As I mentioned in a recent post we very recently lost our 15-year-old dog. It was difficult for us for sure but at 15 years old we knew it was coming. Honestly, the hardest part was bringing ourselves to say good bye. To read more about helping your child deal with losing a pet click here.
AND as hard as it was on is it was way harder on our 1-year-old Labrador. She was quickly (by quickly I mean the next day) stir crazy.
It was no doubt time to find her a companion. A companion preferably her age, close to her size, and ready to romp!
We set out to adopt a dog!
This was a major undertaking with two little boys. At first, I was stymied…stuck…and stupefied. How on Earth?
If I drag them through random pounds they are going to be sad and want to rescue every dog they see!
If I take them to rescues to meet specific dogs they will definitely want every dog that they see!
I can’t just go pick their dog for them but at 4 and 7 they are not the best rational decision makers in the family.
Then there is the other dog and the cat…so I needed to find a big, young playful dog that was fabulous with kids…decent with cats…and liked my dog.
No small order, add to that my 7-year-old was set on a German Shepard.
Oh, boy…how many pounds, rescues, and episodes of heart break were in my future? I could only guess.
Selecting a family dog is difficult. It only becomes more challenging when you are not starting from a puppy and have a host of other criteria that need to be met for a good personality fit.
There I was with 2 eager little boys…a lonely lab…a wary cat, and no idea. We were going to find a furry friend and save a life.
I started with adoptapet.com. I scoured it for my identified criteria. Female dogs 1-3 years old that were over 40 pounds.
I found a ton and started whittling the list down. At this point, I tried to sell my oldest on some nice dogs that even specified that they were good with cats. None of which were German Shepards so he was completely devoid of interest.
As the days went on the Labrador got more lonely and oh so hyper.
A plan of attack takes shape.
Scour Adoptapet.com thoroughly. Search by age, gender, and breed. Consult with your children at this point about what they have in mind and what they are dreaming of in their ideal dog.
Identify the top 10 prospects based on that criteria.
Call about each and every one of them with a list of questions. Good with kids? Good with dogs? Dominant style or submissive? Is there a known back story? Is the dog spayed/neutered? Good with cats? Playful?
Plan ahead so you ask all the questions you need to when you get on the phone. Then take notes. Understand that at many shelters they will not have all the information that you may want.
Decide which animals you think best meet your family needs and criteria.
Decide if you want to/have time to go prescreen all of these potential pet matches. If you have the time and the child care go for it. If you meet 10 dogs and narrow it down to 3 before you take your children with you then you know they will be picking from a preapproved set of choices.
This did not work for me. When I am off my husband is working and the kids are with me. I did not have the time to drive 60 miles North then turn around to drive 90 miles South with several stops along the way twice.
Time to Prepare! Whether or not you had the time and ability to previsit each dog the time comes to take the children to meet the potential dogs. This was the part I dreaded. I knew they would want them all. I knew there was a serious potential for tears. Heck, I want to save them all myself! My tender-souled little ones would certainly have a heck of a time walking away.
So we had to prepare…
First, we talked about why we were getting a dog. Then we talked about having this dog as a part of our family for a decade to drive home the point that this was a major commitment. We talked about how old they would be in a decade to help them to understand how long 10 years or more really was.
Next, we talked about how sad a place shelters for animals could be, and how hard it is to walk away from a dog that looks sad and needs a home. We talked about how sad it would be though if we got a dog at the first place we went and never got a chance to meet the other dogs that need our help just as much!
Finally, we talked about how important it was that the dog be a great fit for all who occupied the home! Good for them. Good for the other dog. Good for the cat.
Once they agreed to all of the preparatory discussion we could move on to step 8.
I am not going to lie the steps here just kept getting harder.
Load up the car with the kids, the dog (in a crate and with a leash), the cat (in a crate). Bring snacks and water for all because this will be a quest for the ages. Proceed on your route meeting doggie candidates.
Evaluating Potential Dogs to Adopt
I opted for this routine. The kids and I would go in first. If the dog responded well to the kids and I we would meet alone with the dog in a separate room. I watched for signs of hesitancy when interacting with children. If the dog seemed unwelcoming of exuberant children it was on to the next dog. If the kids were upset because, “but she is so cute.” They were firmly reminded that no matter what we had agreed to meet all of the potential dogs before we decided.
Then we quickly moved along to the next dog to meet. If the dog made it through round 1 and was very friendly with the kids then round 2 was the cat. Most people do not take their cat with them to meet dogs. I would strongly advise taking the cat with you especially after this experience.
I felt silly at first taking the cat until the moment that the dog who had been so friendly with my kids charged angrily at our kitty in her carrier. This sweet dog had been so tender with my kids a moment earlier now had murder in her eyes. It was a rattling experience and enough to make me question if my son’s desire for a German Shepard required serious reconsideration.
If the dog passed round 1 and round 2 then a meet and greet of the dogs was arranged. The dogs would meet in a neutral space without us holding the leash to prevent triggering a desire to protect us.
Step 7 took 2 days of riding around with kids and pets in tow. In my case everybody was a good sport about it, even the cat. In the end we found a great fit for our family…and my son even got his wish for a German Shepard.
If this search had not been fruitful we would have found ourselves back at step 1 and moving through the process again, probably after about a month break.
It was difficult for the kids to walk away from a couple of dogs along the way, but I will say that they quickly came to understand the importance of finding the perfect fit of our new addition. I believe this occurred as a dog they had just moments earlier been petting tried to attack our dopey, friendly lab.
It can be challenging to adopt a dog when you have young children and other pets, but it is possible. I am loving our new furry family member. It was worth the hassle. The last thing you want is to have your kids select a pet they thought was cute and sweet only to bring it home and find out that it wants to fight with your dog and terrorize your cat. Then you have to take the new pet away from the children once they felt like they now had it as theirs. So much worse than hauling around a car full of pets I promise.
So in summary what brought me success in this endeavor was..
1. Consult the kids about what they want
2. Research what is available and in need at the moment
3. Prescreen the candidates to the best of your ability and select a reasonable number to meet.
4. Prepare children for the emotionality and significance involved in the process of meeting potential pets
5. Take your kids and pets with you to meet the potential adoptees.
If done responsibly adopting a pet can be an opportunity to model responsible pet ownership to children. When choices are made with preparation, care, and careful consideration the child learns a great deal and winds up with an ideal family pet.
Best of luck if you are out there looking for your next furry family member. I hope this can help make the quest a positive experience for the whole family.
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