Many of us will, at one time or another, find ourselves welcoming a companion animal into our homes and hearts. Some people call them secondhand pets; some are thought of as “recycled” or “pre-owned”. These fur babies come to us in a variety of ways. They find us through rescues, shelters, fosters, friends and family. Sometimes they just find us. Preparing, both emotionally and practically, for your new family member will help you both make the transition from adopter/adoptee to loving, lifetime companions.
Domestic companion animals are unique individuals. They are not “just a dog” or “only a cat”. In the United States, 81% of pet parents look on their companions as members of the family on a par with their children (Zachary Crockett/The Hustle). According to Pet Business Magazine, seven out of 10 millennials have a pet or pets. This trend is growing and so are the resources that can help you successfully integrate a new companion into your home. When circumstances beyond your control force you to consider re-homing a pet, these same resources can help you find the right home for an animal.
Adopting a rescued pet or taking in a pre-loved pet can be learning experience for you and your new companion. Breed rescues can be a big help in guiding you in the right direction. Mimi and Bugster are an older bonded pair of Pugs who had lived in a car most of their lives. Colorado Pug Rescue (CPR) fostered them and they found a forever home with a Boulder couple. These dogs had never lived in a house. They didn’t understand the meaning of the word “outside”. Bugster would sneak off at night and piddle; Mimi pooped in the house when no one was looking. The couple turned to CPR for help. They also got a vet check-up and nutrition advice. With the help of a crate for night sleeping, consistent, high quality feeding, and lots of enjoyable walks, the Pugs became proper Pugly members of the household. This may sound like a small problem, but pets are often returned because of similar issues. Shelters are filled with dogs who bark and cats who shed, because the adopters had unrealistic expectations or didn’t know where to go for help. Mimi and Marco, the cat (another adoption), are now great friends. Mimi and Bug are spending their retirement lazing in the sun, playing with the other pets and sleeping on the couch.
Cats, as well as dogs, have breed rescues and support for rehoming from national and local organizations. “Madame” was rescued from a breeder who did not provide vet care. She lost her eye to an infection but found a home through a local Persian Cat Rescue. Rescue Me! has a listing by state of dog and cat rescues. Another breed and shelter listing service is Colorado Citizens for Canine Welfare (3CW). The list is Colorado specific.
At the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV), happy beginnings are a daily occurrence. Maggie McSchaefer, Director of Strategic Initiatives, knows a lot about re-homing. HSBV has a robust program of behavioral support for dogs and cats. The Society brings in cats and kittens from overcrowded shelters and prioritizes providing resources to support these kitties on their journey to their forever homes. Sometimes it may take a couple tries.
Sky, a lovely long-haired grey kitty, was adopted to be the second cat in the household. The original cat was not amused. Despite their best efforts, the guardians needed to re-home Sky. When she came back to the Humane Society, she was timid, hiding, and reluctant to engage. Through support from the HSBV Behavior Modification program Sky overcame her fear and was quickly adopted into a family where she is thriving.
National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR) near Colorado Springs rescues breeding dogs from puppy mills. These dogs are kept caged for most of their lives and given little or no veterinary care. They have almost no familiarity with human kindness. They have spent their lives as commodities, useful only for their breeding potential. Many have never walked on grass or solid surfaces. Their teeth are usually rotted. They flinch from human contact. NMDR takes these damaged refugees and provides care, warmth, rehabilitation and love. When they are ready, NMDR finds them their very best possible home situation. These dogs need special guardians. This is a “no matter what” commitment. NMDR’s adoption process is rigorous.
They also provide post-adoption support for difficult cases and resources for the new guardians. Theresa Straighter, NMDR Director told me, “Our post-adoption support is on a case-by-case basis. We monitor a group on Facebook called ‘Puppy Mill to Pet.’ This is an excellent resource for new adopters as they can ask questions, seek advice, and even get in touch with our rehab team leader from NMDR. The most common issues are behavioral because of the past experiences of these dogs. Many are shy and scared, tend to be more of a flight risk, and struggle to do the “normal things” expected of a dog. Given time and patience, though, most of these dogs can break through these issues and go on to live a ‘fairly normal life’”. When these little companions finally learn to trust humans again, the connection is truly a miracle.
