It's funny to think about now, but when we adopted her we actually didn't think she was all that small... we were comparing her with our two cats, and she already weighed a couple of pounds more than the heaviest of them. But looking back, she was soooo cute and tiny!! She's 68 pounds now, so I guess we have a better perspective on size now, haha!
When we went to the shelter last December, we were looking very specifically for a puppy because we wanted the addition of a dog to our family to be as minimally-traumatic for our cats as possible. Kaylee was one of several dogs we had looked at in the online gallery, but we had another "first choice" in mind. That dog, and most of the other available puppies, had already been claimed that day. And we're so thankful now that they had been! Kaylee turned out to be a wonderful fit for us, and has brought us so much joy and fun. Also, full disclosure, she has also brought us three pairs of chewed up glasses/sunglasses, two chewed up belts, two chewed-through lamp cords, a chewed/cracked cell phone, and several chewed-up items of clothing. If you're adopting a puppy, go ahead and buy stock in chew toys! And get really good at keeping things off the floor. ;P
As y'all already know, when I adopted our two cats initially, I was a bit of a Joss Whedon fangirl (and totally still am! I mean, Avengers! And Much Ado About Nothing!) and named them Firefly and River after his sci-fi cowboy TV show. So of course when it came time to adopt our puppy (referred to up until that point as "Wuwu" -- come on guys, really?) we picked another name to fit our theme. You could imagine that the darker brown on puppy-Kaylee's nose was mechanic's grease, right? Over there to the left is human-Kaylee going, "aww, you named her after me? Shiny!"
We adopted Kaylee from a Humane Society shelter, and overall it was a really good experience. Here are some tips and considerations to help with process of a shelter adoption, and to ensure a smooth transition for your new furbaby. :)
(But do keep in mind, policies will vary by organization and location)
#1 Do research beforehand on dog breeds! Most shelters will have an online gallery of adoptable dogs, so you should be able to check on breed info for the ones you might be interested in. For example, if a breed is high-energy and you live in an apartment, do both yourself and the dog a favor and know your limitations. If you have a cat or other small pet, there are certain breeds you will want to steer clear of. If there aren't any dogs that would be appropriate for your environment currently, just wait a week or two and look again. Don't force something that isn't a good fit for you and your family just because a puppy is cute! There will be many other cute and lovable puppies in need of a home, I promise.
#2 Before you visit the shelter, read books about raising puppies / training dogs. You will want to be prepared with information on how to identify clues to a dog's personality and trainability before picking your furbaby. And training your dog starts on day one, even if you adopt an older dog! So do yourself a favor and already have a handle on some of that stuff beforehand... Neither my husband nor I had ever lived in a household with a dog before, and we had no idea what we were doing for a while there! I very quickly emptied my library's shelves of dog training and puppy raising books and things got better, but until then it was a more stressful time (for both us and for poor wee Kaylee!) than it needed to be. Check out my six favorite dog books here! Several of them were absolutely amazing, and have had a giant impact on the way we relate to our dog. Even if you have owned dogs previously, the "best practices" in dog training have evolved a great deal, and you may still find something new and helpful in those resources!
#3 If you rent, be sure to check your lease for animal restrictions. Bring your lease with you to the shelter, as they might require verification that you are "allowed" to adopt the pet. This may mean calling your landlords if there is any doubt, so consider letting them know to expect a call. Our lease said we were allowed a "small dog" and our puppy was predicted to be 40-60 lbs. The Humane Society rep had to speak with our landlord to verify that she was okay with that, and there was a stressful ten minutes or so when we couldn't get her on the phone and were worried it might prevent our puppy adoption from going through. Since we knew our landlord quite well we were confident what her response would be (an enthusiastic "Oh yay! Of course that's fine...") but had our landlord not been so flexible it could have had a very significant impact on our adoption plans. Keep that in mind too! Lastly, please be aware that adopting an animal is a commitment that will effect ALL your future housing decisions as well. If you aren't okay with that, don't adopt a animal right now.
#4 Even if you are going "just to look," go ahead and be prepared with a plan for where you would keep a dog while it settles in. Would you crate the puppy? Would you have a dedicated "dog room" for a while? You never know when "we're just looking" will turn into "oh my gosh we have to have her!" Sometimes shelters will have kennels and other supplies available to buy on the spot, but also think about being prepared with things like baby-gates or puppy pens (think a play pen for a dog) to help with puppy-proofing your house. See below for some more ideas on that.
#5 Keep in mind that the animals you are seeing might be overwhelmed by their surroundings. Some animals will be on sensory-overload due to the sounds and smells of the shelter, and will be hesitant to interact with yet-another stranger. If you are looking at adopting a puppy, the shelter also probably won't want the puppy to be placed on the ground due to germ concerns, which can make it harder to interact with for that reason too. If you want a chance to get to know the dog a little more interactively before signing on the dotted line, ask if there is a quieter room or space where you can play for a bit. But don't write the puppy off just because he or she might be shy! Kaylee would barely sniff us at the shelter, even when we took her into a quieter space for a while, and she's a super loving, interactive, alert dog now. As long as they don't show red flags for fear issues (more on that next week when I talk about the puppy books I recommend) a shy dog can still be an awesome dog, and sometimes easier to train too.
