15 Things Shelter Dogs and Cats Wish You Knew

If you find yourself in the market for a new furry friend, congratulations! Bringing home shelter dogs or cats can turn into a very rewarding experience for all involved. That said, you should keep a few things in mind when adopting a shelter pet. Here are a few things the experts want us to know.

1. There’s usually nothing wrong with shelter dogs and cats

Shelter dog is cute dog in an animal shelter

It’s normally not behavioral issues that got them there. | Mexitographer/iStock/Getty Images

“Typically, animals don’t end up in shelters or homeless because they have severe medical or behavioral issues,” explained Inga Fricke, director of pet retention programs for the Humane Society of the United States. Often, something in the animal’s life has led to their ending up in a shelter. Sometimes, owners die, have to move, or find themselves in jail or the hospital. “The overwhelming majority of pets in shelters are there because of people problems, not problems they themselves have,” Fricke pointed out.

Next: Some shelter dogs and cats come with a furry friend.

2. Sometimes they come in pairs

Homeless kittens in a cage at the shelter

A bonded pair shouldn’t be separated. | DmyTo/iStock/Getty Images

Just like people, shelter dogs and cats may find friends at the shelter or might even come in together. Shelters employ experts and dedicated professionals who recognize this, and may only adopt them out as a team. “If there is a bond between the animals, that if they are separated, they show stress … our behavior team may deem them as bonded which means they need to be adopted together,” said Joey Teixeira, senior manager of client relations and communications at the ASPCA Adoption Center.

Next: The shelter life can take its toll on a pet.

3. Shelters can feel very scary

sad dog in a cage

It’s stressful being in that environment. | Manuel-F-O/iStock/Getty Images

No matter how long your new furry friend has lived at the shelter, moving to your home can also shock their system. Fricke cautioned that adopters should give their pet time to get used to their new surroundings. “Imagine taking yourself from the home you’re used to being at every day … and [then] all of a sudden, someone else has picked you up and moved you to a completely different place with all new people,” she explained. “It can be very disorienting for animals.”

Next: Shelter dogs and cats need this service as soon as they can get it.

4. You should take your new pet to the vet ASAP

Happy vet holding french bulldog puppy

Make sure they get a checkup. | hedgehog94/iStock/Getty Images

Even if the shelter gave your new pet a clean bill of health, take him to a doctor as soon as possible. You want to make sure your pet starts off a healthy life, and does not bring any fleas or parasites into your home. Bonnie Beaver, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends starting a relationship with a new vet right away, so your pet learns to trust them. You should also get your pet current on all vaccines, as well as heartworm and preventative medications for ticks and other irritants.

Next: If your new friend seems timid at first, don’t despair.

5. Pets often blossom once they come home

spaniel dog running in summer

Coming out of the shelter can be such a relief. | Carmelka/iStock/Getty Images

Your pet might not display their real personality right away. “It’s very important to understand that the animal you see in a shelter most often will really blossom when they come out of the shelter,” explained Fricke. Outgoing shelter dogs and cats will probably come even further out of their shell. Those who seem a little shy and nervous at the shelter will also probably get more comfortable, once they get to know you. It will just take a little TLC.

Next: Remember that your local shelter needs your support, too.

6. Most shelters run on volunteer manpower

Volunteer with Cats at an animal shelter

They need all the help they can get. | LiudmylaSupynska/iStock/Getty Images

Shelters usually operate as non-profits, meaning they depend on donations and volunteers to keep going. While some shelters do employ some full-time staff, most need volunteers to help care for the animals. When you go check out the shelter dogs and cats, you will probably meet some of the people who keep the animals happy and healthy. Say thank you! Even a modest donation also goes a long way, if you can.

Next: Remember to take it slow when you first introduce yourself to your new pet.

7. Pace yourself when meeting your furever friend

Family at an animal shelter

Don’t crowd them right away. | Jupiterimages/iStock/Getty Images

The shelter staff knows their animals best, so follow their instructions when you visit. Some animals respond well to excitement, but may can get scared. “It’s like when you meet a new person, you don’t just wrap your arms around them and give them a kiss right on the lips,” Teixeira explained. “So you don’t want to do that with a shelter pet either.”

Next: Make meeting the shelter dogs and cats a whole outing.

