Finding a Companion for Your Pet
With two aging dogs at home, Jane and Lee Schwocho decided to add a new pet to help keep Bailey and Addie feeling young. They had adopted 13-year-old Bailey and 11-year-old Addie, both mixed breeds, from rescue organizations, so they turned to a shelter again when searching for their newest addition. After extensive research, the Schwochos found the perfect match in two-year-old Barkley, a wire-haired dachshund-terrier mix.
MAKING THE DECISION
Rescuing a pet can be rewarding for your entire family. However, not all pets are a good match for everyone (including your four-legged family members), and not all times are the right times to get a pet. When deciding to rescue a pet, consider your:
- Current pet's history of interacting with other animals
- Lifestyle, and whether the pet's breed, size, age, and personality are compatible with it
- Budget (think of emergency and preventive veterinary care, food, supplies, and so forth)
- Ability to make and keep a long-term commitment
- Availability to spend time with your pet
- Home's size, type, and yard (or lack of)
- Family's allergies (check out www. aspca.org/pets_allergic)
- Household members' readiness for this commitment
Research is key, according to Miranda Spindel, DVM, MS, director of veterinary outreach at the ASPCA and president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Your veterinarian is also a great resource. He or she can help you narrow your choices and recommend other sources of information.
Jane and Lee also prepared by reading books by animal behaviorists. Jane says, "With each dog we've adopted, we have become savvier and better dog owners. We keep educating ourselves further so we can have a stronger relationship with our dogs."
SEARCHING FOR A MATCH
When you decide you're ready to add another pet to your household and have determined which type of pet is right for you, look into various available resources. Start by asking your veterinarian for recommendations on which animal shelters to check. Before you visit, you can go online and look at the animals that are up for adoption at many shelters.
Next, visit the shelters that have animals you're interested in. Make a point of talking with shelter volunteers about the particular type of pet you're looking for and explaining that you're trying to find a match for your current pet. ASPCA personnel alerted Jane when Barkley entered the shelter because he matched her search criteria.
Once you find that potentially perfect pet, ask the shelter for background on the pet's health and behavioral habits. Also ask if they use personality assessments to determine the type of pet personality that will be the best match for you and your current pet. Jane used Barkley's assessment to help determine whether she would be able to work with his behavior and personality. With the knowledge that Barkley had a history of guarding issues (particularly with food), Jane knew in advance to feed her dogs separately.
Then, make sure to interact with the pet on several occasions if possible. "Finding the ideal match should be approached as an enjoyable process that may span several weeks rather than a 'one-stop shop,'" says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center and Mobile Clinic Outreach Program.
Before bringing the pet home, stock up on all necessary supplies, including food, toys, and bedding, and schedule a veterinary appointment.
HANDLING PET INTRODUCTIONS
You will need to take extra care introducing your new pet to his environment and animal companions.
Introductions for dogs should ideally begin in the shelter, where they can meet on neutral territory. That way, you can watch the dogs interact without one getting defensive of his space, toys, or food. Both Bailey and Addie went to the shelter to meet Barkley. "I had to be sure that my guys were going to feel safe and comfortable," Jane says. When Addie–who tends to be grumpy and has a history of negative interactions with other animals–began "wagging her tail around like a propeller on a helicopter," Jane knew Barkley was the perfect choice. If taking your current dog to the shelter is not possible, introduce the dogs outside your home, but not in an area where your current dog could feel territorial (like your backyard).
Buchwald does not recommend bringing your current cat to meet a new pet at a shelter. Instead, keep the cats separated at home for one or two weeks. Gradually introduce them to each others' scents by rubbing a paper towel over one pet and letting the other cat have a sniff.
For all pets, confine them to individual rooms or by using baby gates so you can monitor their behavior before they are close enough to potentially harm each other. Most important, never allow the pets to be alone unsupervised until you are certain of how they will interact, and make sure each pet has a safe spot to use as a retreat from the other. Keep introductions brief, and interrupt them at the first sign of conflict. The new pet should be allowed to explore the house without any of your other pets around.
Ask your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist for specific advice about introducing your pets.
About a month after being adopted, Barkley has quickly become integrated into the Schwocho pack, sharing Bailey's favorite ball and perking up Addie. Adding a new pet as a companion for your current dog or cat can strengthen the bond you have with your pets and, in the process, make all your lives more fun.
Keeping Your Pets Healthy
Shelter animals are usually tested for infections, but to be safe, check with the shelter and your veterinarian to make sure your new pet is free of such conditions. Testing is especially important for cats, who can carry feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses, which are both easily transmitted between cats and are eventually fatal. Even if your pets are different species, they could still share diseases or parasites with each other and with you. Ideally, keep pets separated for at least a week (preferably until lab work comes back) so your new pet is less likely to infect your other pets