Am I Ready to Adopt a Pet - Part VIII: Handling the (Un)Expected

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The questions we ask ourselves about our readiness for pet parenthood may seem mechanical and remote. But this sobering process is a loving one that can uncover and clarify the physical, spiritual and emotional cornerstones in a forever human-companion-animal bond.

On the human side, we’ve explored our motivations for pet parenting and honestly assessed our current circumstances (including our physical abilities), environment and future plans. We’ve surveyed our environment and researched types of pets that could be a good match and/or spent time with a prospective adoptee in an environment that simulates our home. On the pet side, we’ve considered medical conditions frequently associated with a particular pet breed/mix, determined that everyone is on the same page regarding the pet’s place in the family and learned enough about our pet’s “language” to avoid misunderstanding and promote harmony. Now we ask . . .

Are we prepared to deal with special, though not totally unforeseen, circumstances?

Who among us has not experienced a certain “dulling” of intense emotions following that first blush of love: the honeymoon high? It’s easy to love someone else when the lights are green and the road you share is clear. That mood can quickly change, however, in the face of sudden detours, bottlenecks and the errant driver who “cuts us off.” In other words, everyday life can tax our commitments.

“Traffic” in life is unavoidable. It’s how we react to it that is most telling. One of the biggest “tests” of love is how steadfastly we forge ahead in the face of conflict, challenge and disappointment.

First-time pet parents are especially vulnerable to wondering “what happened” to their beloved pet who is “not acting at all” like the sweet baby they brought home. Adjusting to a new environment takes time. Unwavering love and patience are essential. This is especially true for animals who knew little more than abuse and/or neglect. Rosy encounters in the shelter may become strained in the new home once everyone realizes “this is for keeps.”

Knowing the depravation a companion animal has seen, it may be tempting to indulge their every whim. But this could lead to spoiled-child syndrome where treats and unbridled play and exploration are expected on demand. As the head of our household, it is up to us to establish house rules (including limits on behavior) AND to provide the training, when necessary, to ensure that “rules” are followed. It would be a cruel travesty to return a bewildered pet to a shelter for behaviors which we encouraged by our leniency.

Laziness is another way in which we can fail our pets. Potty training takes time and consistent, loving reinforcement. Some dogs and cats may feel skittish or act aggressively toward unfamiliar people or other pets. Sometimes these behaviors don’t emerge for months after a pet’s homecoming. Behavioral intervention, socialization and/or just plain time and understanding can work wonders. Desensitization techniques can also reduce separation anxiety and save our furniture. Have we carefully screened friends, neighbors, dog-walkers and live-in caregivers or researched boarding services? Better yet, have we planned periodic family vacations in regions offering pet-friendly access? Are we familiar with the type(s) of maladies that may affect our pet as he/she ages and preparing for those expenses?

Pets are sentient beings, but they do not arrive at our door fully versed in self-care. And no one - animal or human - comes with a complete set of operating instructions and a lifetime guarantee against wear or malfunction.

Then again, the richest discoveries in living together show us how our “moving parts” fit together.