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What you should know before adopting a pet

Thinking of getting a quarantine companion? Here are seven key things to consider.

It’s not just bicycles that have been in short supply because of the pandemic: animal shelters around the country have reported that they are historically low on adoptable animals as housebound humans grow their families, four legs at a time. If you’re thinking of offering a home to a needy animal yourself, or have already adopted a pet, there are a few things you should consider, from the financial ramifications to how it will affect your family life. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important things to think about when adopting a pet, ranging from the hard stuff to the fun stuff.

In this article:

It’s a lifelong commitment

We don’t mean the length of your life — unless you’re adopting a tortoise, you’ll probably outlive your pet. But bear in mind that animals like cats and dogs can live for 10 to 20 years. When choosing a pet, consider its probable life span and how your circumstances might change during that time. Will your kids be reaching an age where Fido is less interesting than the boy/girl next door? Will you be moving into a new home, or a more demanding role at work? Do you plan on growing your family, and will this pet still be a good fit during that change? None of this means getting a pet is a bad idea, but you should go into it planning for the long haul.

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Whose responsibility is it?

Is your child dog-crazy while you and your spouse are dog-indifferent? Or vice versa? Or do you and your partner have different levels of enthusiasm from one another? Who would care for your pet if something happened to you? Having a pet isn’t all unconditional love and frisbee tossing: someone is going to have to deal with animal training and animal poop and vet visits for years to come, so it’s best to establish at the outset who is responsible for which pet chores. Also, if your young child is insistent about getting a pet, you should reconcile yourself to the fact that their passion may wane over time, leaving you to pick up the slack (not to mention a lot of other stuff).

Different pets require different amounts of time and effort

Looking after a rabbit, guinea pig or fish is a lot less work than caring for a dog. (Still, no one ever said “hamster is man’s best friend.”) You should choose the pet that will bring you joy — that’s the point, after all — but make sure you get something that will work with your lifestyle. Beyond the day-to-day experience of walks, feeding and playtime, consider how having a pet will affect other parts of your life. For example, if your family takes a lot of weekend trips, some animals will be happier and safer left home alone for a few days (like cats or fish, but not together) than others (dogs).

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Is anyone allergic?

Adopting a cat and bringing it home is a very elaborate way to find out you’re allergic to feline dander. If you and your family members have spent sniffle-free time around the kind of animal you plan to adopt then you probably have nothing to worry about, but if you don’t know whether someone in the household is allergic, it’s better to get them tested before choosing your pet.

What it costs

You may think you can’t put a price on the love a pet will give you, but actually you can. Most people underestimate the financial cost of owning a pet, so it’s worth taking a look at the ASPCA’s detailed yet clear chart showing pet care costs for everything from ferrets to Great Danes. The list includes a wide range of expenses, from regular medical care to food and toys. As an example of what pet ownership might cost, a small dog will run you around $737 a year. Oh, and if you have concerns about what will happen to Fido in the event that the worst should happen to you: Yes, you can name a pet as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy.

Does my pet need insurance?

Speaking of insurance: That $737-a-year for a small dog estimate is based on the animal being healthy. Since you’re interested in life insurance, we’ll assume that you know bad things can happen to good people; unfortunately, the same is true for pets. Emergency vet visits can be $500 to $2,000. Surgeries for animals can cost $5,000. If your dog gets cancer, it could cost you $10,000 to deal with, on top of the emotional pain of seeing a beloved family member suffer. So yes, pet insurance is an excellent idea. There are various kinds of policies out there, including some that start at a few hundred dollars a year and cover 90% of bills. You can get pet medical insurance from a specialist company, or you may find that one of the insurance companies you already deal with, such as your car insurer, can offer you a policy.

Where to adopt from

In general, the best place to adopt an animal from is a shelter or rescue group. Animals can, through no fault of their own, have all kinds of psychological or medical problems that are not obvious to the untrained eye — a shelter or rescue group should have evaluated and vaccinated your pet-to-be before offering it for adoption (though you should ask, just in case). Petfinder.org is a good place to find a shelter or rescue group near you. The main difference between the two is where their funding comes from (shelters: local government; rescues: donations), but rescue groups are more likely to specialize in specific breeds of animal, so if you have something very particular in mind, they could be a good place to start. You will pay an adoption fee, which could be anywhere from $25 (for, say, a very old cat) to a few hundred dollars (for a dog that’s still capable of learning new tricks). Whatever the fee, it will almost certainly be less than you would have paid for the vaccinations and medical tests that the shelter or rescue group will have carried out on your pet. Also, the money goes to a worthy cause.

There’s no need to rush

In general, there is no shortage of animals in need of good homes. Shelters and rescue groups around the country are usually receiving animals everyday. What that means, of course, is that your ideal pet is out there somewhere, probably not too far away. If you go to a shelter and don’t see what you were hoping to find, come back another day. It’s also quite possible that you can tell them what you’re looking for and they’ll get in touch with you when something matching that description comes in. The shelter wants you to have a pet just as much as you do, and it’s in everybody’s interest for the relationship to be happy and long lasting.

Some further reading:

What to Expect When Adopting a Dog: A Guide to Successful Dog Adoption for Every Family, by Diane Rose-Soloman

The Art of Raising a Puppy, by Monks of New Skete

The Bunny Lover’s Complete Guide To House Rabbits: The Ultimate Handbook for Successfully Living Indoors with a Pet Rabbit, by The Bunny Guy

How to Speak Cat: A Guide to Decoding Cat Language, by Aline Alexander Newman and Gary Weitzman

Ferrets For Dummies, by Kim Schilling

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About Michael Davis

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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