8. Take your time and bring the family

Family getting to know dogs in animal shelter

Make sure everyone gets to know the new family member. | kzenon/iStock/Getty Images

Pet expert and author Andrea Arden recommends making a trip to the shelter a whole family affair. After all, you will all live with the new member. Take your time and think about how the pet’s personality will also fit with your family members.” Make sure each member of your clan understands the commitment and responsibility that comes with a new pet, as well. “A family should know very clearly what their predicted amount of time to give to the potential adoptee is,” Arden added.

Next: Puppies and kitties can steal our hearts, but so can older pets.

9. Don’t overlook a senior pet

Senior dog smiling

Senior dogs have the biggest hearts. | Akchamczuk/iStock/Getty Images

Senior shelter dogs and cats get adopted at much lower rates than the younger ones, but that doesn’t mean they deserve it. Beaver explained that they often have calmer temperaments and will not destroy things the same way a puppy might. Adult dogs can also hold their bladders longer than puppies, so house-training may come quicker. And yes, you can teach old dogs new tricks after all.

Next: Make sure you roll out the welcome mat for your new friend, too.

10. Prepare your home ahead of time to welcome your pet

foster dog

Make sure they’ll be able to relax. | Mary Daly/The Cheat Sheet

A successful adoption requires some advance preparation, according to experts. That includes getting your house ready, by placing breakable items out of reach. Arden also recommended creating an area for your furry friend to decompress. That might include a crate or a gated-off area for the animal to use as their very own “room.”

Next: A lot of changes can disrupt your new friend’s system, so proceed with caution.

11. Don’t change your new pet’s food too quickly

Little dog maltese and black and white cat eating food from a bowl in home

Make sure they get a chance to adjust. | Humonia/iStock/Getty Images

When you first bring them home, find out what your new pet eats and make sure you have enough for at least the first few weeks. If you do plan on changing their diet, wait at least a week to avoid any tummy troubles. Gradually transition to the new food over the next 10 days or so. Stress and a change in routine and diet can cause upset stomachs or diarrhea, so keep an eye on your pet for any other signs of illness.

Next: You have a lifetime together, so no need to rush it.

12. Give your new friend time to settle in

Cat relaxing on a chair

They may need some time to get comfortable. | kaorinne/iStock/Getty Images

Remember: Your shelter pet has gone through a lot, and might need some time to warm up. “Many rescue dogs have no idea how to relax when you first adopt them,” said Mikkel Becker, animal trainer for VetStreet.com. “It can take a month or two for your dog to settle in.” Encourage bonding by spending quiet time hanging out together, and try to keep your schedule as consistent as possible. You might want to try hand-feeding to foster trust and reward good behavior with treats instead of yelling “no” when bad behavior happens.

Next: Get them some gear before you even come home.

13. Have a collar and ID tags ready to go

American Eskimo Dog resting on grass.

They won’t know where home is. | Blendshapes/iStock/Getty Images

Pick up a collar and ID tag with your phone number on it, and bring it with you to the shelter. If your new pet wanders away, they won’t know where to go “home,” at first. They might feel stressed or afraid, especially for the first few weeks, so keep an extra close eye on them. Always keep pets on a leash or in a tightly fenced area when they go outside, and never leave pets alone for an extended period, especially when they first come home.

Next: Don’t worry if your new friend needs help potty training.

14. They may need a little help house-training

Golden retriever puppy looking guilty from his punishment

Accidents happen.. | Alexsokolov/iStock/Getty Images

Even if shelter dogs and cats come housebroken, they may need some adjustment when they first move in with you. “Assume your new dog isn’t house-trained, no matter what you’ve been told,” advised Beaver. Establish a schedule immediately: Take him outside when he wakes up, within 30 minutes of meals, and again before bed. Puppies need to go out more often: A good rule of thumb is take one bathroom break for every hour more than their age in months. In other words, a 3-month-old puppy can hold it for four hours. Also learn your pet’s ptty signals. They might just stand by the door or stare at you, or start whining and barking.

Next: If you encounter behavior issues, try to respond with empathy.

15. Use patience with your new shelter pet

Dog in a shelter.

They’ve been through a lot. | Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images

Patience comes as a vital virtue with shelter dogs and cats. “They’ve had no stability. They’ve been caged in a strange place with sights and smells they’ve never encountered. All of a sudden, they’re in your home and unsure about what you want,” explained Fricke. That means they will take time to acclimate. Dogs in particular like routine, so make sure you stick to a schedule. And if your new best friend takes some time to warm up, don’t despair. They might take some time to “unlearn” bad behavior from their previous lives.

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