It is important to investigate the source of your new pet. Retail rescues buy animals and sell them for high prices without following minimal guidelines for care and rehabilitation. Some are well-meaning hoarders. Some do it for love but have little experience or training. Jasper, a Pitbull mix, was rescued from a hoarding “sanctuary” where 300 dogs were cared for by 6 volunteers. He was rescued by Best Friends, a highly respected Utah no-kill group that re-homes dogs and cats. Best Friends spent time rehabilitating him and after 10 months and two visits, adopted him to Kathi in Boulder. When Jasper first arrived, he was afraid of everything – he wouldn’t walk down the steps to the yard, he was afraid of the spot where the slate and hardwood floors merged. He was scared of squirrels. After a year-and-a-half, he is settling in just fine. He has excellent house manners, loves his sister, Scarlett, loves to meet new people, and adores his Mom. He is still afraid of squirrels.
The Pet Animal Care Facilities (PACFA) is a government program that oversees adoption, rescue and shelter organizations. You can get information on certification, complaints, inspection reports and more information on facilities in Colorado. You can also report unhappy experiences, a benefit in the long run to other adopters and to the pets at those facilities.
Some pets need more specialized care to be ready for adoption. Rudy, an enthusiastic one-and-a-half-year-old Cocker Spaniel spent his entire life caring for his human. He spent all his time inside and had almost no training. He did not know the life of a dog. The guardian’s family needed to re-home him when his human was hospitalized. They found a local trainer, Chrissy Messick, owner of The Animal Nature, who took him into her home to provide full time training. The trainer says “Rudy is a work in progress. He is building his confidence in new situations and learning about the outside world – grass, cars, garbage trucks, strangers, dogs, squirrels and bunnies (which are his favorite)”. Rudy gets overwhelmed easily, so the process is slow. When he is ready, Rudy will be carefully re-homed to the right family. This type of commitment is unusual both for the trainer and the guardians. It is good to know this option may be available for special cases.
Even highly experienced guardians can find themselves in a situation where re-homing is necessary. “We adopted Franklin from HSBV. He was the only English Bulldog from a hoarding situation. Franklin was highly triggered by noises – even crumpling paper would arouse him and he would run and put his mouth around the offending article. Our household is noisy. We have two children and at that time had a 13-year-old Boxer. We just couldn’t relax around Franklin and he couldn’t relax around us. The process of re-homing was time-consuming and thorough. He needed a quiet home, empathetic owners who would give him time to work through his issues at his own pace. Someone who would love him for who he is and not who they wanted him to be”, Messick told me. Franklin found his home with an older couple where he is rarely alone. Sometimes letting go is the kindest act.
There is so much support for our beloved animals and their people. When your new companion comes home, you will need post adoption support. The Longmont Humane Society has an excellent Well Pet Veterinary Clinic providing low cost vet services which can help the new owner or an owner trying to keep their pet, with extremely reasonably priced health care. They will also give advice to new pet parents who have adopted from them. The HSBV also provides advice service, as do most rescues. There are a whole lot of people out there just waiting to help you keep, successfully re-home or find your new companion. There is absolutely no shame in reaching out when you need help.
I have never had a companion animal who didn’t come from spending time somewhere else. Some came from shelters, rescues, or a friend. One was a dog picked up on the road. There were 6 cats abandoned by their owner. Mandy found me walking on the beach. Each one was a miracle of connection with something greater than myself. That is not to say that there weren’t challenges, tears, frustration, and even momentary anger. Neither we nor our pets are perfect. We learn unconditional love from our animal companions. This unconditional commitment is challenging for humans, but immeasurably rewarding. It is your responsibility to do the research, get the support you need, and budget time and money for your lifetime commitment. You will reap the rewards of that unconditional love, laughter and an intangible bond with the natural world.
10 tips for adopting and rehoming
1. Never, ever adopt sight unseen over the internet
2. Do your research on the adoption agency
3. Check out different breeds and types of pets before you start looking
4. Make very sure you are ready if adopting a special needs animal
5. Talk to friends and family about their experiences
6. Have a game plan
7. Make sure you have post-adoption support
8. Never give away a pet for free
9. Make sure your existing pets agree with your decision
10. Let your new companion be who she is; not what you want her to be
Organization Contact Information:
Humane Society of the Boulder Valley: boulderhumane.org
Longmont Humane Society: longmonthumane.org
National Mill Dog Rescue: milldogrescue.org
Colorado Citizens for Canine Welfare: caninewelfare.org
Messick, Chrissy; The Nature of Animals, theanimalnature.com
Pet Animal Care Facilities Program:
Rescue Me!: rescueme.org/states
Certified Council for Professional Dog Trainers: ccpdt.org
Myers, Kate; darlingcompanion.me