Sunday , 10 December 2017

From a Vet’s Point of View: Choosing a Rescue Carefully

Looking for a pet? Choose the facility carefully!

By: Dr. Christina Nosotti  

From experience, you will quickly bond and become attached to any pet you bring home. However worthy of your affection though, in some cases a particular pet may not be the best fit for your family, or it could develop behavior problems or health issues that can eventually become serious, putting the whole relationship in danger. There is no fool proof method when selecting a family pet, but one of the golden rules to is to be very careful where you get the animal from. This will help minimize the risk of future problems and heartbreaks and it will also serve to promote higher standards of care, which will then have an impact on overall animal welfare.

There is currently much attention in the media on whether to adopt an animal from a refuge or go through a breeder. Pet stores are also being pressured to stop selling animals, while at the same time there is a large increase in the number of animals being sold or put up for adoption over the internet. There is much debate about the ethics of some of these practices but still very few laws regulating any of them. No individual or facility, regardless of its title or mission, should be supported or encouraged to stay in operation if it is keeping animals in sub-standard conditions. At the moment, it is up to the consumer to beware and choose carefully.

Regardless of the source, the same basic rules apply. Stay away from any place that looks overcrowded or dirty. Though the price can be very attractive, it is highly advisable not to buy a pet over the internet unless you may go and visit first, in order to avoid inadvertently getting an animal from a disreputable seller. Ask about the basic care that was provided for the animals and take the time to meet and interact with the animal and the seller.

Do not be swayed by pressure tactics or be made to feel guilty for not taking a particular animal home. Remember, you cannot save them all, and you shouldn’t be there to save any of them in the first place. If you feel someone is not providing adequate care for the animals, then you should report it immediately rather than end up  bringing home a sick animal. There are now new, stricter laws regulating animal care and abuse and you will have more impact on animal welfare by reporting a poorly run operation than by saving a single animal from a bad situation.

If you cannot see where the animal is housed and how it is cared for before you adopt or buy it, then don’t do it.The housing environment provides numerous clues to the potential health status and care that the pet receives. All this can be evaluated in a few short minutes without having to ask any questions. Check if the area is clean, free of foul odors, and look at the animal to assess if it looks bright and lively. The fur of an animal can be a good clue to poor health status if it is dull or looks unkempt. Does the animal appear to have enough space to move around or not? If it is caged, is the cage big enough and of good quality and is it well maintained? Wood and carpeting, for example, are materials that cannot be properly disinfected. If the place fails to meet even a single one of these criteria, go elsewhere.

If possible, it can be a good idea to get references, or at least choose an establishment that is transparent and straightforward in their dealings with you. It is extremely important to ask what kind of medical attention and prevention the animal has received. As a general rule of thumb, the more animals in a facility, the higher the potential for disease transmission and epidemics. It would be best to stay away from people that say they don’t believe in prevention, and be especially wary of the vaccination status of the animal if you are not provided with a certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian. If you are given medication at the time that you pick up the animal, make sure it is clearly identified with the name and the dosage of the product, and find out  why it is being administered. This can all be very useful information when you later have the animal examined. Proceeding this way, you will quickly find out that in some cases it may be better to simply walk away.

It is ill-advised to adopt or buy a sick animal, it would be like buying a broken car on purpose. If you do so, you will be encouraging an organization that maintains low standards of care and you will be committing to extra expenses in the future. This is true regardless of whether you are provided with some support and medication. In some cases, the animal could even be contagious and you would then be putting other animals at risk, and perhaps humans as well, you included.

Adopting special needs pets is gaining in popularity, but you should be well informed before embarking in such a venture. You absolutely need to be aware of the long-term prognosis and the special care such a pet will require. If you feel you really must, then do so because you want to, because you have bonded with the animal, and not because you simply feel sorry for it or feel guilty. Very sadly, with the pet overpopulation problem, there are too many healthy ones in need of homes. Pet care and maintenance is an expensive commitment and adding a chronic illness to the equation increases the long-term costs and stress to the adoptive family.

