It’s Thursday and I’m in Charleston for a bachelorette party. I know I’ll have a blast but it’s this coming Sunday that I’m looking forward to because I’m… drumroll please… adopting my own dog! (Whaaa?!) It’s true, this crazy cat mom is become a crazy pet parent. My husband and I are excited and anxious to emBARK on this next journey. While I’ve written plenty about rescue and adoption, I have yet to write an article about actually preparing to bring a pet home. Confronted with questions of my own, I turned to expert Aimee Gilbreath, Director of Michelson Found Animals Foundation, to help.
Christine: I’m so excited, but so nervous! What are the top three (or five!) things people should have before bringing a pet home?
Aimee: Bringing a new pet into your home is an exciting time, but it can also be a stressful time, remember jitters are normal! At our Adopt and Shop stores, we always recommend you have the following:
1. Make sure you have a collar, ID tag, and a leash – If your pet gets lost, you want to make sure they get back to you as quickly as possible. If you don’t have a name yet, just put your last name on the ID tag. Also, register your pet in a microchip registry to be sure you can be contacted if separated (at the Michelson Found Animals registry, found.org, you can register your pet for free!).
2. A crate or kennel can create a safe space for an animal who may be overwhelmed having only known a small cage for the past days, weeks or months.
3. A warm and snuggly bed or mat will help them settle in and feel at home.
4. Food may seem obvious, you can ask the shelter where you are adopting for recommendations for your particular pet. And, with food comes poop – so be sure to have a litter box and litter for your cat and poop bags for your dog.
5. Toys are an important part of keeping your dog or kitty entertained, and they can also serve as a stress reliever, especially for his first few days in a new home.
Christine: I currently have two (ridiculous) cats, what tips do you have for introducing new pets to your current pets?
Aimee: Introducing a new pet to existing pets takes time and patience. Never force the interaction and have a place for each to go if they feel threatened – you can slowly bring them back together after they’ve had time to calm down.
– For dogs, make sure to choose a neutral location like an unfamiliar park for the first meeting so there is no sense of dominance or territoriality from your existing pup. Have the dogs on leashes held by two different people so that you can maintain control over the interaction at all times. Take turns walking with one dog and then the other in the lead and observe their reactions. Have treats ready to reinforce good behavior and slowly allow more interaction if both dogs are comfortable. At home, do not leave the dogs alone together until you are positive they are good together.
– For cats, create a safe contained space like a bathroom or bedroom for the new arrival. Set it up with food and water, litter box, bed, and toys. Don’t be surprised if your new feline family member spends a few days hiding. Let other pets sniff the new arrival (and vice versa) through the closed door. Then you can move to a see-through baby gate to separate the rooms and allow visual contact. Only when everyone is calm should you remove the barrier. Even then, but sure your dog is on a leash so that you can control initial interactions. Again, don’t leave pets alone unsupervised until you are confident they get along and always be sure the cat has somewhere to escape that the dog can’t follow.
Christine: No pet is perfect, how do you recommend finding a dog trainer in your area? What about a boarding/daycare facility?
Aimee: The shelter and your veterinarian are good resources for recommendations, and you can also ask people at the dog park or friends with pets – your pet community will likely have some good suggestions. Do your research online, and read reviews. What kind of training does a provider have? Are they insured and bonded? For a trainer, make sure to ask them about their methodology, the equipment they use, and for references you can speak with. For a boarding or daycare facility, tour the facility first and ask about how they staff, how they deal with medical issues, and how often the animals are walked and checked on.
Christine: Do you have any crate training tips? I’ve never crate-trained before but have heard great things!
Aimee: A crate makes a pet feel safe and secure, and gives them a quiet place when they need it. However, you never want them to feel trapped, and never use it as punishment. Introduce your dog to the crate in an open area and let them explore it on their own, and always use a happy voice. Use treats, or a favorite toy, around and eventually in the crate so they will enter. Start feeding your dog’s meals near the crate and slowly move the dish into and to the back of the crate. Crate them for short periods of time several times a day so they get used to it.
Christine: All great information, any other advice for soon-to-be pet owners?
Aimee: Pet-proof your home – you may not think about it, but anything that could harm a toddler could also harm a pet. Some plants and common foods can be poisonous, here’s a list of common potentially harmful household objects. Also, start house training right away, and set rules from the start. Give them lots of TLC – pets may be nervous and scared when adjusting to a new home, especially if they’ve been adopted from a bad environment. Be patient. They may have potty accidents, a bout of intestinal distress, or act out a bit as they get used to their new surroundings. And most of all, enjoy this time, it’s the start of a wonderful relationship that will add more joy than you can imagine to your life!
Huge thank you to Aimee and Michelson Found Animals for taking the time to answer my questions. I know there were a lot of them bc #firsttimedogmom. It was honestly such a relief to be able to speak with an expert on this topic. I cannot wait to bring our pup home in four short days. And yes, I’m going to make you wait a bit longer for all the details, but she sure is a ball of fun!
All of these pups have found their forever homes! Yay!! If you are interested in adopting a dog, take a peek at the pups available at the Anti-Cruelty Society.
So this shirt might look like your ordinary polka dot shirt, but those dots are actually kittens. I got it from a tiny boutique while I was in Florida and sadly I couldn’t find it online. I also just bought this skirt and linked the look below!
All photos: Margaret Rajic