How to adopt a pet ethically

How to adopt a pet ethically

If you're reading this, you probably have the best intentions about adding a furry companion to your family and have started preparing. Making sure you get the rabies shot and all the other shots you need is a check. Brushes are checked. The fur baby will rip to shreds an endless number of fluffy toys. Research on dog walkers, check.

There is no need to rush to your local pet shop to pick out the best treats, however, since some of the most important decisions happen before you sign any paperwork. Having a pet begins with finding him or her.

According to Vicki Stevens, director of the companion animals department for program management and communications at Humane Society of the United States, a nonprofit national animal advocacy organization, adopting a pet is different from purchasing one from a pet store or breeder.

Puppy mills, which force animals into overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, are the main source of puppies sold in pet stores and online. A breeder may use similar unethical practices or get their animals from mills as well (though not always; we'll get to that later). ASPCA estimates that between 2015 and 2018, about 6.5 million cats and dogs entered U.S. shelters annually and, though most were adopted or adopted out, one in five of them was euthanized. There's a wide range of numbers, based on how data is gathered, but what's the TL;DR? You should consider adoption if ethics are a concern.

"It's always a good bet to adopt from your local shelter or rescue group," says Holly Sizemore, chief mission officer of Best Friends Animal Society "We've seen tremendous progress over the years in saving more lives but there's still around 300,000 cats and dogs being killed in our nation's shelters, simply because shelters lack the resources to find them new homes."

In terms of ethical pet ownership, where you get your pet is an important factor to think about, but there are other considerations as well. It's important to adopt an animal carefully, so we talked to animal advocacy organizations about how to do that. Here is a guide with step-by-step instructions.

Questions to ask yourself

Stevens advises considering a few factors before visiting a shelter or contacting an animal rescue group:

How much time do you have to care for a pet?

Choosing the right type of animal can be determined by the first question. Stevens says that dogs and cats both require playtime, but dogs also need several walks a day. Regardless of how long or short an animal's life span may be, you should prepare yourself for it. The lifespan of a dog is usually longer than that of a cat, and a bird can live for two decades or longer.

Other considerations include:

Do you understand what the pet needs to be healthy and happy?

Do you have a budget for pet food, toys, veterinary care, and what options are available within that budget?

In the event that you cannot bring your pet with you on vacation, who will look after it?

Do you want an energetic pet or one that's more low-key?

You can narrow down your options for a pet by answering the above questions and see what kind of pet is right for you.

Shelters versus rescues

If you want to help a place that cares for animals well and serves a larger purpose, shelters and rescues may be good options for adopting a pet.

Stevens explains that most rescue organizations are non-profit, and that some may or may not have a facility or network of foster homes. In some cases, shelters are run by the government or by municipalities.

Rescues and shelters can leverage each other's resources to save more pets by working together, says Sizemore.

As a matter of fact, each shelter and rescue is an independent entity, with its own policies, says Stevens. In this case, it is best to go to a shelter that offers foster care and a policy you can co-sign.

The first time you meet an animal, or even a few times later, their true personalities may not be apparent. You or their environment may not yet feel comfortable with them. Once they feel comfortable, their true selves shine through.

It is especially important at shelters to keep pets from becoming overwhelmed or overstimulated if it is noisy.

You might consider adopting or fostering an animal as a trial adoption or foster if you are unsure if the animal would be a good fit or if you are a first-time pet owner.

In Stevens' case, for example, she didn't know how the kittens she wanted to adopt would fair with the cat they already had.

Initially, the rescue group allowed her to foster the kittens for about six weeks until she felt confident that everything would work out, and then she adopted them.


You can turn to a breeder if you haven't found the perfect animal at a shelter or rescue.

Stevens and Sizemore agree that you shouldn't choose a breeder as your first choice, but there are ways to distinguish between a breeder who only cares about profits and one who places the well-being of animals first.

Sizemore asserts "there are no equal breeders; quite the contrary.". Breeders who are doing it just for the money and don't care about the animals in their care are pretty easy to tell apart from those who are doing it for the right reasons.

You should be very cautious when a breeder does not allow you to inspect the animal before you purchase it. It is possible that they can't let you see your potential pet because it is in unsanitary conditions (like a puppy mill). The breeder's mistreated animals are kept in rows of small cages down the block, but Sizemore says there have been stories of unscrupulous breeders showing animals in good condition.

You can find out if a breeder is right for you by consulting Best Friends Animal Society.

Furthermore, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends asking for information like the animal's health records and photos of previous litters. You should be curious about the breeder's practices, as well as be prepared to respond to questions about your responsibility as a pet parent. You should think about how invested they are in the animals under their care if they don't.

Puppy and kitty mills

Sizemore says some mills that sell animals online may pose as responsible breeders or rescue groups.

Sizemore says that the higher the price, the more likely it is that it is a [responsible] breeder [masquerading as one]. Certainly some well-established dogs are sold at pricey prices by reputable breeders."

Even so, if the cost for a single animal online exceeds $500, research a responsible breeder if you're talking to them.

If you are forbidden from visiting the animal, then you are dealing with someone who is exploitative.

Sizemore says that the problem is that we live in a society that expects instant gratification. We order things via the internet and have them delivered. People should not buy online sight unseen." "The internet should not be used for buying sight unseen."

Another red flag? Someone who tries to sell you a puppy younger than 8 weeks old.

In many backyards and puppy mills, letting puppies go early is in their bottom line best interest, says Sizemore. Taking puppies away from their mothers before they are 8 weeks old is bad for puppies."

Kitten mills are fewer in number than puppy mills, since you can't make as much money from them.

If you want to help cats, the best thing to do is to adopt them from a shelter.

Sizemore says cat deaths are two to one in our nation's shelters compared to dog deaths. It's not uncommon to see cats living in colonies near someone who feeds them. You rarely see dogs living like that, which leads to a higher number of stray cats in shelters."

Stevens says the Humane Society of the United States does not advocate owning exotic pets aside from cats and dogs.

Stevens says being an owner of a wild animal as a pet poses a risk of physical injury and transmission of zoonotic diseases to community members and first responders. A true wildlife conservation effort is harmed by it.

The care of exotic animals can also be expensive, such as installing large enclosures to replicate their natural habitats.

What to do after you adopt (or foster)

If you have done all your research and are ready to adopt (or foster), you can search local shelters and rescue groups to find a good match.

Sizemore suggests first keeping a cat in a room by itself so it can become familiar with the space and then let it explore the rest of your home or apartment. As your new pet gets used to his new home, you might consider crate training him. Allow your dog time to adjust to her new family and home, no matter what age she is.

Consider basic training sessions, no matter how comfortable or experienced you are with animals.

Sizemore believes that the training of both pet and owner should go hand in hand. Throughout this process, you and your animal will learn interactive tools.

According to Sizemore, a relationship with a pet, like one with a person, is likely to have some bumps in the road, such as behavioral or medical issues.

"Reach out to the experts because they make a world of difference," she says.

The responsibility of caring for an animal that will likely depend on you and require your constant attention is not a simple project (or cheap). While it's incredibly rewarding, being a pet owner is a big responsibility and you should make sure you can handle it before you adopt. Fortunately, organizations that offer rescue and shelter services often have resources to help.

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