Welcome to the Family! Adopting a Pet…

So, you’ve made the decision to get a pet. Great! You won’t regret it! And, you’ve decided that you’d like to offer a loving home to one of the millions of animals that are in currently in the care of shelters, charities or foster carers. Even better! There are so many animals out there desperate to be rehomed … you really can change their lives.

But now that the decision’s made, how do you go about adopting an animal? What’s the process and how do you prepare for the new arrival? How do you choose your new addition (or let them choose you?!?).

Beginning the pet adoption process… where to start

Usually, the first port of call when you’re looking to adopt a pet is online. Make sure you do your research and only look at reputable charities and rehoming centres – don’t arrange ‘informal adoptions’ with people you don’t know and beware of anyone advertising pets for free on online listing sites.

Most charities and shelters will list all their animals online, either on their website or social media pages, along with a description of the animal, their personality, age, characteristics, health, care needs and, if known or relevant, their background too. You can check out their profile picture, read all about them, and decide whether you think they’ll fit in well with your family and lifestyle … it’s a bit like online dating, but with animals! If a potential pet catches your eye, then usually you can fill in a form online to express your interest and request to be matched. Be honest and realistic about what type of animal you can take on – things like age, your experience with animals, free time, fitness levels, family (e.g., young children living at home), work commitments and lifestyle will all be relevant factors to take into consideration. If you went online looking to rehome a rabbit but a Husky caught your eye, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to put in an application!

Each organisation has their own way of doing things, which may differ slightly, but generally it’s a similar kind of process. Covid changed the way animal adoptions worked for many, because for a long time they weren’t allowed to accept visitors to their shelters. A lot of places have since kept to the same model so, while previously a visit might have been a first step, now the visit often takes place further down the line by appointment, after you’ve submitted your application.

If you’re matched with the pet that’s caught your eye, that’s great – you’ll probably be invited to meet them in person and you can see how you respond to each other. If you aren’t selected as a match for the first pet you apply for, don’t be despondent! There’s probably a reason, in which case you’ll be told why this wasn’t deemed to be a suitable match; it could be down to the sheer volume of applicants – some animals are very popular! Don’t give up though, just because the first match hasn’t been a success it doesn’t mean that the pet for you isn’t out there; you just haven’t found them yet. The rehoming centre may suggest another suitable match or keep you on file for future animals that they take in. They may even have another potential match who’s just not quite ready to be rehomed (maybe they’re going through health checks or they’re under veterinary care) in which case, they’ll ask you to wait a while.

Again, much like online dating, the process of finding and being matched to your perfect pet can take a while … but it’s so worth the wait when you welcome your new furry (or feathered!) friend to the family.

Meeting your potential pet

It’s an exciting day when you get the opportunity to meet your potential pet in person – you’ll usually be accompanied by someone from the shelter who’ll make the introductions and ensure everyone’s safe and happy. Remember, the animal you’re looking to adopt may have been through a lot – you’ve probably been briefed on its background if it’s known, but details aren’t always available depending on the circumstances behind the rescue – so bear this in mind when you first meet them. They may well be timid, anxious and wary, which can be expressed in different ways. Someone from the shelter who knows the animal well will be there to support them, and you, as you begin the process of getting to know each other. It may be exciting for you, and for your children, but try to keep the initial meeting very calm and low-key so as not to frighten the animal. Let them come to you and investigate you in their own time. Don’t rush up to them, crowd them or try to pick them up … just take things slowly and on their terms. Speak calmly, quietly and reassuringly. You might be advised to give them a treat or a toy (there’s nothing wrong with a bit of bribery to buy affection initially – real love will grow over time!).

You’ll probably know after this initial meeting whether this is the pet for you and, likewise, the rehoming centre will be able to tell whether you’re a good match for them. If things don’t quite feel right, don’t be afraid to say it. The last thing they want is for you to pretend you’re more into the match than you really are, only to change your mind further down the line; failed adoptions are disruptive and distressing for all involved.

Making it official

Once you’ve found the pet for you, it’s time to make it official! Now, don’t get over-excited – there’s still a way to go in the process so don’t expect to be coming home with your animal the first time you meet them. You should also make sure kids are prepared for this, too.

