Choosing a Furry Family Member | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Choosing a Furry Family Member

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A litter of kittens at the Mississippi Animal Rescue League in April 2008.

After losing my Basset Hound, Charlie, to cancer a couple years ago, I decided to wait a while before getting a new pet. I just missed my floppy-eared friend too much. Eventually, I decided that I would not turn away an animal in need. That's when Sally, a Border Collie-Jack Russell mix showed up. One of my neighbors was moving and couldn't take his fur baby, and I agreed to adopt Sally.

If you are ready for a pet, try to adopt from a shelter. There are so many wonderful animals in shelters, waiting to find their "forever homes." Some say a mutt is best, but you'll find purebred animals in shelters, and there are breed-specific rescue organizations, too. Shelters can provide the dog or cat's history and any behavior issues they have witnessed. Most shelters require spaying or neutering your adoptee, but will often help you for a nominal fee. There is usually an adoption fee, but it is often far less than you would pay if you bought a puppy from a breeder.

Buying from a puppy mill or pet store is risky (pet stores often get their puppies from puppy mills). Be careful when responding to classified ads because puppy mills place many small ads. Mills are notorious for keeping their dogs in filthy, cramped conditions, and forcing dogs to produce litter after litter until they die. The less money these breeders make, the better.

If you buy from a breeder, ask to see the sire and dam, and make sure they don't breed more than one or two litters per year.

Do you have children? If so, choose a dog breed that plays well with kids. Boxers and Beagles, for example, are excellent with children. Regardless, you should always supervise small children with animals, and teach your kids how to behave around them. Lack of understanding and supervision can lead to aggression.

Do you have allergies? I'm allergic to cats, so I don't allow kitties in my home. Some people are allergic to dogs, too. If you are unsure, spend some time with the animal before finalizing the adoption.

What kind of space do you live in? If you live in a tiny apartment like I do, a Labrador retriever may not be your best choice. Labs require a lot of exercise and are notorious for chewing everything in sight as puppies, so apartment life is probably not for them. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the dog, the bigger space you'll need to keep your pup happy and healthy. Also, you will need to have a fenced yard if you plan for Fido to guard your home outside.

Do you plan to let your kitty out during the day? Think again. Unless you have a very secure yard (remember, cats can climb fences and trees, too), Mrs. Snugglebottom may find herself on the wrong end of a Volkswagen. Plan for how you will keep kitty occupied indoors instead.

How much time do you and/or your family members have to devote to your new pet? When Sally came to live with me, she was allegedly housebroken, but I had to re-train her because she was young and in a new environment. I also had to train her on what was OK to chew on and what was off limits. Sally requires lots of exercise, so we go for walks and play on my days off. When I go to work, she goes to Doggie Day Care at the Dog Wash (http://www.thedogwashinc.com), where she plays with other dogs all day.

Speaking of other dogs, if this isn't your only pet, consider if the others will get along with your new addition. You might need to have a "play date" to make sure everyone can live together, and research how best to introduce a new addition.

Finally, consider the cost of pet ownership. The larger the pet, the more expensive the food, medications and vet/boarding bills will be. Will your adoptee need regular grooming? Factor that into your budget, too. And purchase supplies before you bring the dog or cat home. You'll need food and treats, bowls, toys, collar and leash (for a puppy), litter and litter box (for a kitty), and a grooming brush or comb. The better prepared you are, the easier the transition will be for your new furry friend.

Fur Therapy

Many doctors say that adopting a fur baby is good therapy, as long as you're not allergic or terrified of them, that is. Some of the many benefits include:
• Stress reduction. Research shows that just the act of stroking a dog or cat lowers blood pressure and aids relaxation.
• Aid in healing. Other research proves patients recover faster when they have a pet to love and care for.
• Weight loss. Dogs, especially, will force you to get off the couch.
• Easing mild depression. Taking care of a living thing other than yourself can change your focus.
• Cure loneliness. 'nuff said.

Additional Resources
• Local Shelters:

Animal Rescue Fund
1317 Greymont Ave., http://www.arfms.com

Mississippi Animal Rescue League
5221 Greenway Drive Ext., 601-969-1631, http://www.msarl.org

CARA
960 N. Flag Chapel Road, 601-922-7575, http://www.carams.org

• For a list of dog breeds good with kids:
http://www.gopetsamerica.com/dogs/dogs-good-with-kids.aspx

• What to look for in a dog breeder:
http://dogtime.com/finding-a-good-breeder.html

• Animal Planet's Dog Breed Selector:
http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/dogselector.do

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