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Dr. Pawz: Questions to ask before adopting a pet

Wednesday - 1/30/2013, 7:58am  ET

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Dr. Katy Nelson adopted Eddie this weekend from the Mutts Rescue Center. (WTOP/Katy Nelson)

Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Anyone who has ever lost a pet has experienced the "I may not ever adopt again" phenomenon.

I certainly felt this way last May when my little old dog Stanley passed away suddenly. I was devastated by his loss and unsure if I could handle adopting another dog again, especially any time soon.

However, with the type of job I have, and with as many adoptable pets as I come into contact with every week, I knew that eventually I would probably cave in, but it would have to be just the right fit. Well, that right fit came along this past weekend in the form of Eddie from Mutts Matter Rescue and PetFinder.

Eddie has an extraordinary rescue story, as do so many other pets out there. He was found with multiple other dogs in wire cages living in the basement of a crack house. Poor little Eddie was so matted with feces and urine that the shelter had to completely shave him down, resulting in full body razor burn and skin infections. After a little medicine and lots of TLC, he and many of his fellow housemates were taken in by rescues and have since found happy homes.

Eddie now has a loving home, but I had so many questions for the foster family and the rescuers before I decided to adopt him. I've done this before, and my kids and my other dog have been through this, so I knew what to ask and what to expect.

However, for my readers and viewers out there who are thinking of adopting for the first time, or for the first time in a long time, there are some things you should find out before you bring a pet into your household.

Any information that you can gather on the pet you're considering adopting is extremely helpful. Save any written information that comes with the pet, especially any health records, notes from former owners or from the shelter/rescue. Create a file to save all of this information, or scan it into your computer. You just never know when this information may come in handy.

Here's my list of questions that you should ask prior to adopting a new pet:

  • What is this pet's story? How did it end up in a shelter/rescue?
  • How long has it been at the shelter/rescue?
  • Has the pet been adopted before, and why was he returned?
  • How old is this pet? Is the pet spayed or neutered, and if so, at what age was it done?
  • What, if any, illnesses or injuries has the pet had?
  • Is there any history of abuse?
  • What vaccines have been given? What are the dates of vaccinations, fecal checks, heartworm tests, heartworm prevention, flea/tick prevention and other medications?
  • What other pets has this animal been exposed to, and how did they react?
  • Has this pet been around small children, and how did they react?
  • How does this pet react to men, women and strangers?
  • What type of food has the pet been eating, how much and on what schedule? Is the pet an enthusiastic eater or is it picky? Is the pet tolerating the food well? In other words, is its skin healthy and are its stools normal?
  • Are there any behavioral issues that have been noted?
  • Has this pet had any sort of training, and what training methods were used? Are there any command words familiar to the pet?
  • Has the pet been groomed before, and how did it react?
  • What type of collar or harness is the pet accustomed to wearing?
  • Has the pet been living indoors? Is the pet housetrained?
  • In dogs, what type of potty break schedule have they been on, or is the dog trained to go to the bathroom on papers or a litter box?
  • Where does the pet sleep at night? In a bed, in a crate, in the foster's bed, etc? Does it sleep through the night?
  • In dogs, are they accustomed to staying in a crate when left alone? How do they react to confinement? Have they ever left a fenced yard by jumping a fence, digging under it or other means of escape?
  • Does the pet cope well with new places? Does it travel well in a car? When travelling in a car, is it better in a crate or in a seatbelt?
  • Does the pet have any favorite toys or games?
  • Is it a possibility to introduce your current pets and family members to the new one prior to introducing it into the household?
  • What do you do if the situation doesn't work out? Do you return the pet to the rescue/shelter/breeder?
Of course there are always more questions, but this should give you a good starting point when beginning the adoption process.

Want to know what to do when you finally get them home? Check back next week for a continuation of this topic!

Tune in to "The Pet Show" with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.'s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at askdrkaty@wtop.com.

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)