The next step is usually a home check, which is honestly less intrusive and intimidating than it sounds! They’re not coming round to your house wearing white gloves, inspecting every surface for dust! The rehoming centre has a responsibility to make sure that you live where you say you do and that you have permission to keep a pet at your home; they’ll want to see that your home is a safe and appropriate environment for the pet (for example, if you’re adopting a dog they may want to check that you’ve got access to a garden or outdoor space and that this is fully fenced and secure); they’ll want to meet other pets and make sure they’re happy, healthy and likely to be welcoming to a new addition, too.

There’s also likely to be an adoption fee to pay (or a recommended donation). There are a couple of reasons for this – firstly, the adoption fee goes towards helping the charity to cover their costs of running the centre, feeding the animals, veterinary care etc. Secondly, asking for a financial commitment helps to ensure that the animals only go to people who really want them and will care for them – if you’ve had to save for a pet, you’re likely to be more invested and committed to its long-term care. If they gave away animals for free, there’d be a much higher risk of unscrupulous people taking them for the wrong reasons such as illegal breeding, illegal sports, fighting or baiting. The fee will vary by animal and each charity will set its own rates, so make sure you’re clear on the cost of adopting your new pet before you enter into the process. Also, bear in mind the longer-term costs of caring for you new addition and make sure you’ve budgeted for everything it will need such as food, equipment, routine healthcare and insurance. If you’re adopting an animal with known, serious long-term healthcare issues requiring regular medication or treatment it’s common that the charity will help out with ongoing veterinary care.

Next, depending on the animal, you’ll need to register their microchip with your details (dogs, cats and rabbits are usually microchipped before adoption – be wary of rehoming centres that don’t offer this!) and then … it’s time for them to come home with you!

Make sure you have everything ready to welcome your new pet into their forever home including somewhere to sleep, their food (you’ll be advised on their current diet including how much to feed them and when) and maybe some toys to keep them entertained. Dogs will need to wear a collar and tag bearing your contact details when out in public, as well as their microchip, as required by law.

It’s an exciting time but you’re bound to be a bit nervous about welcoming your new family member, so don’t be afraid to ask any questions or air concerns. The staff at the rehoming centre will have been through this countless times and are there to support you to ensure a smooth and happy transition. Never worry that you’re asking daft questions … if you don’t ask, you don’t know! They’d always rather help you out than leave you wondering or worrying.

You can also join groups on social media for likeminded pet owners who may offer tips or just be there for a chat. Taking on a pet can be a huge life change … don’t get me wrong, in the vast majority of cases it’s definitely for the better, but it’s a change nonetheless.

Settling in

Once you’ve got your new pet home, you may feel a little daunted and overwhelmed … and so will they! Any new pet can take a while to settle in, but an adopted pet will need even more time and patience. There are a whole host of reasons why they may have ended up in need of rehoming, from cruelty to homelessness to sadly being given up due to a change in their owner’s health, time commitments or financial circumstances. Whatever the cause, they could well be a little wary and it’ll take them a while to realise that this is their forever home now and they can relax. It can take between 3 weeks and 3 months for a pet to settle in, feel fully at home and start to show their true character. During this period, you need to get to know each other – be kind, caring and gentle, but don’t be afraid to be firm in terms of teaching them the house rules. If you let them get away with murder during the first few weeks it can be difficult to turn this around later!

If you’ve already got other pets in the home, introduce them slowly. Give them their own separate safe space at first and make sure they’re supervised during time together initially. Make sure your existing pet still gets plenty of time, attention and affection from you and doesn’t feel pushed out by their new ‘sibling’.

Sometimes, with an adopted pet, you can feel like you’re taking one step forward then two steps back. You can have good days and bad days, and their behaviour and confidence will wax and wane. Just bear with them, keep doing what you’re doing and eventually the good days will outweigh the bad! I may sound a bit like a Negative Norman here, and I’m certainly NOT trying to put you off adopting a pet, quite the opposite, but it is really important to manage expectations. It could be an easy ride and a very smooth process, but commonly it isn’t – however, with a little patience, you and your new pet will enjoy the ‘happily ever after’ you both deserve. Soon, you’ll wonder what life was like without them!

Never be afraid to get back in touch with the charity or rehoming centre for help, support or advice throughout those early days. Some top tips or even just words of reassurance that you’re doing things right can make all the difference. And, once you’re settled in to your new life together, don’t

forget to keep them updated! They always love to see happy photos of rehomed animals with their new families.