Q: Dr. Vogl, what questions should I get answers to about adopting a dog from a rescue group/humane shelter? I mean, seriously, I just want to look.
A: Yeah, right. How many times have we all heard this? Ok, sure, you are the ONE. You have some superhuman strength, the willpower to resist all, and the ability to analyze, be heartless and judge with no emotion. If that were true, you wouldn't be standing in my exam room right now, beaming and baby talking as your face was being licked like a lollipop by the newest edition to your furry family.
Just look, how could anyone resist that face? There it is, right on cue, I think to myself. Then for the thousandth time it happens. With the force of the dark side, I am drawn to my knees by this little bundle of bouncing fur that asks for nothing more than my attention. The tiny Jedi knight has complete control of me, turning me to mush and making me speak in tongues of puppy/kitten talk that I don't even get. Ok, so it's true, who could resist that face.
So there is our dilemma. How do we save that life at the adoption agency without later regretting what we have done? The key is to do your homework in advance and from a distance. Puppies and kittens don't play fairly, so call first, ask your questions and do your research online.
If I were to go, "just to look," mind you, these are the things that I would want to know. What is the animal's story? Where did he or she come from? Of course he may have been a stray and there is no history. Be careful with this, because you may find out that they were mistreated and your defenses will be further neutralized by just that information. It is what we call the awwwhhh factor. I would also want to know the best guess on breed, size and age. Imagine adopting a young adult beagle to find out it is actually a puppy Great Dane and you have to move out of your apartment to get a house. It happened. Are there any obvious health issues? Has the animal been vet checked, vaccinated, de-wormed, and micro-chipped? Always make sure cats are leukemia-tested and dogs heartworm-tested if old enough. Our local agencies are outstanding at providing this information and will have it in writing for you. Also check on spay/neuter agreements. All of the veterinarians in our area participate in these programs.
Unfortunately, because there may have been abuse involved with shelter pets, you want to be aware of behavioral issues too. Are there any signs of aggressive behavior with dogs, cats or children? What about fear or food aggression? Ask what your options are if things don't work out because of medical or behavioral issues no one is aware of. The best case scenario is if the animal has been fostered in a home with other dogs, cats and children, so that you already know its likes, dislikes and behaviors.
If you are considering adopting, don't pass by the older puppies and kittens and the adults. The beauty in this is that you don't have to guess what type of personality they will have. You basically know what you are getting. Some of the greatest cats and dogs I have known were adopted as adults.
I have recently been hearing more of our clients say that they want to get a dog for their dog, or a cat for their cat. It really is not twice the work; in fact it can be easier. There are less destructive habits; they exercise more; they sleep better and are generally healthier and happier. What better place to find your friend a friend than at the local adoption agency.
So go and save a life. Just remember to have your list of questions. Because if you are going "just to look," we may as well set up an appointment for you.