Don’t expect Melanie Miller to understand those who avoid adopting adult pets.
Even though it’s puppy and kitten season, she just adopted a 20-year-old cat featured on the Facebook page of the Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) without even considering one of the younger alternatives also vying for forever homes.
“He really just got to me,” the Haymarket, Virginia, resident said of her reaction upon seeing the face of 19-pound Bear, whose owner recently moved to a nursing home. “I had instant tears, looking down at his cage. … When he licked my nose, that was it.”
Of course it’s easy to understand why many people choose to adopt a puppy or kitten. They’re cuddly, playful, affectionate and — surprise! — a lot of work for the owners who must guide them through everything from house training to leaving furniture intact.
Jennifer Brause, founder and executive director of BARCS, said many people who adopt kittens and puppies find they aren’t ready for that responsibility.
“A lot of people think they want puppies and kittens,” she said. “By the time the animals are 2 years old, the owners are exhausted and their pets are untrained.”
The true shame, said Brause, is that adult cats and dogs are often overlooked even though they are just as loving as kittens and puppies. Plus they are usually fully trained.
Many people dismiss adult animals erroneously thinking they were surrendered due to behavioral problems, said the animal experts interviewed for this article, including Alyssa Boyea, behavior and training instructor at Lollypop Farm, a Humane Society shelter in Fairport, New York.
“So many are here not because they are bad or aggressive,” she said. “It’s because their owners pass away or lifestyles changed or something else unfortunate happened. It’s through no fault of the animals.”
Before you adopt a puppy or kitten, consider some of these reasons why you might want to adopt an older animal.
1. Adult pets are predictable
Want a dog that will accompany you on runs? Would you rather have a dog that prefers a more sedentary life? It’s impossible to tell what personality the adorable puppy you bring home will develop as an adult. When you adopt an adult animal, you already know its general personality, but they’re still highly trainable.
“I always tell people who can’t decide between a 4 or 5-year-old dog or a puppy that with a puppy you don’t really know what you’re getting,” said Boyea, noting she has the same thoughts about cats. “You know if an adult dog likes to swim or play ball or gets along with kids. There are many unknowns with puppies.” And, she adds, “most people won’t change their habits for dogs or cats. It sounds good in theory but isn’t realistic.”
2. Adult pets are trained and trainable
Contrary to popular opinion, an old dog, or cat, can learn new tricks.
“You absolutely can change the habits of an adult [dog or cat],” said Deanna Schmidt, adoption manager at the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia, who fosters many animals. Older dogs [and cats] can be trained if you are consistent with training and positive feedback. And adult dogs [are almost always] housebroken or crate trained.”
3. Adult animals save you some money
Not only can you skip expensive training tools such as piddle pads and kitten chow, but you won’t have the damage some kittens and puppies cause. In addition, many animal rescue groups and shelters offer free or reduced adoption fees. “We say, ‘Love lasts forever,” said Brause. “Anytime someone adopts an animal over 5 years old, we waive the adopt fee, not because they aren’t valued but to draw more attention to the older guys who have a lot of love to give. …We love people who are a little older, and these older pets deserve that love, too.”
4. Adult pets don’t need as many vet visits
Many animals incur more veterinarian-related costs when they are young.
“Puppies need to be trained not to eat things like toy parts and socks, and often pet owners learn this through many trips to the vet in the training stages of a puppy’s life,” said Victoria Hohlfeld, rescue program coordinator and vice president of the Brew City Bully Club, an animal education and community support organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Adult dogs do still need regular health maintenance and vet visits, but may have ‘grown out of’ those puppy stages and developed a temperament and training that protects them and their owners from expensive vet visits.”
5. Adult dogs and cats need you
Only 29 percent of cats and dogs are adopted from shelters; the rest are left to live in the rescue centers or, worse — to be euthanized, said Erin Askeland, training manager and behavior expert at Camp Bow Wow in Broomfield, Colorado.
“Adopting a pet saves their life,” she said. “Give a dog or cat a home they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
What’s your experience with pets? Have you ever adopted an older pet? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.