Whether it’s a lovable golden retriever in a star-spangled bandana or a mischievous Maine coon that steals your dryer sheets, pets are a staple in many American families. Like every family, every pet is different. So when choosing one to add to your family, pet experts recommend families do their homework before being won over by the soul-touching eyes of the local shelter’s cats and dogs.
“It’s got to be a match on both ends. If the pet’s not happy, you’re not happy,” Stacy Coventry of the Bangor Humane Society said. “We hope that people will come in letting go of those boundaries or preconceived notions they might have about certain breeds. Some families come in wanting a specific breed, and when we talk with them about their lifestyle and what the breed characteristics are, it turns out to not be a good fit for them.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are nearly 70 million dogs and 74 million cats residing in households across the country. But to ensure that a pet’s needs match a family’s abilities, animal shelters like the Bangor Humane Society conduct pre-adoption interviews with families.
“What we talk to people about is first you definitely need to understand and know what your lifestyle is like. So if you’re a busy home or you’re not home a lot, if you like to travel, then getting a dog probably isn’t the right fit for you, unless you plan on taking that dog with you or you have somebody at home all the time that can take care of a dog,” Coventry said.
For example, Coventry explains that a high-energy dog needs lots of exercise and play, so the ideal family has time to devote to such activities. If not, the dog could be destructive — and a poor fit for the household. The same time commitment applies to properly house-training a pet. If a family cannot create a regimented system for housebreaking, the pet most likely will have accidents in the house.
A time commitment
According to veterinarian David Cloutier, owner of the Veazie Veterinary Clinic, a dog needs a minimum of 30 minutes of care per day. This includes feeding the dog, taking the dog outside to relieve itself, and getting it some exercise.
“If you don’t have 15 minutes twice a day to spend with that dog, you shouldn’t get a dog,” Cloutier said. “It would be nice if it was an hour, but [30 minutes] is the bare minimum.”
For those with busier schedules, a cat might be a better option. Cloutier estimates a healthy indoor cat only needs about five minutes of care per day.
Finding the right fit
It’s also important for a family to find an animal with the appropriate temperament for their home.
“With a family, you want to know how that pet is going to do with kids,” Cloutier said. “When [families] go to the shelter and interact with either a cat or a dog, we want to find that animal that is relatively relaxed and comfortable with human interaction.”
How the potential pet socializes with people is important too. If a dog or cat is holding back or is scared when interacting with humans, the pet will be problematic to bring into a household that has children. According to Cloutier, if a dog with this demeanor is put into a situation where it feels threatened, it’s more likely to bite. Something as seemingly harmless as a child touching the dog’s face could trigger its self-preservation instincts.
While every dog is individually different in its personality, there are certain breeds with consistent traits better suited to the chaotic nature of a busy family. In order to keep up with young kids without posing a threat, Cloutier recommends looking at durable breeds, like retrievers or beagles, which are more comfortable in unfamiliar situations.
“Something like a Labrador retriever can go outside and play soccer with the boys and gets hit by the soccer ball and the kids fall on them, [the dog] is probably going to be fine. There are other breeds that would not be as good as that,” Cloutier said. “The one thing that’s hard is to say ‘Don’t get this breed’ or any singular breed that’s not ideal, and I think it has to meet an individual’s family’s needs.”
Kids and pets
Kate Kutra of Green Acres Kennel Shop suggests that families wait until the children are around 5 or 6 years old to bring a pet into the household to ensure the child is aware of the boundaries a pet needs.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is to wait. … I think kids and pets can be absolutely wonderful, and they can get some really great lifelong bonds. But by the same token, it’s the parent’s dog or it’s the parent’s cat. They are the people who are ultimately responsible for the pet,” Kutra said.
Parental supervision is something Kutra, as a trainer, stresses for families with pets. Certain behaviors, even if the animal seems tolerant, should not be exhibited by young children around animals.
Cloutier explains that a good rule of thumb for parents to go by when bringing a pet into the home is that a child does not make any contact in front of the collar. If the child stays away from the mouth of the animal, the risk of the animal biting is lowered.
Jen Dodge, a resident of Jackson, had a dog for nine years before it bit her young son. The family had to get rid of their dog but later wanted another pet. Dodge did her homework and realized a cat would be a better fit for her family of five.
“I didn’t want another dog,” Dodge said. “We were looking for a cat, not so much a kitten — one that is playful and good with our family.”
After looking online and researching which type of cat would be the best fit in their home, Dodge and her husband decided to adopt a cat from the Bangor Humane Society. It has been 14 years since Dodge last had a cat as a pet, but she says Levi, the 1 ½-year-old tiger cat she adopted in early November, is the perfect fit for her family.
“We kind of kept going back to him,” Dodge said of her first interaction with Levi. “We walked into the cat room and talked to every cat, and I came back to him every time and my husband did the same thing. He is the one that when you walked in, he stuck out his paws to reach you. He’s perfect.”
While pets can be fun, they do come with a price tag. Adopting a pet through a local shelter is a more economical route to adopting a pet. The pet’s first veterinary visits — including vaccines and tests — are administered by the shelter, and most shelters also spay or neuter animals before putting them up for adoption.
According to Cloutier, a healthy indoor cat will average about $150 per year in veterinary care. A dog will range from $300 to $400 in annual veterinary care. However, as pets get older, they may develop health problems that will increase care costs. For some families, depending on the health of their animal, investing in pet insurance can also help manage costly veterinary bills.