Adding a Furry Family Member



PHOTOS BY MARK DOESCHER

Adopting a pet is a big choice for most families. Whether you are adding to your menagerie or just getting started, there are a lot of things to consider. We sat down with some local experts to help metro families sort out the pet adoption process.  If your family is anything like the ones we see on TV, the kids are likely lobbying for a cute and cuddly companion while the parents try to avoid the added mouth to feed, train and keep alive. But you may not know all the positive benefits a pet can bring to the family. 

“Pets are all about unconditional love and there are a great deal of benefits from that companionship,” explained Dr. Lisa Marotta, a clinical psychologist from Edmond. “Most consider a pet a family member, a living being that will listen, love and not steal their stuff.” 

But there are also more than just those benefits to having a pet, Marotta added. 

“Pets can help develop social skills, including nonverbal communication,” she said. “A pet’s whole way of communication is nonverbal and kids learn how to understand and respond to their nonverbal cues. For example, if a child is too loud, the animal will likely move away. Also, when pets are taken care of they respond in a positive way. Kids can learn empathy by thinking about another living being and their needs and it’s a way for a child to contribute to the family or community in a tangible and important way.” 

Julie Bank, superintendent of Oklahoma City Animal Welfare, agreed that having a family pet offers many benefits. 

“Animals have an integral role in the family,” Bank explained. “A pet can bring families together with a common focus and goal and give a child someone to connect to, get them out of the house, can build confidence and add lots of new love.” 

However, as someone who sees what happens when pet ownership doesn’t work out as expected, Bank also noted having a pet alone does not teach responsibility. 

“You can’t really expect a child to be fully responsible for a living thing,” Bank cautioned. “Parents will have to help.” 

And that is often where parents might have some trepidation.  Adopting a family pet is a serious commitment. Some research, conversation and practice can help your family decide if and when it’s the right time. 

While puppies are likely the first thing to pop into a child’s mind, that may not be the best option for a family. There are so many animals, breeds and different ages in a pet to consider and that is where research and conversation come in. 

“Everyone should be a part of the conversation, but ultimately, it is an adult decision,” Bank advised. 

An open and informed conversation before adopting a pet will increase the chance that whatever choice is made will be the right one. Important things to consider are: your living situation, your family’s lifestyle, your available financial commitment and your family’s level of experience with animals. 

“First, identify your household traits,” suggested Abby Wolfe, director of marketing and communications with Central Oklahoma Humane Society. “Are you an active household that is always buzzing? Or, are you a quiet household that needs a Netflix buddy? Do you have extra space? Or, do you need a pet who doesn’t bark because you live in an apartment?” 

Bank said she’s seen some families choose a pet purely based on looks, which doesn’t lend the best result. 

“Maybe you aren’t ready for a dog but maybe something like a guinea pig would fit your family better,” she said. “Research your choice so you know what is right for your family.” 

Marotta added that even a fish can sometimes be the perfect companion for a child.

There are a variety of ways to find out what pet is right for your family. In fact, Oklahoma City Animal Welfare, in partnership with A New Leash on Life, offers a monthly Your New Dog Workshop, which is aimed at new or potential pet owners. Your family can learn about how dogs think, learn and communicate and how to handle common challenges like house training, jumping, barking and chewing as well as appropriate games for kids and dogs to play together. New Leash on Life also has a behavior hotline that can help with issues that may arise once you bring a pet into your home. 

Bank also said shelter and rescue group staff can be a valuable resource for potential pet owners. The Oklahoma Animal Welfare website has several links available to help educate new and potential pet owners.  

If you have any doubts about your family’s level of commitment and abilities, you might consider a practice period before actually making the commitment. 

“Have your kids build confidence before getting pet by giving them a similar responsibility for say two weeks show they are ready,” Marotta said. “They can help with dinner prep and clean up or help a neighbor or family member care for their pet. Help prepare them for the icky and cleanliness involved, following directions and the follow through. If it doesn’t work, try it again at a later time. Remember it is a learning experience.” 

Setting reasonable expectations is also important. 

“Preschoolers can help in providing water and safe touch and play,” Marotta said. “School-age kids can help with things like feeding, cleaning, training and scooping poop, adding responsibility as they get older and are more successful over time.” 

Once you have decided whether or not your family is ready to adopt a pet and what type is right for you, the next step is to decide where you will find your pet. The Oklahoma City Animal Shelter has the largest amount of animals locally and the most variety, sometimes including uncommon options like rabbits, horses or guinea pigs. There are also many rescue groups around the metro including the Central Oklahoma Humane Society and The Bella Foundation. 

“There are also groups that focus on specific breeds if that is something you are looking for but you’ll need to be patient sometimes,” said Bank. “Perfectly amazing animals come into shelters all the time usually because of a breakdown in the family. The ones we determine to put up for adoption are great pets. 