In short, do your homework. For those who are interested, you can consult the Association of Shelter Veterinarians’ guidelines. They describe the ideal standards of care for animals in shelters, standards that can be applied to any animal facility. It covers more than you need to know, but it will highlight the notion that maintaining the health and well-being of the individuals in an animal facility is a complex undertaking in which cutting corners is not acceptable. We need to demand higher standards of care for all facilities.

Take the “Adopt! Don’t buy!” motto one step further and don’t support any substandard facility. This will help reduce some of the behavior and health complications encountered when bringing home a new family pet and you will be helping by encouraging higher standards of care for our beloved furry friends.



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  1. Thank you Dr. Christina Nosotti ,
    you have good experience and i read the post and very happy with your advice and tips.
    keep blogging. 🙂

  2. In my (limited) experience, most dogs from a rescue come with kennel cough. If they aren’t symptomatic when you get them they develop symptoms once you get them home. Preventing kennel cough is a challenge and even when a given rescue is quite good at preventing transmission — the Montreal SPCA is very conscientious — there are still cases.

    Kennel cough is a good reason to vaccinate and to observe hygeine practices, but it’s simply so common that I can’t see it as a good reason to refuse to adopt a dog.

    • Hi Alison, Kennel cough is not a serious illness unless the dog is senior, a young, young puppy or has health problems. It usually lasts 3 weeks but can be shorter. My dogs have had it twice before when I fostered. Besides sneezing and green boogies, they were none worse for the ware! Did you know that you could vaccinate your dog for kennel cough and he can catch another strain of the virus! The vaccine is not a guarantee that your dog won’t catch it.

      • Thanks, Joanne.

        Dr. Christina Nosotti didn’t say not to adopt an animal with a “serious illness,” she said not to adopt one who was “sick.” If an animal is coughing it is sick, so by this standard we should not adopt it.

        This is a very difficult standard to adhere to.

    • Christina Nosotti

      I like your comment because it highlights the tolerance we have for disease transmission at the shelter level. I, personally, find it a shame for it to be considered the norm. That being said, I wasn’t speaking specifically of kennel cough nor was I referring to any specific institutions in my article. Vaccines are an integral part of disease prevention, but we cannot ignore the fact that overcrowded, poorly ventilated facilities also promote disease transmission. It’s true that they are not all symptomatic when they leave the shelter, but some nonetheless are. They are then a source of contamination for other animals, and potentially people, depending on the pathogens in question.

  3. Thanks for writing this Christina! I am still astonished by how people choose their pets without research or questions… with pets becoming such an explosive aspect of the economy it is more important now, than it has ever been, to be more scrupulous about where we adopt or rescue our pets. Your blog is excellent! Keep up the great work!!

  4. I did not even know you were writing a blog, great information.We were interviewed by the breeder before they would sell us a puppy and then a questionnaire to go with our lifestyle (such as how much exercise our dog would get). The breeder before this o ne was definitely not as conscientious. I no longer feel guilty for not getting a dog at the SPCA or a rescue dog after the experience with our first dog 39 years ago.

  5. Four years ago I rescued an 8 month old Golden Retriever who has severe epilepsy and food allergies, now a thyroid problem as well. Would I do anything differently? Not a chance. He is the most loving, docile creature I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and I couldn’t imagine my life without him.
    Don’t discard an animal because it might be ill. I just cannot agree with that advice.

    • Christina Nosotti

      Kathy, as I already mentioned, with very few exceptions, we quickly bond with any animal we bring home. I am happy for you that you have adopted a great dog despite his medical issues. It’s not clear from your response, but I’m assuming that his health problems were all diagnosed “long” after you adopted him. That is not unique to shelters and it is not at all what I am referring to in my article.

      Unfortunately, there is a trend to put animals up for adoption despite serious medical problems (including contagious, sometimes incurable, diseases), which is questionable, especially when the adoptive family is not fully aware of all that will be involved in caring for such a pet as well as the additional financial burden.

      I made no mention of anyone discarding pets. I highly recommend not encouraging any facility that does not maintain higher standards of care. Why would you choose a sick pet over a healthy one? For those that prefer to take one with health problems, it should be a personal choice and not imposed. What about the adopt, don’t buy motto: What happens to any animal that is not bought or adopted?

  6. Some great advice here. We adopted our two dogs and it was the best decision we ever made! Big part of our family.

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