Adopting a pet from a shelter

Adopting a pet from a shelter is a wonderful act of compassion. There are thousands of animals abandoned, surrendered or confiscated from situations of abuse and neglect in our country every year.  Covid-19 has only made things worse.

Fortunately there are dozens of animal welfare organisations – most of them private, some big and some small – who do a great job of rescuing and taking care of these animal and hopefully re-homing them. The sad truth is though that some of the animals end up being euthanased when homes can’t be found for them.  To give a homeless animal a happy home will  change your life for the better,” says veterinarian Dr Esmaré van der Walt whose EberVet Pet Clinic works tirelessly to improve the lives of shelter animals. However, it is important to think very carefully before adopting a pet – any pet – as pets are a full-time, long-term commitment. What you absolutely don’t want is to change your mind and send that poor pet back to the shelter he came from.

Adopting a pet from a shelter: know this

Before you venture down this road there a couple of things you should know and prepare yourself for. Pets are mostly surrendered because of housing issues or restrictions ( the owner moving to a housing complex that does not allow pets). Some may  be surrendered due to behavioural problems. Animals put up for adoption will be evaluated for behaviour and health issues.

It is important to realise that each pet is an individual with his/her own unique challenges and needs.

If you’re adopting a pet from a shelter you will also need to be vetted as the shelter must ensure the pet is going to a good, safe and loving home. You will probably be asked to fill in a questionnaire detailing your accommodation, your experience with previous pets, your reasons for adopting and what type of pet you prefer ex: dog or cat, very active or  more calm temperament,  a youngster or a more mature animal.

Preparing your home

A new environment and new family can be confusing and stressful for a pet, and even previously house-trained animals may forget their manners and soil in the house. Those first few days at home are critical. Setting up a routine from day one and sticking to it is key to everyone getting along just fine and your new pet settling in.

  1. If you have children take them to meet the pet before you bring him home. Let them get to know each other. It is essential to discuss the new pet with your family before bringing him or her home so that everyone is clear what their roles and responsibilities are: who takes the dog out for a wee, who does the feeding, who takes him for walks, who cleans the litter tray, where he sleeps etc.
  2. When you collect him/her from the shelter find out what they  were fed and try and stick to the diet  and feeding schedule in the beginning. Once he has settled, you can change the diet gradually. Ask your Vet or EberVet Vetshop for advice on what you should be feeding your pet. Pets of different ages and at different life stages have different nutritional needs, and if you start by feeding your pet the best food you can afford that is right for his breed/age or lifestage, you’ll be strengthening his immunity and saving significantly on vet’s bills in the long run.
  3. Before bringing him home, make a list of the terms or language you will use when communicating with your pet and share it with the family so that everyone uses the same terminology. Keep it simple:  sit, stay, down, wait…
  4. Ensure your home is properly equipped for a new pet: food and water bowls, collar and leash, bed and bedding, toys, grooming equipment, snacks, food. If your new pet is a puppy or kitten, this checklist will help you prepare for him…kitten-checklist/
  5. Most importantly, select a safe area for your pet where he feels comfortable and secure, and where if he does mess, it doesn’t matter too much. A quiet corner of the kitchen is often best because it is easy to clean.
  6. When going to collect him, make sure you have a crate for the car. This is less stressful for him.
  7. Change the microchip details before collecting your new pet so that if he strays, you can be contacted.
  8. Give your pet time to adjust to his new environment. Shelter pets may have been confined in shelters for many months and may be shy or anxious.
  9. On the first day home, take your pet to his toilet area and spend time with him there until he relieves himself but be prepared for accidents while he adjusts to this new routine.
  10. Make sure your kids know how to approach him correctly; don’t introduce him to new strangers or take him to the parlour in those first few days. Start your schedule for feeding, toileting, play and exercise time and also allow time for solitude.
  11. Give attention to good behaviour. Be calm and patient and take time to get to know his likes and dislikes.
  12. Once he has bonded with your family, you may find that separation anxiety becomes an issue. It is one of the most common behavioural problems in rescue dogs. When leaving your pet at home alone, leave the radio on or use puzzle toys filled with kibble or peanut butter to keep them occupied and their minds off the fact that you, their rescuer, is not there right now.
  13. Once he has settled and bonded with you and your family, introduce him to your veterinarian. If he has behavioural issues, your vet can help find a solution. He will also need your pet’s health history, and don’t forget those all important vaccinations, deworming and sterilisation. Most shelters will  insist on these being done before the pet is adopted, which is why they charge an adoption fee.

Above all, remember why you were adopting a shelter pet in the first place: to give an abandoned pet his own home and his own loving family. Give him your love and you’ll be showered with love in return.

Department of Health COVID-19 updates available at


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