Who Rescued Who?

By Dr. Laura Hady

I am so grateful for the rescue animals that have entered my family’s life over the years. Perhaps you are ready to adopt a pet this fall for yourself or for a younger family member. New Mexico is lucky to have at least 50 reputable rescue groups working tirelessly in the state to save pets and find them forever homes. I often tell clients that while we cannot change what happened to the animals before they come to us, we can change how and where they spend the rest of their lives. Should you decide to adopt, here are some tips that will make the pet’s transition into your home healthier and happier for everyone.

  • Tell the rescue group about your home environment, including yard space, indoor accessibility, activities you may want to do with a new pet, and list other animals and people in your home. This enables the organization to find an optimal match based upon the animals they have and your unique situation.
  • Many veterinarians offer free adoption exams, which enable you to review a new pet’s medical history, treatments including vaccines, any behavior or health issues that have come up since the adoption, and establish a solid veterinary client-patient relationship.
  • Speak in a calm, happy voice, and move slowly when first touching rescue animals. Avoid reaching over their head to pet them or coming from behind, as these motions can be interpreted as aggressive. In fact, it’s best to let new animals smell your hand, possibly extended with a treat. Then pet the animal near the shoulder, approaching from the side instead of the front. Be sure also to supervise any activity between a child and a new pet.
  • If you have other pets in the home, monitor your new pet for “resource guarding,” especially when they are eating, playing with a toy, or even playing with you. Other pets in your home may also show this guarding behavior when the rescue arrives. Consider feeding your pets separately, the oldest or alpha dog first and following down the line. Toys have a special place, so you might play with each dog separately at first until you can better gauge their interactions together and with you. Veterinarians can also check dogs for painful teeth or arthritis in the joints that may be interfering with normal eating or play.
  • Dogs and cats may not bark, meow, or make happy noises when they first arrive in your home. It took my two cruelty case rescues, Figgy and Cubby, about six months before they would bark at a noise. It is advisable to also minimize loud noises like vacuum cleaners, staple guns, cars, and even microwaves in case they suffer from any post-traumatic stress.
  • A morning routine including exercise may help decrease separation anxiety, which can manifest as barking, destructive behavior like chewing furniture, and inappropriate elimination. Take dogs out to eliminate first thing in the morning, before feeding. Then go for a walk based upon their physical and emotional comfort level. I usually take rescues by themselves or with another well-behaved dog until I can walk them as part of a pack. Consider giving all pets a treat when the walk is finished. If you have to leave for work or errands, tell everyone in a calm manner that you will return. I suggest a gradual increase in the time away to help build confidence; do not make a “big” entrance when you return. Some pets may do well if left with a hide-n-seek for treats or a favorite toy in their crate. Your veterinarian can advise you on other behavior modifications and possible medications if warranted for separation anxiety.

Keep in mind that it will take time for both you and the new adoptee to become accustomed to the change and to one another’s habits and personalities. So, go slowly with training to build their confidence – and yours.


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