We’ve all seen the commercials where fluffy puppies with big, innocent eyes and huge red bows around their necks are handed to shrieking holiday gift recipients. Despite gifters’ best intentions, pet ownership is a big deal—and rushing into it can sometimes do more harm than good. We chatted with executive director of Happy Tails Rescue Laura Westphall for tips on deciding when to add a pet to the family and alternative ways to help local animals in need.
How do you know which pet is best?
Fostering is a nice way to try out different breeds and see what works with your lifestyle—or to give your fur-baby a playmate without the commitment of adding another pup long term. Once a family decides they’re ready to add a pup to their household, we try to help them match up a dog that fits what they’re looking for. A 45-question pre-adoption application helps us make sure adopters understand dogs are a life-long commitment. Finding places to rent with large dogs and certain breeds can be hard,
so we want adopters to think about how they’ll keep their commitment to their pet during life changes. Having a baby and moving are the two biggest reasons dogs are surrendered.
What are the happiest and hardest things about your job?
The hardest thing is that we want to help them all, but we can only help the dogs we have foster homes for. There are lots of dogs living as strays, shelters across the country are overcrowded, and there are more animals than homes. The harsh reality is there is no way we can save them all, and it’s devastating to see amazing animals being put to sleep due to lack of space. So, we save the ones we can and educate people on the importance of spaying and neutering.
The happiest moments are when we can save animals that were not going to make it out of the shelter otherwise. Seeing pictures of them on Christmas cards, in family photos on boats and vacations—knowing we’re helping pups find their new forever families is an amazing feeling. Last weekend we took in 60 dogs. That’s 60 dogs that get to sleep on a dog bed and get a chance at being part of a family.
Do you have resources for someone trying hard to make the best match?
I encourage everyone to do breed and personality research. Too often, dogs are chosen based on looks. When adopting from a rescue, you get to talk to the foster parents about how the pup did in certain situations. Ask as many questions as you can think of.
At Happy Tails, we ask adopters to consider their lifestyle and be honest with themselves before adopting. Here are a few questions we ask:
- Rescue pups may take some time to adjust to your lifestyle and expectations. Are you okay with that?
- Do you have time to exercise your pup physically and mentally?
- Will you be able to keep your pup if your life changes because of a baby, a marriage or divorce, a move, etc.?
- Puppies need to be potty-trained, socialized and taught appropriate behaviors. Are you able to take on that commitment?
- Pups need to be kept on monthly flea/tick and heartworm preventatives and get annual checkups. Are you willing to spend money on vet visits?
- Finally, invest in the short-term. Would you consider volunteering together—or donating toys or food to shelter animals? It can be a great way to familiarize family members with pets and what it takes to care for them. To apply to foster or volunteer, visit the website here.