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Clear The Shelters: Things to Consider Before Bringing a Pet Home

On Saturday August 19th, NBC 6 and Telemundo 51 will be joining forces with animal shelters throughout South Florida. The goal of #ClearTheShelters is to find loving, forever homes for as many of our community’s homeless pets as possible.

If you’ve been thinking about adding a pet to your family, now is a great time to do so. But before you visit a participating shelter, it’s wise to think about what type of pet fits your lifestyle. We’ve got a few days to go between now and the big day, so let’s get started!

Before you start thinking about bringing home a pet, find out for certain if any restrictions on pet ownership apply to your living situation. Many rentals throughout South Florida do not allow pets at all, while others only allow cats and small-breed dogs. Others still may allow any size of dog, but do not allow certain breeds.

If you you own your home, you may face limitations as well. Many homeowner’s associations do not allow outdoor cats, or may only allow dogs over 20 or 40 pounds. HOA’s can and often do, ban certain breeds; before you head to the shelter, get some guidance on this as well.

Finally, place a call to the company that handles your homeowner’s insurance. While the most the most recent, comprehensive, peer-reviewed studies prove otherwise, most insurance companies continue to do business based on the false assumption that aggression is linked to breed. Despite howls of protest from animal care professionals, it is not unusual for insurance companies to deny or limit coverage to homeowners who live with bull breeds, German Shepherds, Chow Chows, Siberian Huskies, Doberman Pinschers, mastiffs, as well as many others. These controversial practices are hotly debated, yet the sad truth of the matter is that many animals find themselves in shelters because their owners were unaware of pre-existing restrictions that limited their choice of pets.

The next step is the family meeting. This should include everyone in the household, including children. Even children who are too young to help care for a pet must be taught that animals are living things to be treated with respect. Chasing, hugging, kissing, grabbing, pulling, cornering, teasing - these normal childhood behaviors can be frightening for pets, and can put children at risk for being bitten or scratched.

Consider the allergies of family members and frequent visitors. Make sure everyone in the household is on the same page, and that everyone’s input is carefully considered. Don’t blindside a family member who is not on board by giving them the pet as a gift, or by using the children’s pleas as a form of leverage. Allergies, injuries to children, and family conflict related to the pet are all-too-common reasons cited by owners who surrender their pets to shelters.

Next, decide if you would like a dog or a cat. If you work long hours, travel a lot, or have an erratic schedule, a dog may not be a wise choice. Dogs are highly social, and require physical and mental exercise to keep them healthy and well-behaved. Since they answer nature’s call outdoors, regularly scheduled meal times and walks are a must.

If your schedule does not allow for this, consider a cat or kitten. Better yet, consider two cats or kittens! They will always have someone to play with and to keep them company when your hectic life takes over. Additionally, the sight of two kittens playing is quite possibly the best form of stress relief known to man.

The subject of kittens leads us to the next decision you should make before your trip. Do you want to adopt a youngster or an adult? The upside of adopting puppies or kittens is obvious - they’re adorable, and a heck of a lot of fun! But make no mistake - this stage is a lot of work. This is especially true of puppies. Between chewing, crying, housebreaking mistakes, and garden-variety mayhem, a puppy can run you ragged. And just when you think your puppy is growing up, the adolescent phase begins.

Like human teenagers, adolescent dogs can be willful, rebellious, and defiant. Our younger dog, Zohan, was an easy puppy. His adolescence, however, was a nightmare. This phase requires patience, consistency, and a cool head. If that doesn’t sound like fun, be honest with yourself and adopt an adult. You’ll be in good company. Many of my clients have adopted adult dogs after deciding they were "done" raising puppies!

If you’ve decided on a dog or a puppy, you’ll need to do a quick lifestyle assessment. The best way to do this is to ask yourself two questions: what do I want to do with my dog, and how much time can I devote to a dog? This is where the size of a dog becomes important, as well as a dog’s drive.

If you have your heart set on a purpose-bred dog, set aside the idea of breed and think about drive instead. A high drive dog requires not just physical exercise, but mental exercise as well. These dogs excel in agility, trick training and nose work. They are the perfect companion for active individuals, and are great partners for runners and cyclists. If this sounds like fun, look for a high drive dog with enough size and stamina to keep up with you. But be warned - these dogs don’t just enjoy being active. They need to be active. Left to their own devices, these dogs can become fearful, reactive or destructive. They need a job, and if you do not give them a job, they will simply choose one on their own. Such choices may include eating socks, chewing through drywall, barking incessantly or lunging.

High drive dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but generally speaking, a larger high drive dog will require more exercise than a smaller one. If you want a dog that is perfectly happy to sleep at your feet all day, you’ll want to look for a low drive dog. Most dogs fall into the medium drive category, which is what many adopters want. A medium drive dog enjoys playing and being active, but is perfectly happy to power down at the end of a busy day. They love running around playing fetch with the kids, but will wait patiently while they first finish their homework. I’ll talk more about assessing the temperament and drive of shelter dogs in my next article. If you’re still inclined toward a particular breed, bear in mind that at any given time, nearly 30 percent of shelter dogs are pure-breeds.

But for now, do some homework of your own and spend the next few days asking yourself the questions posed above. If you know what you’re looking for in a four-legged soulmate, you’ll be far more likely to find the perfect match on August 19th!

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.

Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee? Send him an email by clicking here.

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