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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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Second, really look

The Michigan Humane Society has a great website where prospective adoptive families can actually play with cats online. Talk with friends who've adopted pets and learn from their experiences – adults and children! Read books and understand what's involved. And learn all you can about the pros and cons of pet adoption and where to adopt a healthy pet.

The first dog that the Bean family of Farmington Hills adopted was not a good fit because mom Stacey was allergic.

"We had her for one night," says 13-year-old Blair of the first dog they adopted from Village of Franklin Round Up. Dad Erik did some research and found that a Basenji is a non-allergenic breed that might be OK for Stacey, so they looked around online until they found a part-Basenji friendly-looking dog.

"I wasn't so keen on the idea of adopting at first," says Blair. "I was a lot younger and I used the expression, 'I don't want a used dog.' I wanted a little puppy. I was thinking, 'What the heck was wrong with this dog?' We took him home and we loved him. He was the best dog ever."

That's Kramer, a dog rescued while wandering on the east side. A few years later, the Bean family went on the lookout for a new family member, two days after Blair's bat mitzvah, when Stacey found she had time and energy to devote to a new family member.

They rescued another part-Basenji mutt who was 5 months old at the time and named her Jelly to go with the last name Bean. "I love my 'used dogs,' and they love each other," says Blair.

It's important to see if a pet is good with kids, if you have enough space and if you can afford them, say the Beans. "Most dogs for adoption are not hypo-allergenic," warns Stacey. "Temperament is important, and it is very important that the dogs and owners participate in formal training."

And, if finances do get tight, be sure to explore resources available for pet care. "We have a lot of programs that are designed to keep families together – low-cost vaccinations, a free pet food bank," Hatner says. "We try to steer people to those before surrendering their pets."

A word about pet stores

It's plain and simple, experts warn: Don't adopt pets from a store, because 99 percent of the time, they came from a puppy mill more interested in making a buck than in taking care of animals.

So says Pam Sordyl, leader of the Puppy Mill Awareness Meetup of Southeast Michigan.

Every year, more than 118,000 homeless cats and dogs in Michigan are euthanized, due to lack of space, funding or adoptive homes, says Sordyl. And the majority of those are healthy pets.

The term "puppy mill" refers to large-scale commercial breeders who usually sell wholesale to a pet store or broker. In Michigan, there are six USDA-licensed kennels, while Missouri has close to 1,000, Sordyl says. Many of our state's licensed kennels are for hunting and sled dogs.

However, there are innumerable backyard unlicensed breeders, or "mini mills." Many put up fancy websites and appear to be legitimate – but beware, says Sordyl.

Never meet a breeder anywhere other than on-site to see the pet. Never ship a puppy from another state, no matter how many referrals or research you receive. Always witness a puppy's parents and living conditions. But really, it's always better to adopt from a shelter or bona fide rescue.

Also, don't buy animals from pet stores, period. Sordyl has an ongoing campaign to convince pet stores to simply be a resource for food and paraphernalia pets need – but not trade in animals directly. In 2010, she says, her organization convinced 100 pet stores in Michigan not to sell puppies.

Avoid parking lots, trade center booths and ads in the classifieds or on Craigslist. No matter what they say or how legit they seem, they're not.

If you're ready to make the call to adopt a pet, there is no better place to look than a local animal shelter or rescue group. There, you're not just adding a buddy to the family, you're giving a living creature a second chance to have a happy life.

Where to adopt a pet

Here are some places that can get you started in southeast Michigan:

  • Local shelters: Here's where you'll find pets of all ages that are well-cared-for. Many are pre-trained.
  • Veterinarians: The people who've made a career out of caring for animals are a great resource to turn to find a pet in need of a home.
  • Adoption events: Mostly in the summer, a variety of locations host adoption events, from pet stores (in conjunction with a shelter or humane society) to the zoo (Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak). The Palace of Auburn Hills is home to "Pet-a-Palooza," and more than 400 animals find their homes every year there.
  • Petfinder.com: Most shelters and rescue groups post available pets here. Type in your ZIP code and you'll find a list of organizations near you. Beware of "for-profit" rescue groups that charge higher than $250 for popular purebreds or designer dogs.
  • Purebred rescue groups: Some of these groups keep an eye out for purebreds in shelters and pull them in for foster care before adopting them out. Don't rescue purebreds from puppy mills or auctions – they're often ill and mistreated and bred only for their profit value.
  • Leader dogs: The Leader Dogs for the Blind school in Rochester Hills often has puppies that may not have the right stuff to become leader dogs. They usually have a waiting list for adoption of such dogs, but remember that these dogs have good temperaments.

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