Dog and cat fostering and adoptions are at an all-time high.
"There's no doubt that the response from people across the country willing to open their homes to animals in need during this challenging time has been enormous and unprecedented," says Kelly DiCicco, manager of adoptions promotions at the ASPCA Adoption Center.
As tempting as it may sound to have a furry friend to comfort you, there's a lot to consider before you bring an animal into your home — not the least of which is the fact that an animal will forever be dependent on you. Even after the pandemic, you will still need to feed, discipline and clean up after your pet.
Pat Miller, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and the director of Peaceable Paws Academies in Fairplay, Md., says she often sees too many people getting pets without thinking through all that it entails.
"Happens all the time," she says. "We are just seeing more of it now because so many people who are sitting at home with nothing to do are deciding it's a good time to get a pet."
Before you even start looking for a pet, Miller advises that you make sure everyone in your home is on board. That doesn't mean everyone in the house needs to be responsible for taking care of the pet, but there needs to be universal agreement about having a pet.
"Animals do not need to come into an environment where there is conflict over their presence," she says.
She also suggests setting clear guidelines of what the pet is allowed to do in advance. Will it be allowed on the furniture? Where will it sleep? Who is going to clean up after, walk and feed the animal? Who is the primary trainer? What happens when everyone goes back to school and back to work?
"The more you think through ahead of time, the less conflict and confusion there is for the animal," she says.
Other prep work to do: Purchase supplies in advance, and set everything up before the pet's arrival. DiCicco's must-have list for cats: a collar, litter and litter box, food, toys and bowls. For dogs: a leash, collar and harness, bed, food, toys, bowls and crate.
DiCicco says you also need to make your home safe before you bring your pet home. Remove all items from the floor that could be eaten or chewed, and keep electrical wires out of reach. Other potential pet hazards include vertical blinds, curtains that pool on the floor, tassels and long cords.
Also, check that your house plants are safe. The ASPCA has compiled a list of plants that are toxic to animals that should be removed from your home or put out of reach (aspca.org).
If you are adopting a cat, keep in mind that they are excellent climbers, so pet-proofing means more than keeping the floor safe. Move poisonous plants and fragile objects to a protected area. For a kitten, look for small hideouts where it could escape or get stuck, including around and underneath appliances.
Because scratching is a natural behavior for cats, invest in a scratching post to prevent destruction of your furniture and other objects. For dogs, provide appropriate chew toys.
If you are getting a puppy or dog that is not house-trained, create a special area for the dog using baby gates or a collapsible pen, so any accidents don't damage carpets. (Store decorative rugs until your new dog is fully house-trained.)
Miller also suggests using a crate to help train your dog. "When properly used, a crate is the easiest way to house-train and manage a puppy, because dogs come with a natural inhibition against soiling their own den," she says.
When you bring your pet home, give them a little time to get acquainted with the sights, sounds and scents.
Some cats are more sensitive than others, so they may settle in better if initially confined to one room. Gradually give them more space to explore over time. This helps them adjust to their environment without feeling overwhelmed.
If you already have pets, provide the new pet with a quiet area away from the other animals while they get acclimated, and take initial introductions very slowly.
"Remember to take things at their pace and follow their lead," DiCicco says.