Once you have decided to get a pet and have an idea of the type of pet you are looking for, the next step is often “Where do I find my pet?” This step can sometimes be a little overwhelming for first-time pet owners but where you decide to get your pet can be critical in terms of the advice and support you receive in relation to your new pet and settling them into your home, the health of the pet and the details provided about the pet such as their history and characteristics. The decision as to where you get your pet from can be equally as important as the decision to get a pet.
Dog behaviourist, Suzi Walsh, has set out some guidance to help steer you in the right direction when making this decision and to set you off on the best paw possible.
So you have decided to bring a pet into your life, where do you find the perfect match for your home? Should you buy a pet from a breeder? Should you adopt? Should you foster first to be sure that you can accommodate a pet in your life?
One of the main reasons having a pet doesn’t work out for a family is down to choosing the wrong breed of dog or cat and sourcing them from the wrong place. It is all too easy to go out and purchase a dog or cat very quickly but in doing so you might be making the wrong decision both for you and your pet.
Foster First: Should you foster a pet first?
Fostering a dog or cat is an amazing way to not only help an animal who is looking for a home and support the rescue that is caring for that pet but also to see if you can provide for an animal’s needs in your life. (It can also be a great way to see if the kids keep all their promises of taking care of the pet prior to its arrival!)
Fostering can be for short term or longer term spells and can give you the opportunity to make sure you will have enough time for a pet on a more permanent basis while also learning a huge amount about caring for a dog or a cat as many rescues will be there to support you and answer any questions you might have. (And you never know you may just ‘fail’ as a fosterer and the question of where to get your perfect pet may be answered for you!) If you are keen to foster, contact a rescue near to where you live and they will be able to talk you through their fostering process and any application form you need to complete.
If you do not feel comfortable fostering a pet, another option may be to consider minding the pet of a friend or family member to explore what it might be like to have a pet in your life before making any permanent decisions.
Opt to Adopt: Should you adopt a pet?
There are well over 100 animal rescues of varying sizes across Ireland, many of which are at or over capacity post-Covid. These rescues often fall into one of two categories: foster based or shelter. A foster-based rescue typically has no one physical base and the pets in their care are all in foster families until they find their forever home. A shelter-based rescue, on the other hand, has a physical base where a lot of the animals in their care are located and cared for until they find their happy ever after.
Adopting a dog or cat can be a wonderful experience especially with the right rescue centre who will have the skills and knowledge to match you with the perfect pet. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to adopting a rescue dog or cat. Many people think that they can only adopt an older dog or cat with severe behavioural problems but that is not the case. There are a huge number of pets who find themselves in need of a loving home who are really calm and social as well as young puppies and kittens some of whom may have been abandoned at birth or even born in rescue. All breeds, sizes and age groups of pets can end up looking for a home.
There are many benefits to adopting a slightly older pet, often they will be house-trained and the rescue will already know their temperament and have a good idea of what kind of health and condition they are in.
Rescues will often have home requirements for an animal to ensure that a potential home is a good fit for the pet and to minimise any risk of the need for the animal to be returned. These may include the pet not being suitable for a home with children, not being suitable for a home with other pets, being suitable for a quiet environment etc. These requirements are not to frustrate potential adopters but to ensure that any future home is a good fit for both the family and the animal based on what that rescue knows about the animal from being in their care.
Any responsible rescue will make sure they speak with you in person to assess the suitability of the pet for your home. This is often accompanied by a home visit and is to ensure that you are prepared and ready for a pet. Again, a home visit is not to judge you or your family but instead it is to help you find the best pet for your family so that you don’t have any regrets and to minimise the risk of a pet ending up being surrendered back into rescue. It allows you the opportunity to ask questions and find out information about what it is like to care for a pet full time and about the particular pet that you are applying to adopt.
In addition to performing a home visit, good rescues will also ensure that a pet is fully vaccinated and microchipped and in most cases will be neutered or spayed prior to adoption. In most cases, an adoption fee will be payable to the rescue to support the costs of their operations in looking after the pets in their care.
Adopting a pet doesn’t have to be a risky decision if you are well matched and a well run rescue will be able to do that for you. If you are considering adoption, contact or visit a rescue near to where you live to see what animals they have in their care and to talk to their staff about what you are looking for. They will be able to talk you through their adoption process. The animals in rescue are obviously also constantly changing with pets being adopted and new pets needing homes so it is worth keeping an eye on sites like PetMatch, the websites of rescues and their social media pages for pets that may be looking for a home.
