What to Expect when You Add an Abused, Stray or Shelter Adopted Cat or Dog to Your Family

Strays can be adopted from shelters, or animal protective organizations. Another way to add a pet to your family that has been unwanted is to have someone give you a pet they no longer wish to keep. If someone gives you their pet, at least you have an opportunity to know the exact age and birthday of your pet. You will also be able to ask questions about the health of the animal and what vet care the animal has had. Try to obtain a shot record, if possible. A shelter dog or cat is most likely to have an unknown history, and the age is going to be an approximate one. Your vet will be able to examine your pet and confirm what the shelter has told you in regards to age, and health. A dog under a year is easier to age as the condition of the teeth will give the vet clues. Once a dog is past a year of age, guessing correctly becomes more difficult.

My avatar is a picture of one of our rescued dogs. Her name is Chocolate. She is a Border collie and Aussie mixed dog. She was found by the dog warden wandering around the streets of Cleveland, Ohio and brought to the area shelter. We saw her there and my 7-year-old daughter fell in love with her. After the initial visit and one repeat visit for an interview we adopted her. If you will be adopting from a shelter, as we did, your pet will be required to be altered, and adult shots, or a first series of shots given if a puppy or kitten. Altering is a requirement, not a choice if you are going the shelter route to adopt. Most pet rescue organizations will also give shots and alter them before allowing adoption.

Chocolate was very skinny, so our vet recommended feeding her IAM brand dog food. She thrived on the love and attention showered on her by our family. Many dogs that have been abandoned and rescued are in similar physical condition. They have been eating what ever they could find to eat while on the streets. Sometimes they eat birds they can catch, or other small animals like mice. Do not be surprised if your pet continues to catch, kill and eat these small animals after you adopt them and bring them into your home. Especially if the stray was on the loose for a long time, this survival behavior will be hard for your pet to stop doing. Another way a stray survives is by eating grass and weeds, and trash that are assessable to a four-legged creature. Your pet may have a dull coat, and most likely you can easily see its ribs. A good way to add much needed fat is to increase the caloric intake by mixing can food with dry food. It is highly recommended whenever can food is added to the diet that you brush your pet’s teeth once a day. You can find pet dental care products at any pet supply store.

Another common behavior exhibited by strays that you may observe in your new pet is for them to be very suspicious of new people. We experienced this behavior twice. Once with an approximately 6 month old puppy, found wandering the streets in the early fall. She seemed friendly and wanted to play with our dog. We were out walking our dog and this puppy seemed starved for companionship. She wanted our dog though, not us. Every time I or any other human approached her, she ran. She did not trust that my intentions were good towards her. This is very common behavior when an animal has been abandoned or abused by another human. They feel that running will keep them safe. She however could not help herself when it came to wanting to be with our dog. I finally was able to gain her confidence by speaking softly and letting her come to me, when she was ready to. Another behavior you may witness is growling, raising of fur, and backing away. This behavior is defensive, not aggressive. The animal that backs away, growing, is scared. Do not approach or reach a hand out to an animal in this situation. Rescuing strays should only be done by those who are trained and experienced doing so.

Strays often have come across unkind humans who throw things at them or yell at them. Another threat to strays is traffic. Twice I watched in horror as she darted out into our busy street, narrowly escaping harm. I was able to put a collar around her neck and attach her to our driveway gate. Whenever you approach a dog that appears to be a stray, do so with caution. Not all strays are friendly. Some may be sick, or injured and their instinct is for self-preservation and they may not hesitate to nip your hand if they feel threatened. So always approach a stray with caution. Life on the streets has made this animal to behave differently from a domestic pet. Let them come to you. Instruct young children to let an adult know of the presence of a stray and to not attempt to catch them by themselves.

When we rescue strays, the first step is to look for a collar with any identification, like a rabies tag, or a phone number. If there is a rabies tag, the county where the tag is registered in, can contact the owner that is listed on the record corresponding to the rabies number. If the stray is collarless, there may still be a way to ID the animal. A police station or vet may have a way to identify a microchip implanted under the skin, if there is one. Usually a chip is implanted at the back of the neck area, around the shoulder blades. A vet should see the dog or cat to wand them as soon as possible. All efforts should be made to locate the owner prior to anyone keeping the pet. I called every shelter and vet for 15 miles around our home trying to find out if someone was looking for our stray puppy. I made the calls faithfully once a week for 45 days. Finally we decided that the puppy must have been abandoned. We had taken the puppy to the vet shortly after she arrived at our home and the vet had noticed a callous on one of her back paws. A sure sign that the puppy had been pounding the pavement for some time. If you notice any limping, a callous is a likely cause, and will clear up on it’s own. We made sure she had other surfaces besides concrete to walk on, like grass and carpet. In a matter of days she stopped limping and the callous soon disappeared.

