How to adopt a pet for life

How to adopt a pet for life
A lifetime of love

When you adopt a dog or cat you are making a commitment to care for that pet for life. Be prepared for the commitment.

Most dogs live for 12 to 15 years and cats for 15 to 20 years. Take your own life plans into consideration before adopting a dog or cat. Do you expect to move or start a new job? Will you get married? Do you plan to have children?

None of these life events should change your decision about having a pet. But how you navigate pet guardianship through changes in your situation is critical.

Above all, adopting a companion pet should never be an impulsive decision.  

Focus on the future

When people adopt a pet they often focus on the here and now. It can be difficult to turn down the wide, inviting eyes of a dog, or the playfulness of a cat seeking attention. 

Consider that every year millions of pets are surrendered to shelters. Some are strays, abandoned, or victims of abuse. But too many others are adopted and returned because their guardians were unprepared for the responsibilities of pet adoption. They were not thinking about having a pet for life.

Most people never think that they would surrender a dog or cat. Yet shelters and rescues are full of animals whose guardians believed they would never give up their pets. And of those millions of animals, an estimated three million each year will not make it out of the shelter alive. That is roughly equal to the entire population of Iowa.

Economics 101

Cost of care is one of the primary reasons people surrender their pets.

How to adopt a pet for life

Besides the initial adoption fee, a pet requires food, routine veterinary care, bedding, toys, other supplies, and grooming. If you are away from home for extended periods you may use dog walkers, pet sitters, or pet day care services. And medical costs can escalate quickly if your pet is injured or develops a serious illness.

Pets for Patriots partners with Fetch by The Dodo (formerly Petplan), a leading pet health insurer, to offer affordable, discounted plans for animals adopted through our program. It is one of the many benefits we offer veterans in our program to reduce the lifetime costs of pet guardianship.

You may choose to purchase pet health insurance, have a dedicated savings account for your pet, or both. However you plan, make sure that cost of pet care is an actual line item in your household budget.

How much is that puppy (or kitten) in the window?

Figure out if you can afford a pet for life before you adopt. It is irresponsible to save an animal only to be unprepared financially to care for her. 

According to the ASPCA, first-year pet care costs average $1,752 for dogs and $1,174 for cats. Subsequent years may be lower since some costs are one-time, such as spay/neuter. But as pets age, so does the likelihood that they will require more expensive medical care.

There are a number of ways to keep your pet for life without sacrificing your own needs.

Explore lower cost pet health care, including community clinics and veterinary schools. Ask if your local pet store has loyalty programs that can save you money. See if you qualify for assistance from your local pet food bank. And you may be able to save money by making your own pet food or treats, but consult your pet’s veterinarian first.

Take time to spend time

Often, pets are surrendered because their guardians do not have enough time for them. Dogs and cats are social animals, and need the attention, love and care of their humans in order to thrive.

Plan time to train your new companion pet. There is an adjustment period, even for dogs and cats who were previously homed and may know basic manners. A new home with new people brings certain stresses to an animal. They may soil the house or misbehave at first.

For dogs, basic training is essential. Make good use of that initial ‘honeymoon period‘ with your new pup to establish house rules and expectations for their behavior. And while cats must be trained as well, they require a lot of socialization in order to adapt to their surroundings.

Remember that animals are a lot like children: they need you to set boundaries, establish their routines, and provide leadership. 

Realistic expectations

The most common reason that pets are surrendered is behavior. People often forget that their newly adopted pets have had a prior life – and one that may have been marked by hardship.

How to adopt a pet for life

Many people expect a pet to be grateful and loving because it has been adopted, and freed from the confines of shelter life. However, problems can arise when a dog or cat acts differently than what an adopter expects.

Whatever the behavior, there is a solution. Talk to your veterinarian or to the shelter for advice. Above all, have patience.

To have a pet for life is to give that animal time to acclimate to his new surroundings. For animals who were previously stray, abandoned, neglected, or abused it can take months to adjust. Give them the space, time, and love they deserve. 

Home sweet home 

Many guardians are forced to surrender pets because they have unstable or uncertain living conditions. They may need to relocate to a place that does not have ample space for their animals, does not allow pets, or would make relocation of the pet too difficult. 

Remember that when you adopt a pet you committed to that pet for life. Do your research. Make sure that your new home will be able to accommodate both you and your companion pet. And when moving day arrives, be prepared to make the transition as stressless for your pet as possible.

Plan for the unexpected

Some pets are surrendered to shelters due to their guardians’ declining health, disability, or death. If plans were not made previously to ensure the continuous care of your dog or cat, your beloved pet may end up in a shelter.

Pets are family. Their welfare needs to be considered as part of your estate planning. Failure to do so will likely result in your dog or cat not having the life you intended. Although it may be unpleasant to consider a scenario where your pet outlives you, when you have a pet for life you need to plan for their welfare.

When you cannot keep your pet for life

Pets for Patriots partners with hundreds of shelters, rescues, SPCAs, humane societies, and municipal animal controls across the country. These organizations are filled with compassionate staff and volunteers who do their best to care for and re-home animals in need. Many provide extensive veterinary care, rehabilitation, training, and socialization to the animals in their charge.

Still, a shelter is not a home.

And with the rise of the “no kill” movement too many animals spend months, even years, languishing in homelessness. While their lives are spared, prolonged sheltering can be damaging and create unwanted behaviors.

Animal shelters will remain a refuge for dogs and cats in need for the foreseeable future. And they remain an option if someone needs to rehome their pet responsibly.

Another approach is home-to-home adoption.

Consider a professional pet matching community, such as Rehome. It is managed by Adopt-A-Pet with support from Chewy and other pet companies.

Get Your Pet connects people who want to adopt a pet with guardians who need to find their pets a new home – without pets being surrendered to shelters. Not only do animals avoid homelessness, but the limited space and resources of animal shelters can be dedicated to those animals who have nowhere else to go.

For more information, read our article about how to rehome your pet responsibly. Even if circumstances are such that you cannot keep your pet for life, it is your obligation to make sure that her next home is up to that task.


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Because a shelter is not a home

Long-term shelter pets available for adoption