Watch Tip: Pet Manners in the Shelter

Posted on March 4th, 2012 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoWhile looking for a new pet at an animal shelter, get information and guidance from the shelter workers and volunteers about dogs or cats you are interested in. They know the animals. Don’t overlook an animal who might be just perfect for you because it has one behavior that you don’t like. Take a second look. Remember: shelters are crowded, noisy, smelly environments that cause unwanted behaviors that will disappear once outside.

Meet Sadie, the shelter cat with “Cattidude”

Sadie lives in our home now, but she had formerly lived in the no-kill shelter where I volunteer for well over a year. She was admitted as a stray cat and surprisingly, she was declawed. Normally a declawed cat is adopted quickly, but Sadie didn’t “show” well. She had “cattitude” with a capital C. She hated being picked up and would squall loudly. Her voice grated. If you tried to pet her she would scramble to escape. We thought she would be there forever. I recorded a video for her to show that she could actually be picked up:

Meet Sadie

So my crazy husband and I adopted her just to get her out of the shelter, half expecting her to be a sourpuss, cranky with our Tilly cat and our three dogs. Well, the joke was on us! When I opened the travel crate, she daintily stepped around the guest bedroom set up as her transition room and sniffed at the litter box, the water dish, her food. In about 20 seconds she turned back to me, looking me full in the face and she started to purr. With a determined stride, she walked up to me seated on the carpet and began to knead my thigh, purring loudly. I swear she was saying, “I love this place! Quiet! Windows! Carpet! THANK YOU!”

Sadie has been a saint with our other cat Tilly who was “Unhappy” about acquiring a sister. She sits quietly like a queen when our dogs come near. She loves attention and especially loves to sit next to my husband or me when we are working, reaching out one paw to touch us occasionally. We adore Sadie! WHO KNEW she was so sweet?

The shelter staff knew and they would tell interested families about Sadie’s wonderful qualities, saying she was “slow to warm up.” They said she “hated the shelter.” Exactly!

If you or someone you know is planning to visit a shelter or pound to adopt a dog or cat, think about ways to get the best information about the individual animals you might see.

  • Work with a shelter facility that provides good customer service and will accept return of the animal if an unresolvable problem arises.
  • Plan to spend hours and days, not minutes. Finding the dog or cat of your dreams is time-consuming. Remember, your pet will likely live for many years.
  • Ask for guidance from staff or volunteers. Offer the one or two most important characteristics you are seeking, such as sociability, energy level, training, health. Remember that pets inside of a kennel might have learned a habit that can later be retrained, such as leaping on gates.
  • Ignore color, size, sex, breed, hair length, and other physical characteristics unless you have a rational reason. If you can only lift 50 pounds or your landlord only allows dogs under 20 pounds or airlines only allow small dogs in the main cabin and you fly a lot–those are valid reasons. Avoiding black furry dogs because your carpet is beige? Come on–you shed too. Please adopt a plant instead. All dogs and cats are individuals. Personality (temperament) is what matters.
  • Bring your family and your family dogs with you if you are looking at dogs. If your dog and the shelter dog are ignoring each other, that is actually a good sign. Don’t bring your family cats to look at cats; plan an introduction and transition period and set aside a private room.
  • Plan for a “new pet” transition period that lasts for weeks, while your new cat or dog learns “house rules” and unlearns any shelter-acquired habits. Do not use physical punishment to train your pet; you will only create new aggressive or fearful behaviors! If you are experiencing difficulties, get advice or assistance from a behaviorist or trainer.

Rescues that are foster home-based are excellent places to look for dogs and cats, if they are reputable. It is very important to seek several references for rescues because there are hundreds of poorly-run or fraudulent rescue groups, including rescues that are just “fronts” for puppy mills. Because they don’t have a facility, you might find it difficult to identify bad rescues. Read my post about the signs of a reputable rescue.


2 Responses to “Watch Tip: Pet Manners in the Shelter”

  1. Anna Nirva says:

    Read Sue Sternberg’s advice on how to select a dog from a shelter. There are some great tips in here!

  2. Angela Faeth says:

    I love it! So Annaish… “Avoiding black furry dogs because your carpet is beige? Come on–you shed too. Please adopt a plant instead.”

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