In 2014, RSPCA shelters received 127,304 animals. The reasons vary, but typically, most animals end up in shelters because of the way their former carers handled them or underestimated the responsibility pet ownership brings. Common reasons why animals end up in shelters include:
- Lack of training
- Lifestyle changes
- Not enough time for a pet
- Cost of ownership
- Health issues
- Aggressive behaviour
The vast majority of animals adopted from shelters make wonderful and healthy pets. They may take some work in the beginning, but the result can be years of joy derived from a relationship that began with a second chance at life. That kind of special bond can’t be purchased at a pet store.
If you’re considering taking on a rescue pet, it’s important you think of ways in which to introduce them to family members and any other pets you may already have.
Introducing a rescue cat
Whether it’s a new little kitten or an older cat, most felines tend to adapt well to a new home. There may be some shyness and hiding at first, but after a few days your cat’s anxiety should settle. But every cat is different, so keeping a few simple steps in mind can help your new furry friend to settle faster.
Before you bring your cat home
1. Make a ‘safe room’
Cats are territorial, and when there’s a large new space to explore, they can feel uneasy. To help settle their nerves, try portioning off a part of the house as a ‘safe room’ for the first few days or weeks. This could be the bathroom or laundry. Furnish this room with cat amenities and make sure that there’s a chair in there for you to enjoy some cuddle time with your new kitty.
2. Offer a safe haven
Cats like to have a place where they can get away from it all, whether it be a cardboard box, cat carrier, or covered cat bed. Just make sure that your cat can stand up and turn around inside it, and try to have any openings facing the door so that they can see anyone approaching.
3. Buy a scratching post
A cat’s claws need to be worn down, and they do this by scratching things. If you don’t want scratches on your sofas and furniture, a cat scratching post is a good investment to make. You may want to purchase a scratching post for every room with soft furnishings.
4. Pretend you’re a cat
Take a tour of your home with a cat’s behaviour in mind. Once acclimated, your cat will explore some unusual spaces, so make sure that the tops of kitchen cupboards are clear and anything else that may be dangerous is put away.
5. Consider a cat tree
Cats like to survey their territory and will enjoy a high perch on which they can rest and watch over ‘their space’.
6. Get rid of smells
Strong odours and debris can be distressing to a cat, so give your home a thorough clean prior to their arrival.
Settling in your cat
1. Restrict exposure
Bring your cat home in a cat carrier and take them straight to their safe room. If this is the bathroom, make sure the seat is down! Talk to individual family members and explain the importance of having quiet time. Everyone surely wants to spend time with the cute new addition, but take it slowly.
2. Let the cat come to you
Don’t force your cat into cuddles; instead, sit on the floor and let your cat come to you. Be patient, and if it doesn’t look promising then try again later.
3. Feed the familiar
Ask your shelter what your cat had been eating while there, and for the first few days try to keep the food the same. This will offer some familiarity.
4. Remind kids of the rules
A new pet can be exciting for kids, but it’s important they remember that cats don’t like to be startled. Keep movements small and open the safe room door slowly.
5. Expand the territory gradually
If you have other pets or small children, encourage them outside while you open up the rest of the house for your cat to explore. Let your cat adjust slowly and free from chaos. Once they’re comfortable, introduce other pets and family members but don’t leave them alone together until you know that it’s safe. You may consider keeping your dog on a leash until you know that they won’t chase.
6. Trade scents
If you already have another pet in the house, try trading scents by using the same brush, blanket, or towel. This way your cat will get used to the pheromones of the existing pet before it comes out of its safe zone. Glimpses of each other will help too.
7. Encourage behaviour
Encourage your cat to use their scratching post by sprinkling it with a little catnip or dangling a toy at the top. Encourage the use of a little box with praise and by having a little dig yourself to create a sound your cat wants to replicate.
Introducing a rescue dog
The first few days are a critical time for your relationship with a new dog, as they will be confused and unsure of what to expect from you. Setting some clear structure with your family and other pets will make the transition as smooth as possible.
Before you bring your dog home
1. Portion off the house
Determine where your dog will be spending most of their time, and restrict them to this area at first. Housebreaking knowledge is often forgotten, so choose areas where you don’t mind a few accidents. Separation can be created using a baby gate.
2. Dog proof the area
Getting rid of anything dangerous is key in the first few months, so tape loose electrical cords to baseboards, get rid of toxic plants, and keep areas free from breakables or things that can fall.
3. Purchase an ID tag
In the case of your dog running away, a tag will be needed for quick identification. Have this ready before you come home, and if your dog is microchipped, register your contact details early.
4. Talk to children
Young children in particular need to know the rules when it comes to dogs, and one of those rules is not to startle. Explain to children the importance of letting the dog settle in relative peace by making small movements and keeping voices calm.
The first few days are a critical time for your relationship with a new dog, as your dog will be confused and unsure what to expect from you. Setting some clear structure with your family and any other pets will make the transition as smooth as possible.
Settling your dog
1. Replicate their routine
Ask your shelter about what your dog was fed and at what times of the day. Replicating this for the first few days will help avoid gastric distress, one less thing for your dog to worry about. If you plan to change the brand of food, do this gradually after about a week.
2. Expect accidents
Once you arrive home, take your dog to the bathroom area immediately and allow them to familiarise with it. If your dog relieves itself, give lots of praise. If not, be prepared for accidents.
3. Create balance
Your dog will require both family time and moments of confinement, so don’t give in if they whine the moment they are left alone. Instead, give them attention for good behaviour.
4. Restrict visitors
Allow time for your dog to get to know its family before introducing guests. It’s important that your dog learns who its masters are and doesn’t get overwhelmed.
5. Keep language the same
Teach the whole family the words you’ll be using with the dog to keep consistency. If your dog has had a bit of a tough past, get creative with your language, as certain words may trigger a memory they would rather forget.
6. Introduce one pet at a time
If you have multiple pets in your household, introduce one at a time. Two or more residential dogs may have a tendency to gang up on the newbie. You may also consider meeting on neutral ground, such as a park or beach before reintroducing them at home.
7. Encourage play
You want your pets to socially interact with one another, so encourage sniffing and gentle play with praise and treats. When interacting, talk to them in a happy, friendly, tone and throw in regular commands such as ‘sit’ and ‘stay’.
8. Watch body posture
A dog’s body posture is a good indication of an aggressive response, and includes their hair standing up, teeth baring, deep growls, a stiff-legged gait, or a prolonged stare. If you see such a posture, quickly and calmly distract your dog with something else.
9. Be wary
While most rescue dogs will be fine in their new environment, it’s important to never leave your new dog alone with children or other pets until you know it is safe. Even then, you should still be wary around children, as their behaviour can be unpredictable and startling to a dog.