Written by Jenni Davies
You researched, discussed, planned, and picked the perfect pet. But what happens once you bring them home? Will they settle in without a hitch? And what if they don’t? How can you ease their way? When is it time to call in help? Our guide will help you get things off to a great start.
Step one: Plan and prepare
The best way to calm everyone’s nerves is to have a plan – decide on training, who’ll do what, where the new family member will eat, sleep, etc. and have any necessary pet items ready. Having a collar and tag, leash, bowls, food and bed ensures that you’re prepared, which helps calm your nerves.
Contact the shelter beforehand and ask what your new pet ate, if they have likes or dislikes, and what their routine is. If they have a favourite blanket or toy, ask to take this home (donate a new one to replace it). Try to duplicate this initially to ease them in.
Step one: Safety first
On the day, ensure that everything is secure with no way animals can get out (including closing windows if adopting a cat). This way, when you arrive with your new friend, there’s no worry about blocking escape routes and you can proceed inside calmly.
Before even leaving the shelter, put identification on them (collar and tag) and microchip them on your way home if possible (some shelters offer this). Adopted animals sometimes go walkabout to check out their new surroundings, or even to return to the place they’re familiar with, so having identification is critical. For small animals, take a travelling crate/basket; drape a cloth over it (leaving breathing holes open) as the darkness and muffling of noise calms them. Keep car windows and doors locked, and never put any animal on the back of an open vehicle.
When you get home, keep dogs on lead and smaller animals in their crates until safely inside. Never bring a new cat and just let them go – they will run off. Instead, keep them in a quiet room for a week or two. Thereafter, let them out into the house (not outdoors) for another couple of weeks. When they eventually go outside, supervise them at first.
Step two: Introductions
Introducing new animals to existing ones should be done carefully and respectfully. Initially, supervise interactions calmly and keep dogs on lead (around each other and different species). Allow dogs to meet off the property, then walk them in together; cats will sniff each other through the room door or crate. Keep small animals, like guinea pigs and rabbits, separated but within sight and smell of each other.
As much as you want to show off, hold off on visitors for at least a week and then gradually introduce people. You want things calm and routine so that they can figure out what’s what and who’s who.
Step three: Fitting in
Animals don’t know that this is their forever home; they don’t know what’s expected of them, where they may sleep or do their ‘business’, etcetera. You have to guide them. Some animals can be subdued, clingy or seem depressed because of nerves – stay calm and patient, stick to your routine and don’t fuss excessively. Take time to help them settle in – bringing home a new animal that is now looking to you for the answers, and then going off for hours, isn’t fair to them or you.
If taught correctly, most dogs should be house-trained and have learnt basic rules within a few weeks; cats are usually quick to use litter boxes. After three months, they usually realise that they are there to stay. Be patient. The new pet may not have had many opportunities to interact to its heart’s content and could be quite overbearing initially. If you have children, teach them not to scream, run or ‘wind the animal up’, and ensure they handle smaller animals with care.
Step four: Don’t panic!
Asking yourself: ‘what have I done?’ is totally normal. As with any new relationship, you need to be patient and open to change, stay calm and have fun – you have lots to discover about each other. Start your routine immediately (but be flexible – trial and error is natural), and, with dogs, begin a positive training schedule and walk them regularly. If you’re really worried or overwhelmed, call in reinforcements; start by asking the shelter for advice.
Ask vets, trainers, behaviourists, animal communicators, aromatherapists… whatever and whomever is willing, able (and affordable) to help. You and your ‘furkid’ are truly not alone; everyone wants you to succeed!
Step five: Stay in touch
Animal welfare workers and volunteers love updates on adopted animals, so give them an update. Post on their Facebook page – you’ll not only make their day, you’ll encourage other people to adopt too. It’s equally important to contact them if things aren’t going according to plan. If your pet is unwell, inform them that there may be a reason (e.g. dewormer side effects) or they may treat illnesses within a certain period. This also allows them to check the other animals still in their care.
If the problem is behavioural or the animal is clashing with your other pets, contact them – don’t just gossip about it as this leads to welfares getting bad names, thus jeopardising the lives and adoption chances of all the animals in their care. Remember, they want your adoption to be a success and a good experience – and they don’t want people to feel angry or stressed as this is good for neither people nor the animal, and may stop people from adopting again.
Step six: The road ahead
Spending time together forms bonds. Take dogs for controlled walks where you are the leader (not where the dog sprints around doing as it pleases, dragging you behind it); they will learn boundaries, and you’ll both learn what makes each other happy. With cats, small animals, and very skittish dogs, go into their room and sit quietly, even ignoring them at first. When the animal approaches, which it will do when it’s ready, move slowly and pet them gently – no grabbing or chasing.
During feeding time, sit nearby without interfering so that they become used to your presence. Be careful with unknown dogs and teach children never to approach them while eating. It is also best to separate them from existing pets initially. Sometimes even the friendliest, nicest, most loving dog can have food jealousy issues and may growl, snarl, or even snap. If this happens, consult an animal behaviourist as this is a resolvable issue.
Some animals fit right in, as if they’ve always been there, some take a little more time and patience. But, with care and a little know-how, you’ll be abundantly rewarded. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.” Never is this more true than when you bring a new animal into your home – and heart.
Sudden dietary change and/or the stress of moving can give some animals upset tummies or make them hesitant to eat. Initially, only give food they’re used to; if you plan on feeding different food, gradually phase it in. Use a probiotic for animals to help settle their digestion, and brewer’s yeast for nerves and intestinal bacteria balance. Digestive upsets could be due to worms or, if recently dewormed, a deworming side effect.
If your new pet is lethargic, depressed, in pain or discomfort, feverish, has diarrhoea or is vomiting, and has a poor appetite, consult your vet and the shelter immediately.