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Adopt, Don’t Shop—Tips on adopting your first family pet

As of January 1, 2020, Maryland became the second state, after California, to ban the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. However, there are still plenty of options available to add a furry, feathered, or even scaled member to the family, such as adoption through a local rescue. 

Nick Crawford is the office manager for the Anne Arundel County SPCA. He offers some insight for those debating adding a new member to the household, and encourages families to take into consideration both the needs of the family as well as the pet before making the commitment.

What are good first pets for preschool age children or toddlers? What type of pet care responsibilities can they share?
There are many great first pets for younger children. With any pet, the adult should be the main caregiver, but there are so many fun responsibilities the children can share with the adult. Guinea Pigs are great beginner companion animals for families with young children. They are relatively docile and don’t require as much in-depth care as some other pets. Responsibilities to share include changing the bedding, filling up the food bowl, changing the water, socializing the animal, and playing gently with them.

How about elementary school age children?

Dogs and cats are good options for children ages 6 to 10. As kids get older, they are able to take on the more nuanced responsibilities that come with taking care of cats and dogs. Dogs need lots of exercise, so a spunky six- to 10-year-old may be a good energy match for an energetic dog!

Dogs and cats also provide companionship to the family members. Canines and kitties are often affectionate and like to love on their family members. Having a companion animal who will give them licks and cuddles can be very beneficial to families’ and the children’s happiness! Kids in this age-range tend to be more open to picking up waste and scooping the litter box as well. Before you adopt, make sure everybody in the home can meet the dog or cat to make sure they seem to get along. It is also a good idea to check with shelter staff and volunteers to see if that particular animal has a history with children.

What about teenagers?
Teenagers are usually mature and capable enough to greatly assist with most pet care, but one interesting option other than cats, dogs, and rabbits, are reptiles. I have adopted a crested gecko and two bearded dragons from the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.

Reptiles are considered “exotic” pets and do require a higher level of care than some other small pets. Proper cages, lighting, heat sources, and diets are all very important to the health of the animal and must be monitored closely. As with any animal, make sure they are ready and committed before rescuing. The bearded dragons I adopted were turned in because the teenager in the home no longer wanted them after several years. Reptiles often have long lifespans and need a dedicated owner!

What are other things all families should consider when choosing a pet?
Pets should always be a family decision. We recommend steering away from giving animals as surprises or just one person being responsible for the animal. Everybody in the home should be on board with a pet and be willing to pitch in. Even low-maintenance pets require a good amount of time and care, so everyone should be ready to help out.

Many people can be allergic to animals, so another good tip would be to come into the shelter and spend time meeting the animals before committing to adoption. That way you have time to see if any symptoms or allergic reactions arise! Fenced yards are very beneficial to dog ownership, but aren’t absolutely necessary. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a fenced yard, you will have to leash walk the dog more often to give them exercise. Home size is also a factor to consider when adopting a pet. If you live in an apartment, you may not want a gigantic 100-pound dog or a breed that is known for howling. Your neighbors will thank you later.

Many families find the process to adopt through a rescue daunting and time consuming.
Why does adoption seem complicated?
The SPCA of Anne Arundel County has an application process because we want to make sure every animal that is adopted goes to a home who is qualified and prepared to bring a pet in. We get many animals turned into us because landlords won’t allow a pet or the animal is too much to handle. Our Application Process ensures we can match each individual animal to its ideal home. We also like to look for a history of veterinary care for previous pets and make sure the family is equipped to bring a pet home.

Do you have recommendations on the safest way to introduce a child to pet care and respecting the new family member? Safety is super important when having a pet. Parents should always teach their children how to respect animals and handle them appropriately. Even the sweetest animal could bite if it feels scared or threatened. Our shelter offers tours and classes for children of all ages where they can learn more about responsible pet ownership and animal handling. Details on our programs can be found here: aacspca.org/education-outreach

Even if you adopt a pet through a rescue, there are expenses that come with pet ownership. One must consider the cost of spay or neuter (often covered in your adoption fee), vaccines, preventative medications such as flea/tick and heartworm prevention, food and toys. Small furry friends, such as guinea pigs and rabbits need an enclosure, bedding and food. The ASPCA offers estimates on what you can expect the first year, as well as subsequent years, barring the unexpected trip to the vets.

First year $1,471 to $2,000
Each year afterward $737 to $1,040

First year $1,174
Each year afterward $809

First year $374 to $802
Each year afterward $304 to $477


—Joyce Heid


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