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The ST Guide To... adopting a pet

Volunteer first to get hands-on experience

Helping out at an animal welfare group will give you an idea of the commitment needed

A dog is a man's best friend... or so the saying goes.

But people have also forged strong ties with other animals, such as cats, rabbits and hamsters.

Rescued animals, in particular, develop exceptionally close relationships with their owners - going by the accounts of those who choose to adopt.

Vet nurse Chng Yiting, 26, who adopted a cat and a dog, said: "I find that my animals, after experiencing hardship... are more appreciative, in a way. They seem to know how tough life alone outside is."

Voices For Animals (VFA) president Derrick Tan, who rehomes breeding dogs that are usually kept in unhygienic and inhumane conditions in puppy farms, agreed.

He said: "With a good transition, these dogs open up. Instead of being fearful of humans, they start to crave the human touch."

Adopting a pet is a big commitment. Here are some things to consider.

WHAT ANIMAL TO ADOPT?

Deciding on this depends on a few factors, such as which animal the adopter has an affinity for, the adopter's lifestyle, and the amount of time available to care for a pet, said Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of animal welfare group SOSD.

He said: "In general, small animals such as fish and hamsters require less time, and are easier (to look after) than dogs and cats... Dogs, in particular, require patience and companionship."

Those with no pet-ownership experience can consider volunteering with the animal welfare group first to get an idea of what it entails, said Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

"(Interested adopters) can volunteer with us first so that our staff can demonstrate to them the ropes of responsible pet ownership.

"In addition, they also get a realistic hands-on experience on the extent of care that is required," he said.

You should also consider the pet's lifespan. After all, owning a pet is a lifelong commitment. Cats and dogs can live up to 20 years, while rabbits can live up to 10.

COMMITMENT INVOLVED

If owning a pet is a rewarding experience, then successfully rehabilitating a pet with "baggage" is even more so. But the training process will not be a bed of roses. Patience is key as rehabilitation takes time.

Statistics executive Looi Siew Yuen, 26, who adopted a stray puppy, advises potential owners to learn more about the pet's history first.

"This will help the new owner decide on what kind of 'approach' to take when handling the pet. For instance, dogs that have gone through traumatic conditions or experienced violence would need to be handled with more care," added Ms Looi, who is an animal welfare volunteer.

Getting a pet is also a team effort, said VFA's Mr Tan. Potential adopters must ensure that members of their household are also aware of the responsibilities. "A potential adopter sometimes requires the help of a family member or domestic helper to walk the pet or feed it," he said.

Other responsibilities include grooming, exercise and feeding, as well as healthcare and visits to the vet - which may not be cheap.

Vet fees can vary, but they usually start from about $1,000 for blood tests and check-ups, vaccinations and tick protection for a year, said Mr Tan. This could increase as the dog gets older.

Grooming fees also depend on the dog's breed. From personal experience, a full grooming session for my toy poodle usually sets me back about $50 every six weeks, but owners of other types of dogs, such as mongrels, do not need to spend as much as these dogs have shorter fur.

Cat owners must clean their pets' litter boxes daily and keep their cats indoors, said Ms Veron Lau, a representative from the Cat Welfare Society. "Many owners also create high places and hidey-holes to cater to their cats' needs to perch, explore or seek privacy," she said.

WHERE TO ADOPT

Adopting a pet from an animal welfare group provides the owner with a support network.

At the Cat Welfare Society, for example, interested adopters go through a screening process with the society's fosterers - people who care for the cats temporarily until they find a permanent home.

"(The screening process) usually includes a questionnaire and a home visit. It is not uncommon for adopters and fosterers to develop a friendship that is also a support network for cat owners and caregivers," said Ms Lau.

Animals put up for adoption are usually not as pretty, fluffy and cute compared with animals sold in pet shops. They are also often older. However, potential adopters should be willing to look beyond appearance.

Whether considering an adopted pet or one from a store, the commitment levels are usually the same, said Ms Looi, pointing out that all pets need their owners' time, patience and love.

"But since the commitment level does not differ much, people should consider adopting instead of buying. It makes a difference to the pet."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'Volunteer first to get hands-on experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe