Looking to adopt a pet? CT animal shelters offer tips and tricks for potential pet parents

If you’re thinking of getting a pet, you’re not alone. Over the past year, as the pandemic turned a number of homes into home-office-schools, many Connecticut families suddenly found the time to adopt or foster animals, representatives from area shelters say.

With that in mind, we spoke with a number of Connecticut animal adoption agencies, which shared their tips for the dos and don’ts of pet adoption:

Pet Animal Welfare Society, Inc. (PAWS) of Norwalk

PAWS, in Norwalk, a no-kill animal shelter dedicated to taking in the neediest animals from the surrounding area, adopted out nearly 1,000 animals during the coronavirus pandemic — roughly 100 more than in previous years, shelter executive director Ellen Simmonds said.

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If you’re planning on adopting, make sure everyone in the household is on board. “Prepare everybody and talk to everybody, because it’s a team effort,” Simmonds said, “so if somebody is a dog lover and someone else is afraid of dogs, it’s a bad match. You want to set both parties, the animal and the family, up for success.”

Research the shelter, Simmonds added. “Each shelter has a different culture; for example, our shelter is a no-kill shelter that takes in the neediest animals. If you want puppies, you might want to go to a different shelter.”

If you can, consider adopting a senior or special needs pet. Simmonds cited “Ruby,” a 3-year-old hound mix who came to PAWS recently as a stray and was infected with 146 heartworms that had to be surgically removed, as a prime example of a dog deserving extra love.

“There’s no better joy than giving a ‘wounded bird’ a second chance,” Simmonds said. “If you have the means, that is the most joyous adoption we have at PAWS.”

Don’t...

Don’t fall in love with a picture. Most shelters have their pets posted online, either through their own websites or aggregate sites like Petfinder.com or AdoptAPet.com. That said, “Someone will call and say, ‘That’s the only dog for me,’” Simmonds said, without having met the animal. “Don’t judge that dog by its picture. That’s one that drives me crazy.” She suggested an “unexpected connection” with an animal by making an appointment to meet the pets at the shelter before deciding.

Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter, Branford

The Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford, like many shelters, uses an application to match potential new pet owners with animals and tries to make sure the adoption is a good fit, said shelter director Laura Burban.

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The matchmaking process is particularly important when it comes to households with other existing pets to make sure there are no problems. “We do multiple meet and greets with their dog and our dog to make sure it appears to be a good fit, as well as we suggest a home meet-and-greet on the owned dogs property,” Burban said.

After adopting, give your adopted pet time to adjust to its new surroundings, Burban added. “It can take some animals — dogs, cats, bunnies — from three weeks to three months to completely decompress so you see their true personality in the home,” she said.

Don’t…

On a related note, don’t overwhelm your new pet with excessive new activities or people, Burban said. She recommends people “not have parties or big family gatherings or take your new dog to the dog park in the first month … because even though you’re excited to bring a new animal home, this animal has no idea they were just adopted. All they know is it’s another transition.”

Also, don’t expect your new pet to be the same as your old one, even if it looks similar. “We receive a lot of phone calls like, ‘I saw you have a cocker spaniel online and he looks just like mine who passed away, can I come get him?’ Each animal is an individual just like people so they will have their own personality, needs and quirks,” Burban said.

Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue (ROAR)

Many animals up for adoption at ROAR, in Ridgefield, come from overcrowded shelters in southern states, said Brad Marcus, a member of the shelter’s board of directors.

The COVID-19 pandemic made it more difficult to transport the pets north, but also encouraged more households to foster needy animals. “Even as the COVID situation improves, I think people’s minds have been open,” Marcus said. “People can successfully work from home, and I think along with that, while people are home, if they weren’t really open to having a pet before, people will do it now.”

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Think of your whole household, especially small children, before adopting a new pet. “There can always be an issue because you’re talking about an animal,” Marcus said. “Sometimes we can tell right away: this is not the right dog or cat to have around children. It doesn’t necessarily make a difference if it’s a mastiff or a 10-pound dog, it comes down to what the dog is. Some dogs will be totally OK and some dogs not. It’s not necessarily the breed, either.”

Don’t...

If you aren’t sure it’s a perfect match, don’t plan to adopt a pet on a trial basis, Marcus said. “Not every situation works out, but some people come in and say, ‘If we try this and it doesn’t work out, can we take it back?’ That’s not good for the pet,” he said.

Even though the pandemic has placed many people at home full time, “don’t adopt unless you have a plan for your pet when you’re not going to be home, whether that means work or vacation or whatever that means,” Marcus added. “People don’t think of that. They just want a new puppy or kitten, and they don’t really plan beyond that.”

Connecticut Humane Society

Founded in 1881, the Connecticut Humane Society, which has locations in Newington, Waterford and Westport, is the state’s oldest animal welfare organization, though it is not affiliated with any other national groups of similar names.

The Humane Society reports it adopted out 1,391 pets in 2020, according to its website. It also took in 1,767 fewer animals than in the previous year. Even more striking, though, is the number of returned adoptions in 2020: only 27, compared wtih 116 the previous year.

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The nonprofit organization has held virtual “pet talks” online over the past year to help educate would-be adopters and pet owners on animal behaviors and best practices. Building this kind of knowledge base is a crucial part of adoption, said James Bias, executive director of the Connecticut Humane Society. Questions to be aware of include types of pets, costs, characteristics, cleaning needs, necessary supplies and whether or not veterinarians are taking on new animals.

“You may learn some personality traits in certain dog breeds and decide a different breed or breed mix may be better for you,” Bias said. “Or you might realize an adult pet is best for your lifestyle, because they tend to be calmer, appreciate a nap on the couch, and aren’t as mischievous as a young pet.”

Upon bringing a new pet home, “do make sure to give your pet a lot of patience and understanding as they settle in,” Bias added. Cats, especially, will need a gradual introduction to the home and a “safe space” to return to in case they get nervous. “Keep them in one room for a few days with all of their food, supplies, toys and blankets,” he said. “That way, if something makes them nervous when they start exploring the rest of their new home, they can go back to that room and feel safe.”

Don’t…

Once you’ve decided on an animal, “don’t put off taking your new pet to the veterinarian,” even if you know they received medical attention at the shelter, Bias said. This helps establish a relationship with a vet, which will come in handy down the road as the pet ages.

Another big nope? “Don’t give a pet to someone else as a surprise gift,” Bias said. “Someone may not be prepared for all that having a pet entails, or they may not have enough time to devote to a critter. Or the pet’s needs and personality may not fit with their lifestyle. A better idea is to give someone fun pet supplies as a gift after they adopt, or offer to pay for their adoption fee.”

awinchester@bcnnew.com