Choosing to adopt a pet gives that pet another chance to be a part of a loving family as well as providing a space in their rescue for another pet so it is no exaggeration to say that adopting does indeed save a life, if not two.
Private Rehomings: Should you rehome a pet privately?
Sometimes, where a family can no longer care for their pet, they may choose to rehome their dog or cat privately without opting to go through a shelter. This may be for a variety of reasons such as a rescue being unable to provide space for the animal, not wanting to be a burden on shelters, wishing to sell their pet or simply wanting to be in charge of their pets future and the decision on their new family.
There can be pros and cons to rehoming a pet privately but you do need to be careful that it is a genuine rehoming and that the rehoming family are being transparent as to the pet’s history and the reasons for rehoming so you can make a fully informed decision. The benefits of a private rehoming are that you can see the pet in their current home, see what environment they have been used to and get an idea of their history in terms of health and temperament and what they might be like to live with.
However, there are potential downsides to getting your pet through a private rehoming. These include the fact that the rehoming family may be very emotional giving up their pet. You should ensure that you have been provided with the full history of the pet with the family. Any paperwork the family has in relation to the pet such as veterinary records, microchip certificates and kennel club registrations (if applicable) should be shared and the microchip will need to be transferred to you as the new owner. This will give you a clearer picture of the pet’s health and minimise any risk that the pet may have been stolen for resale.
If you are choosing this option, it is advised to spend some time with the cat or dog alone rather than taking them home on a first visit and to exercise caution where anyone who is just interested in selling their pet. There may be a very genuine reason that someone needs to rehome their cat or dog but make sure you do your research and, as with bringing a pet into your family under any circumstances, avoid making a rash decision in choosing a pet for your home where you have any doubts.
Purchasing a Pet: Should you purchase a pet?
If you have your heart set on a particular breed, you may decide to purchase your pet from a breeder however it is always recommended that you research the breed thoroughly before buying to ensure that it is the right breed for your lifestyle. Often breeds can be selected based solely on their appearance or indeed a desire for a hypoallergenic pet. Unfortunately there is no such breed as a hypoallergenic dog or cat breed. If you are allergic to dogs or cats you are allergic to their dander and not the length, style or type of fur. Dander comes from saliva, skin cells and urine, all dogs and cats release dander into the environment. So do not choose a dog or cat based on this myth.
The benefit of a specific type of dog or cat is that you will likely know the size, temperament and physical characteristics of that particular breed. You will know in advance what caring for that particular breed will look like long term and it allows you to know what you are signing up for. This is not the same for mixed breeds as temperament, size and physical characteristics can be more difficult to predict.
When purchasing a specific breed of pet you should not assume that you are purchasing from a respectable breeder simply because the animal is ‘pure-bred’. Purchased pets typically come from either professional and responsible breeders, casual breeders or irresponsible, puppy-farm breeders which may sometimes be harder to differentiate than expected.
Professional, Responsible Breeders:
Rarely, if ever, do you see dogs or cats from responsible, careful and educated breeders end up in a rescue or looking for a new home. These breeders do their due diligence at the start and always have a clause in their contract that a dog or cat must be returned to their care if family circumstances change. If you do decide to purchase a dog from a breeder you need to make sure you select a breeder who is not only passionate about their chosen breed’s physical welfare but also about the temperament and needs of the animals in their care.
Conscientious breeders will typically raise only one breed of dog or cat, they will ensure that both parents pass any available health checks and tests for their breed as well as rear only one litter a year or every second year depending on the number of female dogs they have. They will be careful to check out prospective families just as much as you should be vetting their capabilities as a breeder.
Responsible breeders will be to provide you with all veterinary paperwork for the puppy including records of any vaccinations they have had to date, their microchip details and the database that it is registered as well as a copy of the microchip certificate, any kennel club registration certificates (if applicable) and will able to tell you the brand of food the puppy or kitten has been fed and will often provide a small amount of this food as part of their rehoming.
Casual breeders are often families or individuals that have decided to breed from their family dog. These pets can indeed come from much loved family pets however the level of experience of casual breeders can vary and the litter may not have gone through the same level of health checks and tests as with a professional breeder.
