At Dane County Humane Society, the vast percentage of adoptions succeed, usually around 95 percent.
Other times, the match just wasn’t quite right, resulting in a “return.” Maybe the puppy was too hyper or the cat shed too much or the bird chattered too loudly.
While the humane society doesn’t view returns as a bad thing — it’s best for all parties to acknowledge a mismatch right away — staff members try to head off problems by helping customers set realistic expectations.
“It’s about finding a pet that will enrich your life, not add stress to it,” adoption supervisor Kim Krouth said.
Here’s a look at five categories of animals and some of the considerations for each. In all cases, the most important question to ask yourself is whether you’re at a place in your life where you have the time, space and money to welcome a new pet, Krouth said.
The amount of time needed to care for a bird varies widely by species, so researching the options is critical, said Pam McCloud Smith, the humane society’s executive director and a bird owner for 35 years.
She keeps three cockatiels at her office, taking them home on weekends. One, Chico, perched on her shoulder as she spoke.
“I always recommend a cockatiel or a parakeet as a first bird for families,” McCloud Smith said. “They have so much character. They’ll step onto your finger or ride around on your shoulder. They like to come out of a cage and love to socialize.”
Smaller birds, such as canaries and finches, don’t like to be handled as much, Smith said. They are beautiful songbirds but like to stay in their cages and thus make good apartment pets.
She does not consider her cockatiels especially time-consuming, though she has incorporated them so much into her lifestyle that it’s hard to make clear distinctions between caring for them and enjoying them, she said. She changes the paper in their cages and provides fresh water daily, and wipes down their cages twice a week.
Incorporating some fruits and vegetables into their diets is ideal, and lots of toys and enrichment activities are important. Generally, small to medium-sized birds are less expensive to feed and care for than a dog or cat, she said.
Larger birds, such as cockatoos and African grey parrots, are more demanding and costly and require considerable forethought before taking one on, McCloud Smith said.
“They have the capacity to be like a 2-year-old child,” she said. “They’ll look at you as their partner, and if that level of attention isn’t provided, they can resort to some bad behavior or harm themselves.”
Large birds need a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables — think of it as feeding another human — and the time commitment could be several hours a day, she said.
Adoption costs at the humane society range from $10 for a dove to $55 for a cockatiel and $100 for larger birds.
People love puppies because they view them as blank slates, Krouth said.
“What they also need to realize is the great responsibility that comes with providing positive experiences for a dog in its formative years,” she said. “If you aren’t attentive to that, you could end up with a dog with some fear or shyness or even aggressiveness.”
Puppies — dogs under 6 months old — are generally more time-consuming than adult dogs, Krouth said. For starters, their bladders are smaller, so they require more frequent bathroom breaks. They’ll also want to play more, need to be house-trained and may not sleep through the night.
She doesn’t steer people with young children away from puppies, but she stresses that a house with both a puppy and a small child means more supervision. “It’s one extra layer of responsibility — to make sure the child is safe with the puppy and the puppy is safe with the child.”
Bottom line, a puppy can be draining, but the upside is that you get “a waggy tail, puppy breath, an instant bond, and the joy of seeing it grow into an individual,” Krouth said.
A person balancing a heavy workload with family commitments may want to consider an older dog, Krouth said.
Older dogs generally are easier to house train, usually don’t need as much one-on-one attention, and can go eight hours without an outdoor break, she said. Older dogs often are an especially good match for senior citizens and retirees, especially if the dog has separation issues.
Adult dogs cost either $175 or $275 to adopt at the humane society, with the higher price assessed for highly desirable breeds. The two-tier pricing system applies to puppies, too, with highly desirable breeds costing $350 and all others $250.
All humane society prices include up-to-date vaccinations, an ID micro-chip and either spaying or neutering.
Cats are widely assumed to be less labor-intensive and more independent than dogs, and generally that’s true, said Krouth, who joined the humane society as a dog person but now also owns cats.
“They don’t need daily outings outdoors or the intense socialization,” she said. “Yet some people take it to the extreme and overlook the real basic needs that cats have. They need things to make a house comfortable, from high places to perch to places to hide when they’re scared.”
They also need scratch pads and posts and a daily routine of litter box upkeep.
Long-haired cats require more grooming than short-haired cats to avoid matting of the fur, but it is not necessarily true that long-haired cats shed more, Krouth said.
Kittens cost $125 to adopt at the humane society, adult cats $40, and senior cats — those 7 years or older — $20.
Rabbits are the third-most adopted animal at the humane society.
“They are super, super social — if you’re looking for a companion, they are a great choice,” said Joan Johnson, a senior animal caretaker at the humane society who owns three rabbits and has had as many as 11.
Despite their close link to Easter, bunnies are not a good choice for children under 6, Johnson said. Children want to pick up rabbits, yet rabbits need a lot of support when lifted off the ground. They don’t have sturdy frames — their bones are light so they can race away from predators, she said. An unsupported rabbit will kick its back legs so hard it can actually break its own back, she said.
Plus, rabbits can bite, and the zig-zagging way they run can easily trip a child, Johnson said.
It’s very important to keep rabbits indoors because they’re heat-sensitive and don’t like to be isolated, Johnson said. Also, bugs and predators will try to get them outside.
Rabbits need daily care — you can’t leave them unattended for a weekend, she said. On the upside, they are easy to litterbox train, and they self-clean themselves like a cat. “They don’t smell if their environment is kept clean,” she said.
Rabbits cost $30 at the humane society.