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Adopting a Rescue or Shelter Pet for Your Family

Consider giving a gift that gives back – and provides a home to an abandoned cat, dog or other animal. But be sure your family is ready first.

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For many kids, the ultimate pal is a companion pet. A dog. A cat. A ferret. A fish. It doesn't matter what kind of pet it is. There's just often a strong tug between children and animals.

But adopting a pet is not an easy decision. It's a huge responsibility, say experts and families – and, also, also one that's immensely rewarding.

It doesn't cost much to adopt a pet – about $175-$300 to adopt a dog from the Michigan Humane Society (check here for most recent rates), whose staff walk adoptive families through the process and include spaying or neutering, vaccinations and a 60-day guarantee in the adoption price to make sure the pet is a fit with your family.

The majority of adoptive pets are cats and dogs, but there are other animals available in varying degrees – rabbits, ferrets, gerbils, hamsters, birds, snakes – even a turtle once, says Kevin Hatman, MHS public relations coordinator.

So where do you begin if you want to adopt a pet? Here's a primer for the process of adopting a pet, which begins with a long hard look at your lifestyle, time and family budget.

First, the thought process

It's not enough that the kids are clamoring for a cute cat or precious puppy. Do you have the time to care for a new family member? Feed it, nurture it, train it (which often entails attending obedience classes with your pet) and walking a dog no matter the weather? Are you prepared to clean up after accidents and deal with shedding and the potential of gnawed furniture or other belongings?

What happens when you go on vacation? Do you have pet sitters lined up? And don't forget the vet – that's an important part of your pet care cadre, whose bills, as your pet ages, won't get cheaper.

Reetu and Will Sanders of Royal Oak adopted a black/brown lab they named Bella in spring of 2010 from Home FurEver Rescue. The pair, who welcomed son Rohan to the family in April of 2011, were rejected twice before receiving approval to adopt Bella because they lived in a condo at the time.

Their search began on PetFinder and "whenever we saw a dog that looked promising, we went for a visit," says Reetu Sanders. They visited the Royal Oak Animal Shelter and three other rescues, including Home Fur-Ever. They attended rescue adoption days at the Troy Petco.

"Our original intent was to adopt a young adult dog, 1 to 3 years old, for a few reasons: They are usually housebroken and trained to some extent, it's easier to see the dog's personality and they cost less at first – adoption fees and vet bills are lower," says Sanders, a grant writer who is also an MBA student. Her husband is finishing his medical residency at Beaumont Hospital.

"Shelters and rescues are packed with adult dogs, especially in Michigan," says Sanders. "So many families have had to cut costs and many surrendered their dogs to shelters." Also, people adopt puppies because they're cute but, when they grow into adult dogs, some lose their interest and give up their pets.

The Sanders found that rescues were wary of letting condo dwellers adopt a dog because they didn't have a fenced-in yard and they lived in a small space. "These dogs have already had one bad experience, and the rescues want to make very sure it doesn't happen again," she says.

"This was disappointing, because we knew that those are the dogs most in need of the loving home we were eager to provide," says Sanders. "We gave up and decided to adopt a puppy."

Home FurEver scheduled a home visit, which the Humane Society does not do. In the end, they were approved to adopt Bella and have been very happy with their pet ever since.

Being flexible enabled the Sanderses to bring home a pet that fits their family. Throughout the process, they reflected on the roadblocks they hit and made sure pet adoption wasn't just a fleeting thought.

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