We adopted one of our cats, Sara directly from the vet. She had been rescued from a home where she had been terrorized by a Great Dane and to this day, she is very unsocial around humans; so entrenched is her fear of large animals and her mistrust for the humans who left her alone with her fear for so long. She is our special cat, the one we coddle and talk sweetly to, in our bid to win her over. Animals who at a young age experience such degree of fear can be affected for a long time. They will be very skittish, aloof or prefer to stay away from other animals or humans. Sara has over time learned to trust me, because I feed her and do not approach her. I always let Sara come to me. Her fear has left permanent distrust of any loud noise, or sudden movement. Adopting a stray, abandoned or abused animal usually requires that the new family have a great deal of understanding and patience.

Abandoned cats or dogs are another unfortunate way for you to add pets to your family. Abandoned animals have their own special circumstances. Two years ago, one bitter cold February night, my girlfriend called telling me that her teenage daughter had just rescued two balls of fur from the middle of a country road and wanted to know if we would give them a home. The kittens were about 5 – 6 weeks old. They were as thin as cold be and so pitiful looking. I hesitated just for a moment, thinking about the fact that we already had 4 pets in our household. Only for a moment did I hesitate though, for how can two kittens survive without shelter, warmth, food and water? These abandoned kittens, most likely were rescued just in the nick of time. Not only were they in danger of being hit by vehicles, but also the dangerously cold temperatures would have meant certain death within just a few hours. To our surprise and pleasure, Sara became their surrogate mother and overcame most of her shyness in order to come out and “mother” the kittens. Animals who have been mistreated can find a purpose in life that will allow them to overcome the trauma they have experienced. Sometimes all it takes is for them to feel needed. Strays have found purpose, when they are adopted and become companions to the elderly, or put into service to the blind or handicapped. Animals have an amazing capacity to love and to exhibit great loyalty.

We have rescued 13 animals over the last few years. All of them have been special. None of them deserved to be treated unkindly by their original owners. It is unfortunate that there are people who are so inhumane in their treatment of their pets. Why is it that some people can think that they can just throw away their unwanted pets as if they were throwing away garbage? Animals are not inanimate objects; they are alive and in need of shelter, warmth, good food and water. When people abandon pets; the pets suffer greatly. Not only do abandoned pets have to face uncertain weather, they have to protect themselves from abusive people they meet on the street who throw stones and cans at them. They must somehow find food to eat and water to quench their thirst. They must find a place to sleep at night away from wild animals or mean street dogs. Especially young dogs and cats are susceptible to being harmed without anyone to offer protection. During the cold weather months they are subject to freezing to death. In the heat of the summer they can suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Finding water becomes even more important during a heat wave. Animals out on the streets not only suffer abuse from unkind persons; but they run the risk of being hit by motor vehicles. A large percentage of abandoned pets simply die of thirst or starve to death. Some, if lucky will be caught by a dog warden or police officer and taken to the pound. At the pound they will be lucky if they have 3 days in which to have someone find them and adopt them. Most are unlucky and their time expires and they are put down. Inhumanity is man’s inability to show any act of kindness, mercy or caring towards another living being. The human being has shown throughout history to have the capacity to show such cruelty toward animals and towards other human beings.

Humans also have the ability to show compassion, kindness and mercy towards one another. They also have the capacity to show the same compassion, kindness and mercy towards animals. My family has made the effort to care for those who are helpless, abandoned and left to die. Those who cannot speak out against the inhumane treatment and cruelty that their previous owner caused them to suffer. These dogs and cats must be given a voice. We can speak out for them; we can help them to overcome the unspeakable pain they have endured and to publicly declare that this abandonment must not be allowed to continue. If you have compassion in your hearts and room in your home for one of these unfortunate dogs or cats; please find a kill shelter in your area and ask to see a pet whose time is nearly up. Save a helpless, and loving cat or dog today. Our pets have given us so much love and loyalty over the years. I cannot imagine life without Chocolate, Isabella, Maggie, Sara, Cuddles or Emma. Alongside this article is our most recent rescue, Foxy. She is available for adoption. Many animals just like her are waiting for a home right now. Adopted stray dogs and cats have added so much to our lives and have been real blessings to us. They have taught us patience, how to appreciate the little things in life and how to be thankful for what we have without feeling sorry for ourselves. They have taught us that love, loyalty and companionship can come in small or large furry packages. Most definitely there is a lot of sloppy kisses and tail wagging involved in the wonderful world of pet ownership. I encourage those of you, who may never have experienced what it feels like to rescue a cat or dog, if you can find it in your heart to do so, experience it today. Call or visit a kill shelter and give a home to your next best friend; you will not regret it, I promise you.

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