniture and clothing.
There are many counterconditioning activities a pet parent can implement to desensitize a dog to its human leaving. An article on the ASPCA’s website advises, “For dogs with separation anxiety, counterconditioning focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like delicious food. To develop this kind of association, every time you leave the house, you can offer your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food that will take him at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish.” Recommendations for such toys include KONG; not only are these toys nearly indestructible, but they also provide opportunities for your dog to enjoy a treat while you are gone and also get some good exercise. Try this for short trips at first, such as going to the grocery store, can help prepare your dog for your long away-times, such as school or work. Read the entire ASPCA article on separation anxiety here, including recommendations for more severe cases of the behavior: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety.
Jeremiah and our other dog Mary get along well; I often find him curled up next to her or at least within close proximity. Having our other dog around helps him, but not enough to keep him from carrying on when I’m gone. Needless to say, I’ll be working on some of these counterconditioning ideas recommended by the ASPCA!
Have you had a dog with separation anxiety? What did you do to help your four-footed friend not be so anxious in your absence?
Many people enjoy having more than one pet in the household, but adding another animal can come with challenges. Some dogs are more domineering than others, yet you don’t want an overly aggressive dog who won’t allow your second canine friend to eat or play with the toys. And, if you have cats, you’d like to see your feline friends get along. Or, if you have a mixture of dogs and cats, you’d prefer the dog not aggravate or chase the cat… or the cat to constantly swatch and scratch the pup. Just like blending human families, blending a furry family can take a great deal of patience and a lot of time. Be prepared to work with your animals in order to experience harmony in your home.
We had a dog named Cody, a cocker spaniel we adopted from our local humane society in 2008. He was wonderful with our blind springer spaniel, Sage, but she took more time to acclimate to Cody living with us. And, Cody was terror for our two cats. We didn’t properly introduce Cody and the cats, and for several weeks, even into a second month of living with us, Cody chased the cats every time he saw them. Finally, one of our kitties had enough and she swatted his face. That’s all it took and the chasing ceased. It was still another month before harmony set in but it did happen.
After Sage passed, we waited another year to obtain another dog, and this time we chose one who had been around, and therefore, was good with, both dogs and cats. Mary became our next dog, adopted in 2013, and she and the kitties get along wonderfully!
Cody passed away in January 2016. In October, I brought home a small Pekinese mix named Lemmons, again from our local humane society. He had not been around cats, but the shelter staff “tested” him by taking him into the cat room; Lemmons behaved well. And, when I brought him home I introduced him properly to the cats, taking things slowly and having them sniff each other through closed doors. All seemed to be going well. Then, the day I let Lemmons and our cat Murphy near each other, he lunged for the back of her neck. Too much trauma and drama, so I decided he would do best in a home without cats. He had also snapped at Mary a few times. Lemmons was later re-homed through the humane society with someone who had no other pets and to my knowledge, he’s doing much better in that setting. And, my household is harmonious once again.
Sometimes blending furry ones into one household doesn’t work and a person must make the decision that is best for all animals (and humans) of the household. There is the right home for that animal; it just might not be yours.
As my husband and I once again consider adopting another dog – Mary is lonely as the only dog in the house; she had a smaller pup friend in the household before ours and then of course, she had Cody when she first came to live with us – we will once again seek a smaller dog that has been in a multi-pet home. We are hoping to find our next furry friend later this year, possibly another Cocker Spaniel, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a Bichon Frise, or a Shih Tzu. Each breed is different, in personality, in activity level, and in requirements, just as people are different. So, I’m studying, I’m asking questions, I’m researching. Petfinder.com is a great way to find a new furry friend and the various rescues and shelters in my region are also excellent organizations to contact.
If you’re looking for a feline or canine companion, visit your local rescues and shelters and check out Petfinder as well. Just remember that blending a furry family takes time and patience so do your homework first for the right breed and the right individual.
Springtime brings more people outdoors and thoughts about adding a pet to one’s life often occurs during better weather. Playing with a dog in the backyard, taking walks in the neighborhood and beyond, and opening windows to smell fresh air and hear birds sing conjure up ideas about sharing experiences – and life – with a four-footed friend.
Adopting a pet from a local shelter or rescue is a positive thing; oftentimes, adoption saves lives. The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), which promotes Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month during April, reports that nearly 6.5 million animals are brought into animal shelters across the nation each year, and about 1.5 are killed in those facilities, oftentimes due to lack of adoption and lack of space. Therefore, adoption does save lives.
However, before running out to your local animal shelter or pet rescue organization, there are five questions a person should honestly answer before bringing a pet home. They are:
Let’s take a quick look at each of these questions and hopefully, help you answer them.
Being ready for a pet means examining your lifestyle and family situation. Primarily, do you have enough time to devote to a pet? Is someone responsible enough to not just feed and water the animal, but also to spend quality time playing with and providing activity and companionship for the pet? How many hours do you and your family spend away from home, which would leave the pet alone, possibly bored which, in turn, could lead to destructive behaviors. Make sure you have time to spend with your adopted animal – before you adopt.
