The ST Guide To... adopting a pet

Rescued animals often develop exceptionally close relationships with their owners.
Rescued animals often develop exceptionally close relationships with their owners.PHOTO: TNP FILE

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

But people have forged strong ties with other animals as well, whether cats, rabbits or hamsters.

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

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

While other owners may struggle with pets which are fussy eaters, Ms Chng says her dog gladly eats the same thing every day.

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."

I witnessed such a transformation during my time as a volunteer at an animal shelter.

A dog, fresh off the streets, was initially terrified of humans. It refused to go on walks, and would spend its days cowering in a corner, its tail between its legs.

It was not till six months later, after volunteers showered it with plenty of tender loving care, that it could be taken on walks. Today, it is much more confident, no longer afraid of loud noises and human beings.

Miracle, as the dog was called, lives up to its name. But it did not come easy, and potential pet owners need to realise that.

Adopting a pet is a big commitment. Here are some tips to consider before getting a pet.

What animal to adopt?

Adopting a pet is a life-long commitment, and potential owners will need to weigh a number of factors such as the time available to care for a pet before deciding. PHOTO: ST FILE

Deciding what pet to adopt 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 for caring 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 will require less time, and are easier than dogs and cats.

"For dogs and cats, you will require more time and effort - dogs, in particular, require patience and companionship."

Those with no prior pet ownership experience can also consider volunteering with the animal welfare group first to get an idea of what it entails, suggests 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 and care. "In addition, they also get a realistic feel and hands on experience on the extent of care that is required in keeping a pet," he said.

Those considering adopting a pet should also consider their lifespans. After all, adopting a pet is a life-long commitment. So remember: cats and dogs can live up to 20 years, while rabbits can live up to 10.

Commitment involved

Successfully rehabilitating a pet with "baggage" can be an immensely rewarding experience, but patience is key. PHOTO: TNP FILE

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, and remember that rehabilitation takes time.

Statistics executive Looi Siew Yuen, 26, who adopted a stray puppy, advises potential owners to learn more about the history of the pet first. "This will help the new owners decide on what kind of 'approach' to take when handling the pet. For instance, dogs which went through traumatic conditions or experienced violence would need to be handled with more care," added the animal welfare volunteer.

Getting a pet is also a team effort, said VFA's Mr Tan. Potential adopters must ensure that members of his or her household are also aware of the responsibilities of getting a pet.

"A potential adopter sometimes requires the help of a family member, or domestic helper, to help walk the pet, or feed it. So it is important to ensure that everyone in the household knows what the responsibilities are," he said.

Other responsibilities involved in caring for a pet include grooming, exercise and feeding requirements, as well as health care and visits to the vet - which may not come cheap.

Vet fees can vary, but usually start from about $1,000 for blood work and check ups, vaccination and tick protection for a year, said VFA's Mr Tan. This could increase as the dog gets older.

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

Cat owners must also clean their pets' litter boxes daily, and remember to keep their pet cats indoors, said Ms Veron Lau, a representative from the Cat Welfare Society.

"Many owners also create high places and hidey places 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. PHOTO: TNP FILE

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 it finds 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.

Cat Welfare Society, as well as other animal welfare groups such as SOSD and VFA, conduct regular adoption drives. For more details on when these drives are held, visit their respective Facebook pages. 

VFA, for instance, is having an adoption drive tomorrow (Jan 14) and Sunday, from 1pm to 5pm, at its premises at 11 Pasir Ris Farmway 2.

For those interested in rabbits, find out more at the House Rabbits Society Singapore.

The SPCA has a shelter at 50 Sungei Tengah Road which potential adopters can also visit to get acquainted with the animals which they would like to adopt.

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

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

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