#6 Try not to get attached to the idea of just one dog based on the internet description! Or if you go to visit the shelter and decide you need time to think, be aware that that dog may already have found his/her forever home by the time you go back. We really liked the idea of one particular dog when we were browsing the gallery at home, but he was already in the midst of the adoption process when we got there. We could have just gone home disappointed, but as it turned out there was another amazing dog waiting for us!
#7 Be aware that adopting a mixed-breed puppy is a wild card in terms of size. The prediction for Kaylee was 40-60 lbs, and she is almost 70 lbs at one year. If you aren't comfortable with potentially ending up with a bigger dog then you meant to, adopting an older dog might be wise.
#8 Be wary of "free puppies"! A reputable shelter is usually a better route. Depending on the area you live in, the fees at the shelters might seem steep. The Humane Society in our area charged different fees depending on the age of the dog... the puppies were twice as expensive as the "old" dogs. You may be tempted to browse those Craig's Lists ads for free or cheap puppies, but beware! You know nothing about the health or temperament of these dogs. The dogs at the Humane Society (or other reputable shelter) have been "vetted" as far as they are able. They usually have been microchipped, have already been fixed, have had their first round or two of shots, and (at least in our area) we were given a certificate for a free first follow-up vet visit and additional tests as well. If the shelter is aware that the animal does not do well with other pets, children, etc, they will be certain to inform potential adopters of this. As a cautionary tale, a family friend recently adopted a kitten from a neighbor... yes the kitten was free, but it turned out to have a whole host of ailments, one quite serious, that required multiple vet visits and medications. It was hard on the family emotionally and financially, and the poor little cat still isn't in the clear. I feel that the fees we paid at the Humane Society were more than returned in the health services my dog had already been provided, plus that money went back towards providing health services and homes for other animals. Worth it!
#9 I don't have a kid myself so this part is just me using my kindergarten-teacher-spidey-sense to venture a guess, but really consider whether or not you want to include your young child in on the puppy-picking at the shelter. Is your child going to be devastated if the puppy he was just cooing over turns out to already have been "claimed"? Will she understand that certain breeds just aren't appropriate for your home and lifestyle? Will he be able to modulate his voice and movements to avoid frightening a strange dog? It can also take a while to fill out the paperwork and be approved by a shelter representative, which can be tedious down-time for a kid. I saw children at the Humane Society behaving beautifully, and I also saw kids in meltdown mode. Meeting and choosing your new four-legged member of the family shouldn't be stressful, for you or for it, so decide with your child in mind whether it might be better to arrange the first munchkin/pet introduction in a more stable environment.
#10 Let your furbaby rest, and then let them acclimate to your home at his/her own pace! Your new dog is confused! And overwhelmed! And probably exhausted. Keep all that in mind and be sweet and gentle while he or she settles in. For example:
- Don't plan to travel or host any gatherings for at least a couple of weeks after the adoption. Keep things low-key and quiet. This is time for you to get to know your pet, and for him or her to learn to trust you.
- Keep the dog in a contained space initially, though preferably one where she can still see and hear the rest of the family. You are the puppy's new "pack" and she will find isolation upsetting. I STRONGLY recommend crate training, and keeping the puppy in your room at night in the crate. Kaylee was very distressed and lonely at night initially, and having her with us in our room was the key to everyone being able to get some sleep, and was helpful for potty training too. This is the crate we use now, and we are very happy with it. Keep in mind, your dog should always be able to stand up and turn around easily inside his/her crate. See below for some more of the many options on dog pens, crates, and baby gates.
- Don't force introductions with other household pets; read up on the best way to handle it and take it at your pets' pace.
- Similarly, read up on the best ways to acclimate your pet to your children. Keeping the child still and quiet will help, as will treats! Make sure to give the animal breaks, especially initially. This might be the first time a puppy has interacted with children for any length, so the dog really doesn't know what to expect or how to behave. Supervise closely!
- Don't expect your new pet to want to go on long walks initially; especially with a puppy, it may take a while for her to feel safe enough to be comfortable going on a walk at all. Think about it, this puppy's whole universe was a single room/kennel for however long. Now there is a huge world of smells and sounds and experiences to explore! It is overwhelming, especially if she is still learning to trust the new humans in her life. Kaylee was content just to explore our yard for the first week, and found walks kind of terrifying for a while. For puppies in general, multiple short walks a day will be better than a single long one.
Take it slow, and don't stress out your puppy. If you can see the whites of her eyes, she's stressed! Back off on the stimulation, whatever it is, and just give her time.
Adopting a dog adds a whole new dimension of caring and fun to life! It is also a lot of work, but for us the rewards have been SO worth it! I highly recommend considering if it might be right for you! If it is, I hope this list might be a helpful starting place for things to keep in mind as you deal with adoption choices and bringing your new pet home. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! If I don't know the answer, I probably can point you in the right direction. :)
And to all my friends out there who are old pros at the whole "pet adoption" thing, if you see something I've missed please let me know and I'll be sure to add it! Everyone's experiences are so different that I would love to be able to benefit from yours. And way to go you for providing a loving, stable home for the furbaby in your life. You're awesome! :D
Here are some of the places you might see this post partying!
Here are some of the places you might see this post partying!
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