“Recycled” Pets

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I love to watch the crème de la crème of purebred dogs prance in the arenas at the world’s most prestigious dog shows. This year’s Best in Show at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship is the regal Holly, a pointer who definitely knows she’s “all that.”

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But as an organic, eco-conscious consumer, I encourage people to adopt “recycled” pets: those abandoned in shelters. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates 5–7 million pets enter shelters each year. They’re typically not bad animals, but victims of unfortunate circumstances or a lack of education on the part of their former owners.

With the recession, home foreclosures and economic crises have also forced dedicated owners to give up their pets. In most shelter cases, however, humans with good intentions never took the time to assess the responsibilities and requirements associated with pet ownership.

Pets can be a 10- to 20-year commitment, so do your research before choosing a new companion. A little planning goes a long way toward ensuring you and your pet enjoy a long and happy life together.

“Education prior to adoption is one of the best ways to reduce the number of pets surrendered by their owners,” confirms dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, author of It’s Me or the Dog: How to Have the Perfect Pet and host of Animal Planet’s It’s Me or the Dog. “Prospective pet owners need to clearly understand how a pet will fit into their lives for the long term, and whether or not it’s a good fit before they adopt. It’s my goal to keep as many deserving dogs and cats in ‘forever homes’ as possible, and it starts with proper education.”

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Pet Adoption Tips

A survey of Adopt-A-Pet shelter employees and rescue workers reveals the top 10 things to consider when thinking about adopting a pet:

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  1. When you adopt, you need to make a real commitment to care for your pet for its entire life, just as you would with a child.
  2. Be prepared for a pet to affect other parts of your life for as long as you have it, which can be up to 15 years for a dog and 20 years for a cat. Your pet’s well-being will have to be considered in all decisions, including travel, social life, relocation, adopting other pets and having children.
  3. Verify in advance you’re allowed to keep a pet where you live, especially if you rent or belong to a homeowners’ association.
  4. Make necessary modifications to your yard and fence, if you have them, to provide for your pet’s safety and to prevent it from escaping.
  5. Never give a pet as a gift.
  6. Choose a pet appropriate to your living situation and lifestyle. Figure out what size, age and energy-level pet is most appropriate.
  7. Never adopt a pet on a whim or because it’s love at first sight. Do research and carefully consider every aspect and implication of adopting before you make a decision.
  8. If you’re adopting a pet for your kids, understand the responsibility is yours. Kids often tire of things that were once new and exciting, and this includes their pets. You will most likely end up being the one who provides most of the pet’s care.
  9. Plan for a several-week adjustment period during which there will be challenges.
  10. Provide sufficient exercise and stimulation. For example, walk dogs according to individual need, provide playtime and appropriate toys, spend time just petting and talking to your pet, and include your pet in family activities.

Photos (top to bottom): Animal Planet, Frank Mullen/Getty Images for Animal Planet, Purina

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