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Picking a Family Pet: Where to Look, What to Consider, Benefits

Whether you're thinking cat or dog, here is some advice on adopting an animal that complements the kids and parents already in your home

Is your family toying with the idea of adopting a furry family member? There's certainly no shortage of adult animals in need of homes. Shelters and rescue groups throughout southeast Michigan are teeming with them.

But local experts say that putting careful thought into your choice is key providing a great home for another critter – and making sure it's the right fit for you and the kids, too.

Family planning

First, call a family meeting, suggests Jenny Robertson of the Michigan Humane Society, to discuss the topic and explore every factor.

For example: Can you afford a pet? Is your home and/or yard big enough? Does anyone have allergies? How much free time do you have? Who'll feed the pet? With cats: Who'll clean the litter box? Dogs: How long/often can it be left alone? Where it sleep? Who'll walk it? What about when you're on vacation? Mixed breed or purebred?

"We encourage families to adopt together," Robertson says, "and we discourage adopting a pet based on looks alone."

If a family decides on a purebred, research the breed. There are books written about every standard breed in the animal or pet section at bookstores; there are websites devoted to breeds, too. Some have higher energy levels. Others have special grooming needs. Some folks assume smaller breeds are quieter or require less work, but that's often not so.

Most rescue organizations that maintain websites include photos and short biographies of their available animals.

Costs of pet ownership

There is an expense. But if you view pet ownership as an enjoyable activity as well as a responsibility, it's like the cost of any family activity – take boating or camping.

Start with the adoption fee. For instance, a Michigan Retired Greyhounds as Pets (REGAP) dog $225. It's the same for a Silver Lake Animal Rescue League dog (for cats here, it's $120). Dogs from the Michigan Humane Society start at $125, while kittens under four months start at $100. Often, the fees pay for pre-adoption vet care, like spaying/neutering, a medical check-up, rabies and other age-appropriate vaccinations.

Dogs adopted from shelters and rescue groups come with leashes and collars, but other startup costs for first-timers may include a crate, dog bed, dog coat, food bowl and/or feeding station, grooming tools and a few toys.

Ongoing costs include food, treats and cat litter. A 40-pound bag of dog food is about $40; a 20-pound bag of cat food about $20 (roughly). Cans of food are usually less than a dollar, and a 20- to 30-pound bag of cat litter costs about $15. Rely on breed research to gauge how much an animal will eat in a day – variables include size and the amount of exercise an animal gets – and use a calculator to estimate costs.

There's also vet care, like flea and tick preventatives, vaccinations and the occasional emergency visit. Some families turn to pet insurance. Monthly premiums range $25-$40, deductibles $50-$200, and annual maximum payouts $3,000-$20,000.

Communities also require licensing dogs and cats annually or bi-annually. The cost is usually under $20. This helps if animals stray away from home. Rescue organizations also recommend micro chipping dogs and cats, which vets insert between the shoulder blades. The cost is usually $40 to $50.

A word on adult animals

For families, there are definite advantages to adopting an older animal. Similar to the sometimes-destructive puppy stage, kittens tend to be more mischievous than grown cats, exploring every nook and cranny of the home and occasionally getting into places they shouldn't.

An adult cat's health tends to be more stable. Puppies aren't as delicate, but require a lot of work with housebreaking and training.

When adopting a full-grown animal, families are in for fewer surprises.

Adoption process

Adopting an animal from a rescue group or shelter can seem like a rigorous process – filling out an application, undergoing an interview and sometimes submitting to a home visit. REGAP requires that everyone in the family meet the dog first – including any pets already in the household – and doesn't adopt to families with kids age 3 and under.

"We want to make sure adoptions aren't impulse adoptions," says REGAP adoption director, Suzanne Kimmerly of Auburn Hills. "Dogs aren't fashion accessories; they're family members. Dogs will be with a family for 10 years or so, and that's a big commitment."

The process is as much for the animal as for the family, which decreases the odds of the animal being returned. Once an animal is adopted, many rescue groups and shelters continue their relationship with the forever home with follow-up phone calls several weeks and several months afterward. They make themselves available to answer behavior or health concerns.

Perks of pet ownership

There also are benefits to having an animal in the house – from stress release (whether that's via cuddling or strolling) to a welcome distraction from everyday hubbub. For kids, animal ownership is a long lesson in responsibility. And owning a rescued animal includes larger life lessons.

"In our home, everyone helps in taking care of the dogs," Kimmerly says. "On another level, the kids learn about animal cruelty. They learn what the problem is behind the need for rescue groups, and that actions have consequences.

"Now, they're part of a cause. They're advocates and teach their friends about it. It's more of teaching by example. Also, my son and daughter have done community service hours for school by working at REGAP events."

And parents are learning lessons, too – including seeing how great rescue dogs and cats can be.

"As more people adopt from shelters," Robertson says, "they see how great these animals are – and that great matches can be made at shelters."

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