Dr Jo Righetti’s tips for bringing home a rescue pet

You adopt a pet but it’s not working out as you expected. What to do?

The Jetpets Companion Animal Rescue Awards 2018 celebrates and recognises achievements in companion animal rescue nationwide. The program was founded by pet rescue advocate Cathy Beer of Pets4Life, an independent education resource for cat and dog guardians and those thinking of getting a pet.

Dr Joanne Righetti and her adopted dog Chilli.

Dr Jo Righetti and Chilli. Photo: supplied

The Rescue Awards also raises awareness about the benefits of pet adoption. Aussie pet guardians are encouraged to submit their adoption story to the Advocate® People’s Rescue Story award category.

But what about people who adopted a pet, but it’s not working out as they expected? Awards Ambassador and renown animal behaviourist Dr. Joanne Righetti has some tips to help!

“If it is not working out, ask the shelter for help. If it is really not working, you can ask to take the animal back to the shelter. This is not failure,” says Dr Jo. “Learn what did not work and choose more carefully next time.”

What sort of issues can come up when you bring a rescue pet home?

  • Settling in – just like any other pet. Purchase necessary items prior to bringing your pet home. Stick to your desired rules (e.g. if the pet is not going to sleep in your bed, don’t start the first night in bed with you!)
  • Behaviour emerging and experiencing conflicts:- As the animal settles in, their natural behaviours may emerge, sometimes not for several weeks. These early days are a great opportunity to put in the training, to get the behaviour you desire.- By ‘conflicts’ I mean behaviour such as overly friendly one minute, then a little withdrawn the next. Liking one dog, but not another. This is normal as the animal settles into your environment and routines. Reward the behaviours you desire.
  • Separation anxiety – this seems to be common in rescue pets. They go from a kennel environment, or perhaps from not having much interaction or love from people, to being loved (a lot!), then their human has to leave (due to necessities such as work).

How can we prevent certain issues before they start?

Be prepared!

  • Ask the rescue organisation for results of their behaviour assessment on the animal. This will show if the pet is keen on people, likes being touched, is ok to be left alone etc.
  • Ask the organisation or foster carer what behaviours they have seen in the pet.

Every animal has issues (just like people!), so don’t be alarmed. Just be prepared to put some work into dealing with any issues. Being forewarned is being prepared.

How can we prepare children/family for bringing a rescue pet home?

  • Talk to your children/family members. Look at pictures and stories of pets online. Discuss with older kids. Visit a shelter if you can bear to, but don’t bring home pets the first time (make this a definite and discuss prior to going).
  • Involve the child in the care of the pet. Give a young child a particular job to do to make them feel involved (e.g. feeding).
  • Discuss animal behaviours you see. If the animal is shy or withdrawn or is scared of certain things, draw this into the child’s own experiences. Empathy for the pet will result.
  • Supervise children and the new pet!

What if we have other pets at home? How do we introduce the pets?

  • Introduce pets gradually and carefully. Do not just put them together and hope for best. Do not leave alone together until you are sure they can get along (this can take weeks!).
  • If possible, introduce dogs on neutral ground, perhaps at the shelter prior to choosing a dog.
  • The new animal needs to go into its own space to explore and feel safe.
  • The new animal needs to bond with the humans prior to having to deal with other pets.
  • Cats need carry cases and controlled introductions.
  • All animals need positive experiences in the presence of one another (e.g, feed each with their favourite food).
  • Listen to Pets4Life’s Paw Perfect Introductions podcasts on this topic.

Dr. Jo Righetti was interviewed by ABC Radio Melbourne Afternoon presenter Richelle Hunt. LISTEN NOW to this heartwarming and entertaining interview. 

Photo: Jo Lyons Photography



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