Gimme Shelter

 

Adoption Tips for Animal Friends

They adopt us as much as we adopt them. Will we pass muster? Matching our self up with the right pet can produce a lifelong love affair. It can teach character, even make us smarter and healthier.

Psychotherapist Rose Swartz of Ulster County Mental Health in Kingston, New York believes children who grow up with pets benefit from higher IQ’s, healthier immune systems and better social skills. “Pets can teach children responsibility, empathy and compassion,” she says. “All are important ingredients for an emotionally healthy and well-rounded child.”

Becoming a good pet parent is as much a learning process as the luck of the draw. Animals, like people, have common needs, but quirky characters. So tuning into an animal eager to pick us requires a bit of know-how.

Finding a pet all ready to adopt used to mean looking up “Animal Control” or “Humane Society” in the yellow pages. That still works well. But today we’ll be better prepared to find the pet of our dreams by starting with the Internet. Several online directories list local shelters, pets and vets. Local shelters and rescue groups often publish a website with pet portraits. Some specialize in species or breeds.

As with any relationship, when scoping out a match made in heaven, nothing can substitute for a personal meeting. Always look for an animal with bright eyes and a shiny coat, one who’s alert, playful, interactive and comfortable being touched or held. The promise of loyal companionship and the unconditional love many pets so generously offer through fair and foul emotional weather shows up in many cute and zany packages.

Here’s where trusty intuition kicks in. It just may be that a scrawny tabby with a crooked tail or a homely mutt with big brown eyes is the perfect pet for us. Or not. Mixed breeds reportedly have longer, healthier lives. Still, according to The Humane Society of the United States, 25 percent of all animals in shelters are purebred. Some shelters keep waiting lists of people looking for specific breeds.

“It’s a great feeling to change an animal’s life for the better,” says Amanda Anges, the 2006 U.S. Humane Teen of the Year. A typical day finds this Springvale, Maine, vegetarian caring for homeless cats at a local shelter, serving as a foster pet parent, and teaching children responsible pet care.

Experts agree that pet adoption tends to make us better people. But before taking home that doggy in the window, we must ask ourself if we’re willing to shoulder the responsibility for the next 5 to 20 years. The decision to adopt is a big one. It can save a life. But pets of every type require ongoing care, money, time and energy. If we fail to do our part, we’re doing everyone a disservice.

“A pet chosen without research, forethought, careful assessment of their needs and realistic goals often ends up returned,” cautions dog trainer and animal-welfare enthusiast Alexandra Murphy. She believes this problem exists mainly because “Our society has forgotten the meaning of compassion and lacks the ability to forgive. Our desire for instant success has made us intolerant of anything less than what we want for ourselves at the time we decide we want it.”

Building a permanent relationship with a pet is akin to building a nurturing human relationship. “Love is not instant,” says Murphy. “We will make mistakes. We will feel exasperation at times. We’re going to have to practice the art of forgiveness and rethink our strategies along the way.” It’s called the art of compromise.

Hitting and yelling doesn’t work. Using positive reinforcement and showing a pet how to behave does work. By choosing to exercise emotional muscles of compassion and forgiveness we can form a bond that heals both parties’ emotional baggage. Also, “It’s vital that we not hold a new animal up to the standards of a dog or cat we had before,” notes Murphy. “Our job is to forgive his or her past as well as our own and move on to a future together.”

We will know what it is to practice compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. If we can patiently accept that our pet can’t master housetraining until we figure out whether we’re feeding him the wrong food on the wrong schedule or he just hasn’t yet put two and two together, and do cleanup with grace.

Animals have much to teach willing human students. Both can end up with a better life.

To find local pets waiting for a new home:
HSUS.org for The Humane Society
of the United States
ASPCA.org for American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
PetFinder.com
DogSaver.org
Pets911.com (includes tips on foster pet parenting)

To locate a local vet see American Animal Hospital Association’s HealthyPet.com.

Source:
by S. Alison Chabonais

Date: 2006/07/31 12:00:00 GMT-5

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