What pet best fits your lifestyle? If you are gone a lot, a cat would likely be better than a dog. Cats are often much more independent; not saying you should ignore your cat, but a kitty doesn’t require walking, running, or playing activities as much as a cat does. Still, all pets need friendship and companionship, no matter what type of animal you consider bringing home. Various breeds of dogs need more, or less, activity, so if you’re considering adopting a dog, research the breed’s activity level requirements as well as personality traits. A great place to go for such information is the American Kennel Club’s website:
Finding a place from which to adopt a pet is fairly easy. There are many organizations whose mission it is to help animals in need of new homes. Local animal shelters and humane societies, as well as a wide variety of rescue organizations make saving pets and re-homing them a priority. The best place to start is your local shelter or rescue. Petfinder.com is also a great resource and helps thousands of pets find new homes every year. At this website, you will find specific breeds and ages of animals simply by using the parameters, and your zip code, at the site.
Speaking of ages, does a puppy or kitten suit your lifestyle or is it best for you to adopt an older animal? Baby and teenaged pets often require much more attention, care, and training, whereas adults and seniors are likely to be already trained and able to spend more time alone without worry of soiled carpet or chewed/clawed up furniture. Carefully consider how much time you have with the pet before being swept away by puppy and kitten cuteness.
Another option for adoption is a pet with a disability. These are often the most overlooked, and therefore, most likely to die in shelters. Yet, they are loving, faithful friends when given the chance. Blind, deaf, three-legged, or diabetic, these animals need loving, dedicated homes, too, oftentimes more so than “normal” pets. Consider adopting a pet with a disability, but also carefully consider the pets needs and if you can meet those needs. Deaf animals can – and do – respond to training via hand signals, and blind pets need more safety measures in place. These things are doable, and not costly.
So, are you ready to adopt a pet? Find more information about pet adoption and pet care at https://www.aspca.org/adopt-pet/adoption-tips
A little more than a year ago, my husband and I lost our nearly 18-year-old cocker spaniel named Cody. We had adopted him when he was almost 10 years of age. He had been used as a stud dog for a breeder and then basically tossed away like yesterday’s garbage. When we discovered him at our local humane society, his sad spaniel eyes ignited my heart. Even though he likely wouldn’t be with us but a few years, we determined to give him the best couple of years of his life. Two years turned into three, into five, into seven. At 17 ¾ years of age, Cody crossed the Rainbow Bridge, knowing he was loved, adored, and pampered to the very end.
Our hearts and home are more empty since his passing, but the nearly eight years we shared with Cody were filled with laughter, joy, and love.
We still have Mary, a springer-cocker mix we adopted four years ago this week. She was nearly seven when she came to live with us, and we credit Mary with helping keep Cody going as long as he did. They shared walks in the woods with us, trips to the dog park, and travels in the car, as well as cuddles on the couch and snuggles in bed. Their friendship was very special, especially considering they were not raised together.
Mary turns 11 next week. We’ve considered adopting another dog as she was raised with a smaller pup prior to her going into rescue at the death of her special person in 2012. She misses Cody; that was readily apparent in the early months after Cody’s passing. She is bonded to us, especially to my husband who often gets to work from home. When does a person know the right time to adopt a pet, whether one pet has passed or a person has never been the guardian of an animal before?
Just like with having kids, no time may be the actual “right time” to adopt, but one thing is for sure: a person must MAKE TIME to care for a pet properly. I would encourage anyone considering adopting a pet to make sure you have time to give, that your life is not so incredibly full that the animal will be left alone for countless hours and have little interaction with its human family. Too many animals are given up because of the excuse “I don’t have time for it.” Just as children need nurturing, attention, and care, so do our pets. They rely on us, they need us, and they want us to share time and activities with them.
So, if you’re thinking of adopting a pet, ensure you won’t change your mind in a month or so and say “I don’t have time.” First and foremost, make sure time is something you do have, or will make, before bringing a pet into your home.
And, if you think you can’t find the type of pet, the breed of dog or cat you want, think again: not all shelter pets are “mutts.” In fact, depending on where you live and what you’re looking for, 5 to 25 percent of shelter pets are purebred. Look on Petfinder.com for a specific breed, sex, and even whether they’re good with children or other animals. And, view this website for some of the types of dog breeds one is likely to find at shelters: https://mom.me/pets/19900-dog-breeds-commonly-found-animal-shelters/. Additionally, specific breed rescues can be found at this website: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/rescue-network/contacts/.
Is it time for my husband and I to adopt another dog? Not yet, but likely by the end of the year. I do look, and I do consider. And perhaps we’ll change our minds mid-year and adopt again at that time. We’ll know when the time is right – I believe you will, too for you and your family.
Most of us know that warm, fuzzy feeling of seeing a puppy or kitten at play. Pet lovers all recognize that tug at our heartstrings when we visit a Humane Society or animal shelter and see the many animals looking at us sadly through the cages. We also know the quiver of our lip when we look on the Internet, view the photos, and read the stories of the numerous pets needing new homes, looking to be placed by the hundreds of pet rescue organizations. Many of us, in turn, respond by adopting a pet or two.
There is little else that lifts one’s spirits than to come home from a tough day at work or school and be happily greeted by a four-footed friend. If you are thinking of adding a pet to your home, seriously consider adoption – more than four million animals every year go into shelters and rescues.
October is National Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, a great time to add a furry friend to your household. Here are six tips to help insure you and your new pet will spend many wonderful years together:
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.