For one? It starts in the car ride home.
German Shepherd puppy on the couch
Credit: Getty

Consider how many domestic animals in the United States end up alone, abadoned and hungry every year. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are as many as 70 million stray cats and an undetermined number of dogs who end up on the streets. Current statistics estimate that approximately 7.6 million animals, a combination of cats and dogs and other household pets, end up in animal shelters a year. The reasons vary as to how these animals become homeless, and many of them might enter the shelter with illnesses, diseases and histories of being abused by humans.

Providing a safe and loving home for one or more of these animals can be one of the greatest joys of pet adoption, and it's important to ease the transition of leaving the shelter and being introduced to a new home and a new family for the animals. We spoke with Jamie Ternes, an adoption mentor and event coordinator from Paws and Prayers in Cuyahoga Falls, OH on how to make our new pets feel at home after leaving the shelter.

1. Keep pets restrained on the car ride home

Even if the dog came up to you and sat at your feet and chose you as her new parent, she will need to be on a leash or in a carrier on the way to her new home. "If the car is big enough, you can place the dog in a crate. It keeps them safer, kind of like a seat belt, and prevents them from running off in their excitement whenever the door is opened," says Ternes. "You can also tie a knot at the end of the leash and shut the knot inside the door. It allows the dog to freely move within the car but only as far as the leash goes." Cats will need to be kept in carriers and secured either in the back seat or with someone who holds onto the carrier during the drive. Remember that some animals become sick while a vehicle is in motion, so bring paper towels or wetting pads to minimize the mess.

2. Give your pet time to become acquainted with their new home

Moving to a new place can be traumatic for an animal, and your new pet might have had previous bad experiences. "It can take a dog 10 to 14 days to get acclimated to their new surroundings. Giving them a lot of crate time provides them a safe space to see everyday life within their new home and to become used to the people, other animals, and the sights, smells and sounds around them," Ternes says. "You can also keep them on a leash for two weeks, which helps because you'll be able to pick up the leash at a moment's notice to stop fights between animals. You'll be able to re-direct them as needed as they explore the house."

Cats can be kept in a separate room or in a crate to allow them to get used to the smells of their humans and the other animals who live there. It takes time, but being patient with your new family member is important and will pay off in the future. The goal is to make this new place familiar to your new pet and to let them know that they're safe and loved.

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3. Avoid overwhelming your new pet

You might want to show off your new animal as soon as you get home, but Ternes advises taking it slowly. "For a dog, we suggest waiting at least three days before introducing your pet to your friends," says Ternes. "You don't want to frighten the dog with too many visitors too soon. The best advice is to let them come to you, pay attention to their body language, give them more time if they need it."

Every animal has a different personality and different past experiences. While some animals might be able to acclimate to a new home in just a few hours, others might require a month or more before they feel safe and comfortable around new people. Research your pet's behavior, talk to your vet and pay attention to your animal's needs. Patience can go a long way in helping your new pet feel at home wit you and your family.

4. Ensure that your home is pet-safe

Curious animals will sometimes eat things they shouldn't, like rubber bands or small toys, or chew on electrical cords. Animals can also escape through windows and under the fence, which means that they become lost or end up in harm's way. Before bringing your new pet home, make sure to clean up the area to keep your pet safe. Put children's toys away, secure breakable items and keep harmful food (like your chocolate stash) out of their reach. Have screens on your windows and check the fencing around the yard to ensure that your new pet won't be able to run away. In addition to safety-proofing your home, find ways to increase your new pet's territory, such as with pet toys and furniture or an outdoor space like a catio for those adventurous kitties who want the outdoors but without the dangers.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a comfy bed waiting for them in their new home:


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