The Freeman family – Kyle Hollingsworth (L-R), Bryan Freeman, Ashlynn Freeman, Amy Freeman and Syerra Freeman – thought they wanted a puppy until they met 6-year-old coon hound mix Kodiac "Kodi" Bear at the Antietam Humane Society in Waynesboro, Pa. The freemans adopted "Kodi" in May 2013 after he showed them affection and jumped into Amy's lap upon their first meeting at the animal shelter.
There was a definite hole in Jane Powell’s family when it lost their two beloved father-and-son golden retrievers to cancer in 2012. She and her four children knew they wanted to welcome new furry family members, so they created a list of ideal traits. “We had a family meeting and talked about what we wanted in a dog, what we could compromise on, what we would not,” Jane says.
One of the departed goldens had a huge personality, so a dog with a big personality was a must. Four family members had to be able to walk the dogs (Jane’s 9-year-old daughter was exempted from walking duties). Sweet and likes to cuddle, good with children and other pets, and desired age range made the list. And no puppies. “That was me,” Jane admits. “I was not prepared to potty train.” The list was posted on a chalkboard, and the whole family bought in. “We made sure we all agreed, and those were all of our concerns,” Jane says. “Not just me being the adult.”
In Kodi Bear, Amy says the family sees similarities to the beloved Englishe foxhound, Jethro, they lost to cancer in July 2012.
So when, through the course of volunteering at the Humane Society of Washington County, or HSWC, Jane’s 14-year-old fell in love with Beatrice, an Akita, the family had a way to evaluate this new potential family member and her brother, Bison. When all five Powells met the dogs, “they were thrilled to see each other, happy to see each of us, and that was it – we were done,” Jane says.
For many families, a household is not complete without a pet. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States estimates that American households own 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats. But bringing home and caring for a pet requires careful planning and a substantial investment of time and energy – albeit one rewarded many times over with happy puppy kisses, contented purrs and innumerable animal antics.
Making a list, considering family dynamics and discussing expectations from a pet help ensure a successful match is made. “If you have a good general idea in advance, especially that the family has all agreed upon, you are more likely to end up with the (pet) you thought you wanted rather than the first cute face you see in the kennel,” says Pat Miller, owner and trainer at Peaceable Paws in Fairplay. Think about how much time your family has to devote to a pet. “With dogs, you definitely need time at home to walk the dog, play with the dog and interact with the dog,” says Michele Dale, a kennel technician at Antietam Humane Society in Waynesboro, Pa. “Cats are more independent. They can handle being left alone all day and (you) can play with them in the evenings.”
Michael Lausen, former executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, plays with Chase, an American bulldox mix, outside the humane society in Hagerstown.
Consider the potential pet’s size, coat type and grooming needs. Factor in family travel habits – will your new pet need to be kenneled often, or will it come along? – and how a new pet will get along with existing household pets. Also, think about your family’s and the animal’s energy levels and personalities. “Just like some people are outgoing or introverted, pets are the same way,” says HSWC Marketing Coordinator Kirk Livers. Research breed personalities to get a feel for typical temperaments and activity levels. “If you don’t have a lot of time, it’s best to get a more laid-back dog that’s happier being a couch potato. But if you’re a fitness enthusiast, factor that in if you want a dog that will run with you or go hiking on the Appalachian Trail,” says Tracy Barlup, V.M.D. owner of Longmeadow Animal Hospital in Hagerstown.
The next step is fun: meeting the animals. “Look for a friendly animal, of course, onethat goes up to you, wants to socialize and interact,” Michele says. Bring the kids to ensure everyone plays well together. Cats might require a little extra time. “I think, especially if you’re getting an older cat from a humane society, you just need to visit that cat pretty often before adopting to really see the personality of that cat,” says Smithsburg trainer Leeray Downs.
Amy Freeman and her family thought they wanted a puppy when they met a 6-year-old coon hound mix – now named Kodiac “Kodi” Bear – at Antietam Humane Society. “I heard this deep little howl, and down the row there was an eyeball looking at me,” Amy says. “When he came barreling down to the front of the pen, he actually got his head stuck.” In the visiting room, “he jumped right on my lap, and I knew he was my dog.” Jennifer Vanderau, communications director for Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., has seen similar connections: “People will say they know, when you look into eyes of an animal and he or she speaks to you,” Jennifer says.
In the visiting room, “he jumped right on my lap, and I knew he was my dog.”
It is crucial to prepare and plan before bringing home a pet. Have basic supplies in place – food bowls, a bed or crate, toys – and create a schedule for feeding, exercise and potty breaks for dogs. Pet-proof your space and prepare to supervise, supervise, supervise, especially if you’re welcoming a puppy. It takes time for any creature to adjust to a new home. “There’s going to be a transition period, and be patient with your animal in that case,” Kirk says. “Probably with cats even more than dogs, it’s important to give them time to come home and settle in,” Pat continues. “A lot of dogs are happy to play with you as soon as they come home, but cats are more likely to need space and breathing time.”
Be clear about responsibilities and behaviors upfront, and involve kids in the process. “Let them know what their responsibilities are going to be from the get-go. If they’re old enough to do the walking and that type of thing, let them,” says Tara Cumley, D.V.M. of the Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for a child to develop responsibilities and empathy.” Establish a safety zone for pets, where they can go if they need a break. “You’re not allowed to pet them, you’re not allowed to see them when they’re in this one certain spot,” Tara says. “And you can teach your child, and you can teach your dog or cat that that’s their safe zone.”
Amy knew Kodi was her dog the second he jumped into her lap in a visiting room at the humane society.
Pets need to learn what’s expected of them, too. Part of that process, particularly forpuppies, is socialization, which must happen when they are very young. “It’s critically important that the exposure you give the puppy be happy, positive things,” Pat says. “Don’t let the puppy get frightened and overwhelmed. Take (him or her) lots of places and make sure he has a good time.” Consult with your veterinarian about socializing puppies that haven’t had all of their vaccinations.
Training using positive reinforcement also should start when a pet is young. “It’s easier to show them what is the good behavior through positive training,” says Leeray, who begins training dogs between 10 and 12 weeks of age. Training benefits pets and family members, and, Leeray says, “it’s so important because it bonds the dog with that person even more if it’s done right.”
But training is not just formal commands. “Anytime you are with your dog, one of you is training the other,” Pat says. That underscores the need to establish ground rules before a pet ever comes home – and be consistent. “You can’t cuddle him on the furniture when he’s a puppy and then expect him to stay off furniture as an adult,” Pat says. “So first is creating structure and consistency that helps dogs be everything we want them to be before the dog ever sets paw in the door.”
All the effort will be repaid with a lifetime of love and a bond that betters the whole family. “I think animals do so much for the family to enrich the family, and show love and do these great things and heal people’s hearts,” Dr. Cumley says. Dr. Barlup agrees: “Kids can be fickle, friendships come and go, but dogs and cats aren’t that way. They’re very loving and they give their love freely.” As Jennifer puts it, “The animal-human connection, that bond is something that is incredibly profound. I think a lot of times families are complete when they have a pet with them.”