Because many rescue organizations and shelters are foster-based, Wolfe said, they can provide details about a pet’s personality.

Bank cautions against getting a pet from an ad in the paper but said rescue groups can help point families toward responsible breeders. 

“Currently, Oklahoma ranks among the worst states for puppy mills,” Wolfe said. “In addition, two puppy mills in Oklahoma rank on the Horrible Hundred list published to raise awareness of puppy mills who put profit over the animals they sell. Highly-desirable breeds as well as mixed-breed pets find their way into shelters every day. By looking (at a shelter) before going to a breeder, pet owners can help save the lives of pets in Oklahoma and help control the large amount of breeders in the state of Oklahoma.” 

If your family isn’t quite ready for pet, there are still plenty of ways your kids can experience the benefits of interacting with animals and a great way to do that is to volunteer at a local shelter or rescue group. Volunteering is also another great way source of research. Your family can try it out and make a difference in an animal’s life at the same time. 

There are a variety of ways to help animals in need. Oklahoma City Animal Welfare has a lengthy list of volunteer positions including a Kids for OKC Animals program. 

“Whether taking dogs to vet appointments, helping keep our facilities clean, walking dogs or even socializing kittens, it takes a community to save thousands of lives every year,” Wolfe said. “Without volunteers, local shelters and organizations could not do their great work for animals in central Oklahoma.” 

The Kids for OKC Animals program allows even the youngest kids to have an impact. Kids can host a donation drive, plan an event to benefit the shelter, make pet toys or create art to let others know why they should be kind to animals. 

All the details about volunteering and our Kids for OKC Animals program can be found online at www.okc.gov/animalwelfare.

Fostering a homeless pet is another way to help and determine whether your family is ready for a permanent pet. 

“The impact a foster family can have in the life of a pet is great,” Wolfe said. “A two-to three-week commitment with an animal allows organizations to save their life from potential euthanasia in local shelters but also makes room for the life waiting to fill their spot behind them. It is a small, simple act of kindness with a huge impact.” 

Foster opportunities are available at a number of shelters and rescue groups, including Oklahoma City Animal Welfare and Central Oklahoma Humane Society. 

Shelters and Rescue Groups to adopt a pet: 

The Bella Foundation

1-866-318-PETS

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Best Friends of Pets

418-8511

 

Central Oklahoma Humane Society

286-1229

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Edmond Animal Services

216-7615 

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Free to Live Animal Sanctuary

282-8617

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Forever Yours Dog Rescue

Specializes in dogs

 

Midwest City Animal Welfare

427-6640

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Moore Animal Shelter and Adoption Center

793-5190

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Mustang Animal Shelter

376-2488

Advance appointment required

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Norman Animal Welfare Center

292-9736

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Oklahoma City Animal Welfare

297-3100

Variety of animals available for adoption

 

Pets and People Human Society

350-7387

Specializes in dogs and cats

    

Safe Haven Animal Rescue

463-1556

Dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs and other pocket pets

 

Second Chance Animal Sanctuary

321-1915

Specializes in dogs and cats

 

Places to volunteer to help animals: 

The Bella Foundation 

1-866-318-PETS

Help with animal adoption events, low cost vaccine clinics, fundraising, transporting animals and fostering. 

 

Central Oklahoma Humane Society 

286-1229

Take dogs to the vet, help clean the facilities, walk dogs, socialize kittens and fostering. 

 

Free to Live Animal Sanctuary 

282-8617

Help with adoption events, to socialize and care for the animals, clean the facilities, laundry, maintenance and more. 

 

Forever Yours Dog Rescue

Help with adoption outreach, fundraisers, animal transportation, website and paperwork. 

 

Midwest City Animal Welfare 

427-6640

Help with adoption events, kitten socialization, photography, office tasks, cleaning of kennels, transportation, training, fundraising and fostering. 

 

Moore Animal Shelter and Adoption Center 

793-5190

Help with animal care and grooming, walking dogs, adoption events and training. 

 

Oklahoma City Animal Welfare

297-3100

Help with adoption, animal care, clerical, special events, education, maintenance and cleaning, fostering, photography and the vet clinic. Kids for OKC Animals program available for all ages. Must be 13 & up to handle animals; 18 & under require an accompanying adult over the age of 21. 

 

Pets and People Human Society 

350-7387

Help with socialization, walks, cleaning and more. Volunteers age 13 to 17 must fill out a required parental consent form.

 

Second Chance Animal Sanctuary

321-1915

Help with adoption clinics, walking dogs, socializing cats, cleaning, laundry, office work and customer service and fostering. Volunteers under the age of 18 are welcome with parent or guardian on-site.

 

Safe Haven Animal Rescue

463-1556

Help maintain adoption facilities at PETCO & PetSmart, assist with events and foster care. 

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