When adopting or fostering a pet, there’s a lot to consider
By Renee DiNino
When we’re kinder to animals, we’re kinder to people. I cannot take credit for that phrase, but I say it every single day.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, things were “normal” in the animal world. Shelters were open; rescues were fostering and doing their best to get animals adopted safely, and were watching out for neglect and abuse cases. Animal control officers were answering calls, picking up strays or dumped pets, arresting animal abusers – you know, “normal.”
When the pandemic became a reality in Connecticut, it seemed as if a magic wand spread its reach across the state, edge to edge, over all municipal shelters, rescues, and pet adoption facilities. All dogs and cats were placed in homes or foster homes. And then, nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, calls to animal control reduced drastically.
When I spoke with several animal control officers across the state – Sherry DeGenova at Hartford Police Animal Control, Laura Burban at the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter, Roz Nenninger and Dana Natrillo at Wolcott Animal Control & Wolcott Police Department, and Deborah Monde at Wethersfield Animal Control and Police Department – they all said the same thing: in fact, even invoking the same phrase: “eerily quiet.”
Everybody, it seemed, had room in their homes for pets, finally! An actual positive side effect of COVID-19. But one question rang through my brain, “Will you love me forever?”
It’s certainly tempting to adopt a furry new best friend. You won’t be alone; they’ll keep you company. But it’s oh so much more than that. A real concern for many animal advocates, and what we are seeing now, is the result of mass fast adoptions/fostering and the realization that the right pet may not have been put in the right home, whether it be for personality, lifestyle, or financial reasons.
In one of my many conversations with DeGenova, she said, “One thing I always ask is, ‘What is the plan when your life goes back to normal?’”
So, what do you need to know before you adopt or foster? There are some serious questions you need to ask yourself before offering to house a dog or cat.
“Are you willing to invest 12 to 15 years of your life to a dog? Do you honestly have the quality time to give to a dog? Does it make sense in your current living situation? Why do you want a dog?” asks Brian Rogers of Leash on Life LLC, who has been a K9 behavioral trainer for 25 years.
Monde, of the Wethersfield Police Department and K9 Solutions of Connecticut LLC, who is a certified search and rescue canine handler, offers tips for new pet owners bringing an animal into their homes for the first time.
“Allow the animal some time to figure things out safely,” she says. “If you have another pet in the home, take as much time as needed to blend the animals into their new pack. This does not happen with one meet and greet. Consider training and teach the new pet the boundaries in the home. A new pet in the home should never have free range of the house until the animal can be trusted and understands the new boundaries.”
Susan M. Wollschlager, marketing and communications manager at the Connecticut Humane Society, agrees. “Have lots of patience and understanding,” she says. “Give them calm and quiet as they settle in. For cats and small critters, their own room may be best at first. That then becomes their safe zone, one they will feel comfortable going to if they get nervous exploring the rest of their home later on.”
Wollschlager adds, “We don’t always know their backstories, so just be as understanding as possible as they try to learn your routines and their place in the family. Especially the shy ones – give them time and let them come to you.”
Also keep in mind when adopting a cat, there are differences between indoor and outdoor living arrangements.
“I strongly believe cats should be kept indoors to avoid dangers such as cars, predators, exposure to other cats that may carry diseases, parasites, etc.,” says Laurel Cox, volunteer and treasurer at Kenway’s Cause, a nonprofit that raises money to provide medical care to injured animals picked up by City of Hartford Animal Control. “This will result in a longer life span for them. So long as family members keep their feline companions entertained inside the home, they can and will have very fulfilling lives.”
There are many things to consider before taking in a pet, even in a foster situation.
“Fostering is so very important to the rescue cycle. Without fosters, we can’t rescue animals,” says Shannon Lewie, volunteer and rescue coordinator at Kenway’s Cause. “Fostering is a commitment, and often for an undetermined amount of time. As a foster, you play an important part of the adoption process because you are the most familiar with the animal’s behavior, needs and wants.”
Jody Smaglis, event coordinator, says foster owners “should be confident in knowing they can commit to the care and well-being of the pet until the pet is adopted. They should also be prepared to fall in love with the pet and become a foster failure.” (Despite the negative name, a foster failures refers to temporary pet parents or families who fall in love with their foster pets and decide to adopt.)
People who foster pets are tasked with giving the animals as stable an environment as they can, says Rogers.