If you are purchasing a pet from a casual breeder that is unknown to you personally, it will be important to see the home that the mother dog or cat lives in (and if possible the father) and similar to a private rehoming, to understand as much about the history of the pet as possible. You should still be provided with the full paperwork of the pet including veterinary records, microchip certificate and kennel club registration (if applicable) and the microchip number will need to be transferred to you as the new owner.
Whilst there are casual breeders who have had a litter from a much loved family pet, it is important to be aware that puppy farmers can try and create situations where it looks like puppies are in a loving family home and may be the single litter of a family pet to avoid raising any suspicions in a potential purchaser. If there are gaps in information or a reluctance to share details requested, please exercise additional caution in purchasing a pet from this source.
Unfortunately, Ireland has the undesired label of “the puppy farm capital of Europe” with large numbers of puppies being bred to overbred mums with the primary purpose of generating profits and not with the wellbeing of the dogs in mind. These puppies can be born and raised in horrific conditions and often to the detriment of their long term health and that of their mum. It is not uncommon for puppy farm puppies to pass away shortly after being brought home which can obviously be a devastating experience for their new family.
If you are looking to purchase a pet and, in particular, if you have found a pet for sale online, you should exercise extra caution in ensuring that the individual selling the pet is trustworthy and reputable.
Some tips to consider when purchasing a pet that you may have found online include:
- Always meet the person at their home to see the pet in their own environment, where they sleep etc. Any request to meet you in a neutral location should be avoided.
- Puppies and kittens should look healthy and bright with clean coats. If the animal is lethargic and dirty this should be a red flag.
- Ensure that any puppy is microchipped and you have seen microchip papers and the microchip number for that specific pet.
- All veterinary papers for veterinary treatment provided to the animal to date such as vaccinations and worming should be available.
- Always request to see the mother of the litter (and if possible the father). Being shown a single puppy or kitten in isolation should be a red flag.
- Any premises that has six or more female dogs over six months of age and capable of breeding must apply to the local authority for registration as a dog breeding establishment. Ask the breeder if they are registered under the Dog Breeding Establishment Act. If so, check the dog breeding establishment register for their County to see if the name and address are consistent with the contact information you have. If registered, this information will also tell you how many breeding bitches the breeders premises is licensed for.
- If the breeder sells six or more pet animals in a calendar year they must apply to be entered into the Register of Sellers and Suppliers of Pet Animals unless they are registered as a Dog Breeding Establishment. Ask the breeder for their Pet Supply Registration number if they are not a registered dog breeding establishment. This number can then be checked online to see if the name and address are consistent with the individual you have been contacting.
- NOTE: Whilst a Dog Breeding Establishment number or Pet Supply Registration number is no guarantee as to the reputability of the individual it will be an indicator of compliance with legal requirements.
- Ask the breeder questions about the animals they breed; any unwillingness to share should be treated with caution.
- Any pushiness on the part of the breeder to sell you the pet should be treated as a red flag.
- As noted above, a reputable breeder will be equally keen to understand your environment, family and circumstances to ensure their animal is going to a good home and will often ask you to sign a contract that the pet will be returned to their care if there is a change in your circumstances and you can no longer keep the pet. If the breeder is not showing this level of interest in you as a potential home for their animal you should proceed with caution.
- Top tip: Trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Always be careful about the time of year you are looking to bring your pet home. Often good breeders and rescues do not rehome around Christmas time because they feel that time is too busy for anyone to adequately have time to settle in their pet. It is also important to note what holidays you yourself may have planned so that you can be prepared with a pet minder or indeed time with your new pet before you leave them with someone new.
Be sure to take your time, time to decide if bringing a pet into your home is the best decision for you and your new family member as well as making any final decision on a pet you may have found. Having a pet in your home is a privilege and their needs should be your first priority.
Suzi Walsh is an expert dog behaviourist and trainer with an Honours Degree in Zoology and Masters in Applied Animal Welfare and Behaviour. Suzi has worked professionally as a dog behaviour consultant for the past 16 years. She is a founding member of the Irish Veterinary Behaviour Association and is passionate about improving the lives of dogs in Ireland. As well as working with dogs who have behavioural problems Suzi also teaches puppy classes and gives workshops, courses and seminars to pet parents and other professionals in the industry as well as working as an expert assessor when things go wrong. Suzi has previously worked for Dogs Trust Ireland and with the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind as a supervisor and has also worked with the veterinary department of Dublin Zoo on a nutritional research project for captive wild animals.