It’s inevitable. At one point or another, a child will ask for a pet. Whether a dog, cat, bunny, bird or other cool creature, kids delight in having pets. While there’s nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when they see an animal, there are many things parents should know before adopting a new pet and bringing a furred, feathered, finned or scaly critter into the family.
Too often, animal shelters and rescue organizations hear stories about people getting pets without realizing the commitment involved. Pet shops often sell cute animals to attract buyers. Adorable videos of pets get shared through social media. And there are so many other factors that lead people to get an animal on impulse. The result? More animals being neglected, abandoned or brought to already overburdened animal care facilities and rescues.
That said, a pet can bring so much joy to families—just make sure you’re ready for the commitment. In fact, it’s important to make sure all the humans in your family are ready for the commitment, says Ruth Allen, director of admissions and matchmaking at the ASPCA Adoption Center in Manhattan.
“The entire family should be on board and willing to welcome the pet into the home,” says Allen. “When preparing to adopt, it is a good idea to draw up a schedule of who in the family will help with the care of your new pet. This includes playing, feeding, grooming, taking the dog for walks or litter changing if you are adopting a cat.”
Research, Research, Research
It all starts with research. Spend time learning about the particular breed your family wants. You can find many resources online, but it’s also great to talk to staff at animal shelters and rescues. These are people with lots of pet experience, says Allen.
“Ask questions and lean on the staff at the shelter for guidance. They’re experts at making matches and can typically provide information to help you decide whether or not the animal you’re interested in is a fit for the specific needs of your family,” she says.
New Yorkers are fortunate to have many shelters and rescues around the city that have animal experts who can help. You have the advantage of learning valuable information about the animal’s background. This includes medical or behavioral needs, who their ideal adopter might be, and how they would get along with children, Allen explains.
“Some shelters even have animal behavior counselors you can speak with to determine which pet would be a good fit for your household,” Allen says.
Another research idea is a bit more hands-on. If you’re not quite ready to make full commitment to a pet, consider fostering. Many shelters and rescues in New York City, such as Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC), have a foster program where you can take in a pet for a set amount of time. The ACC even provides foster parents with basic necessities including food, toys, cat litter, harnesses and more.
The ASPCA’s Kitten Foster Program in New York City helps the roughly 3.2 million cats that enter shelters nationwide each year. Since 2014, the program has engaged foster caregivers to provide care for more than 9,000 kittens and nursing mothers.
Be Open Minded When Adopting a Pet
Your child’s personality and your family’s lifestyle, along with how much time everyone spends away from home, should also be considered when deciding on which pet is right for your household. Even how much space you have at home is important to consider. Rabbits, for example, can not thrive in a cage all day and need lots of room to explore, hop and play.
“Keep in mind that every animal, even those within a specific breed or species, has an individual personality and disposition, so you may find the right chemistry with a pet you’d never considered,” says Allen. “If you end up adopting a species of animal that is different from the kind of pet you initially considered, the staff at the shelter can share information on the appropriate care and time commitment needed for the specific pet.”
Easter: A Challenging Time for Rabbits
Easter is a beautiful time of year, but unfortunately, it can result in tragedy for rabbits as soon as it’s over. The organization, Abandoned Rabbits, reported that about 80% of rabbits purchased at Easter die or are abandoned before their first birthday.
Missy Reinheimer, who has raised rabbits for more than 20 years and educates about rabbits, would like to see that number at zero.
“My raising of house rabbits for about 22 years now has given me a genuine passion for them,” says Reinheimer. “My goal is to help people understand that rabbits are not gifts or throw-away pets.”
Reinheimer shared some tips for parents to consider when considering a bunny for their kids this Easter. Although Reinheimer is based in Henderson, NV, her tips and points for rabbits as pets are universal and have been underscored by many local veterinarians, as well as thousands of followers in popular pet-rabbit groups such as Disapproving Bunnies, Hoppy Bunny Adventure Club and many others.
Tips For Potential Rabbit Owners:
- Expect at 10-Year Commitment: Rabbits can live in excess of 10 years if properly housed and cared for. The past decade or so has demonstrated an increase in the longevity of rabbits, as their rising popularity as household pets has brought forth greater knowledge about their health among professional veterinarians.
- Find a Rabbit-Savvy Veterinarian Before Getting a Bun: Many people get a bunny first and then scramble to find a vet when something goes wrong. Since a rabbit’s health can decline extremely quickly, it is often too late to save the bunny, and the family has to go through the terrible grief of losing a beloved pet. Making sure that you have a veterinarian who is highly-versed in rabbit medicine will ensure that your new companion is in the best of hands if something goes wrong.
- “Bunny-Proof” Your Home: Did you know that a rabbit’s teeth never stop growing? This gives them a natural instinct to chew and gnaw. Rabbits will chew anything: carpets, walls, baseboards, furniture, and electrical cords are all prime targets for rabbits. Hiding your cords will protect your electronics and your bunny from potential harm. Ask a rabbit owner for tips on how to bunny-proof your home- there are a lot of ingenious and creative solutions out there.
- Timothy Hay is King: Alfalfa hay can only be fed to rabbits up to six months of age. Rabbits are actually considered to be sexually mature at six months, and at that point, a rabbit’s system requires greater fiber and nutrients. Timothy hay is the perfect hay to satisfy these requirements.
- Have a Dedicated Room or Free-Run Area: If you can’t have a rabbit take over your entire home, make sure that they have a space, even a blocked off, protected corner of a room that is just for them.
Making the Commitment
If your family is now ready to welcome a new pet to the family, look no further than local animal shelters or rescues. There are many animal rescues in NYC and nearby that shelter lots of pets looking for their fur-ever home. Not only would you be giving a permanent home to an animal in need, but pets have been known to be good for our health—psychologically, emotionally and physically.
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