“You should also be able to understand behaviors so you can give a clear description of how the dog acts while fostering. Pack change is the hardest thing on a dog, in my opinion. The last thing we want to do is add more stress as a foster parent,” he says.
And if there are already pets or children in the home?
“Transition slowly and establish rules and boundaries,” advises Lewie. “With existing pets, it’s important to make them feel that they are still equally as important and loved. Do not leave them unattended until you feel it is safe to do so.”
There are, of course, various expenses that come with taking in a pet, including vaccines.
“Vaccines and parasite prevention protocols should be tailored to the lifestyle and environment but should never be ignored or forgotten,” says Dr. Joshua Atz of Manchester Veterinary Clinic, noting rabies vaccinations are particularly important for many.
On average, cat owners can expect to spend at least $750 on a healthy kitten in the first year of its life, estimates Atz. That includes neutering, basic health testing, vaccines, and food. Basic needs for a dog can run between $1,000 and $1,500 in the first year. In subsequent years, if they’re healthy, cats cost about $400 annually while dogs can be between $500 and $1,500 depending on food choices and levels of parasite prevention, he says.
“Except for breeding animals, [spaying or neutering is] always recommended for disease prevention, reproduction control, and avoiding behavioral issues,” Atz says.
In all my years as a pet owner, I’ve always had a rescue in one way or another. Luke is my current dog – well, truth be told, I’m one of those people; he’s my son. My four-legged, handsome son from the streets of Hartford, rescued by Animal Control Officer DeGenova. I can tell you with certainty, adopting a pet is rewarding and brings love and joy to your world, but it is not always picture perfect. You must work with your pet, with your spouse, children, or roommates to make it a positive and enjoyable living situation.
One thing to consider is whether you rent or own your home, and how much space you have.
“Pets should be obtained with considerations of your living situations. If you get a dog that requires a lot of exercise, then a condo may not be a good fit. Same with renting, as the landlords may have animal clauses in the lease that prevents certain animals,” says Monde.
“If you do get an animal when renting and you’re not allowed to have one, hiding that animal is not a good thing to do. That landlord can make your remove the animal. Most times in this situation, the animal pays the price of bad human decisions.”
Jody Macrina of East Hartford-based Protectors of Animals notes, “Rescues should require landlord permission from the renter.” She also suggests renters “should make sure their insurance carrier does not have restrictions on the number of pets or breed.”
Like everything else, shelters, rescue groups, and foster programs have been affected by the pandemic.
“It was always busy, but since COVID-19 we have seen an uptick in the need for people to owner-release animals, and they need help financially for medical issues regarding their animals and they need pet foods,” says Burban, director of Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter and animal control officer for Branford. “I think the needs financially are increasing because people do not have the finances to care for the animals, and I think we will keep seeing the need for animals to be owner-released.”
Burban adds she’s seen an increase in the number of dogs, cats, and other critters being abandoned or dumped.
Unfortunately, that is not an isolated issue – other towns like Hartford, Wolcott and more also are noticing the trend. There’s also an increase in animal abuse being reported across the state. Desmond’s Army Animal Law Advocates have a full roster of court dates and cases to be the voice for the voiceless.
Dr. Alexis Soutter of Manchester Veterinary Clinic perhaps puts it best: “It’s tempting to adopt a new pet right now, when social activities are so limited, and we are spending more time at home. But that will not always be the case! Do you have the appropriate time to devote to the species and breed you are considering? An active, high-energy dog breed like a German shepherd or terrier or border collie will have different requirements than a cat or a bunny, but those species also need their own environmental enrichment, affection, and care. When thinking about this, consider the time needed to train the pet, play with them, and groom them, and not just now, but in six months or five years or 10 years.”
She adds, “Is everyone in your household prepared to help in the care for the pet? When adopting an animal, you are truly adding a member to your family, and everyone should be on board, or ideally excited, about that prospect. This includes cleaning up messes, dealing with household or personal objects being chewed or damaged, and potentially dealing with overly buoyant puppies or kittens who don’t understand that humans don’t like being stabbed by teeth and claws. Animals can provide us with so much love, but there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ animal to adopt, as they all have their own unique challenges and rewards. It is best to be honest and realistic about those factors before you open up your home and heart.”
So I ask you again, on behalf of all would-be pets: Will you love me forever?