If you’re a pet-lover, you’re well aware that the number of animals needing homes far exceeds the number of homes looking for them. That’s why many folks don’t look to the pet-store or the breeder when they are increasing their furry family. They look in the animal shelter, knowing the need is great. Then there are the pets that find you. It’s pretty hard to turn a cold shoulder when the need is right in your lap. I’ll never forget my friend Steve complaining about all the stray cats that just would not leave. As he moaned about this, he was filling two dishpans with cat-food to set out for them. I explained that this was probably not the most effective means of running them off, and he sheepishly mumbled something like "Well, you can’t let them starve."
It’s not hard to see how we wind up adopting animals with an uncertain history, no "papers", and from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. You know you’re going to do it, so here’s what you need to do to avoid as many pitfalls as possible.
Of course, you knew I was going to say that they need a check-up from your veterinarian first thing. You might as well get the flea population counted and eliminated before transferring them to your home. Fifty percent of stray cats have ear mites, which are readily transmitted to other pets in your home by direct contact between the animals. No need to start passing that around.
If there’s a "little skin problem" it could be contagious to you, as well as to your pets. The most difficult case of "ringworm" (skin fungus infection) that I’ve ever seen was from a little stray found in the grocery store parking lot. She really needed a home. After every member of the family contracted the disease, we found out that they were sincere in their desire to give her that home. Particularly after it took two months to clear the infection. What a mess!
Intestinal parasites are almost a given in a stray animal, so microscopic exam of a stool specimen should be part of the first exam. Puppies less than six months old cannot yet have adult heartworms, but may already be exposed and show evidence later. The heartworm situation is one of the most frustrating for me to deal with. People are giving this dog a home, but it has a problem that requires an expensive treatment with long convalescence. What a drag.
Both strays and pets from shelters have been under a lot of stress, both physical and mental. This lowers their resistance to disease at the same time they have the opportunity to be exposed to lots of diseases. This is a bad combination. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, it is very common for the adoptee to start showing signs of disease several days after entering the new home, even though he looked okay when you picked him up. This can also be a problem with pets purchased in a pet-store. Often they have been purchased from the breeder by a broker, who then transfers them to the pet-shop. They’ve had two rapid changes of environment, plus being mixed with animals from many other sources, and now they’re in their little prison cells waiting for their new owners. This is not ideal. Plus, even when the puppy or kitten has supposedly been well cared for, something important may have been missed.
If you adopt an adult pet, you may be surprised by some of the habits they have already developed. In the shelter, some unpleasant behavior pattern (snapping at children, for instance) may be the reason they are looking for a new home. I worked full time in an animal shelter when I was in my college years, and folks sometimes will gloss over the real reason for relinquishing the pet, in hopes that it will have a better chance of finding a new home. Of course, that may work out okay. If the problem was that the dog killed chickens and he goes to an apartment, that’s pretty much a non-issue. On the other hand, if the problem was dominance-aggression, going to a house full of children could be potentially disastrous.
My own dog, Cady, is a sweetheart except for one small detail. She is a cat-killing fool. We adopted her as an adult stray when some clients brought her in to be euthanized because they couldn’t care for her any longer. They had given up on trying to find her a home. Having lost my Golden Retriever, Buster, some months previously, I decided to give her a chance. What a great dog! That is, until we brought her inside. Her attempts to kill Ed and Simba gave you the impression that you had been caught inside a large, furry pinball machine. It was a pretty exciting time until we got her corralled. We weren’t really prepared for that, as we had raised our other dogs with the cats and had always managed a decent truce. No truce with Cady, though. Even if you closed enough doors to protect the cats, she would stand and whine at a door until we gave up and put her outside again. Now that our cats have passed on, Cady is in the house a lot and does great. Cats that cross our yard had better be moving fast, though.
I’m all for adopting these kids that need a home. We just need to be a little patient and willing to work with them. We also need to get them a medical check-up just as soon as possible.