I've never known an animal lover who didn't have a heart that seemed just a little larger than the norm and who didn't find room from time to time for an extra pet who needed a new home.
The problem is that none of us has the space or time to care for all the animals who could use our help. For most of us, taking in an extra pet means working to find a permanent home to provide the love and care that our own animals enjoy.
There was a time in my life when rescuing and placing animals was my life. I spent my lunch hours taking in pets and my weekends checking out potential adopters. My partner and I found homes for dozens of pets each year, beautiful, sweet-natured animals who had been abandoned and even abused. It never failed to astonish me how firm is an animal's belief in the essential goodness of people -- and how eventually we were always able to find good people to give these pets the second chance they deserved.
My rescuing career came to an end with the emergence of health problems that plague me still, and I have to be content now with supporting those who continue this important work: shelter workers and the uncounted legions of volunteers.
If you're suddenly among those volunteers, here are a few tips for finding a perfect home for that pet you've found but cannot keep:
-- Do everything you can to make the animal more adoptable. The pet has a better chance if he is current on shots, house-trained and neutered. It also helps if the animal is socialized and friendly with children and other pets. Try to fix behavior problems before placement as well.
-- Talk to everyone. Post ads in newspapers and on bulletin boards, and mention the pet to everyone you know. Give fliers to friends to post on boards where they work. Spread the word.
-- Ask a price. People show more respect for something they've paid for; furthermore, a price tag dampens the interest of profiteers, such as those who collect "free to a good home" pets for sale to research labs or to dog fighters. A good rule of thumb: Charge an amount to cover the cost of the spaying or neutering, and vaccinations. That makes sense to prospective adopters because it's money they would have had to spend anyway. Even better: Have them pay the veterinarian directly when they're picking up the animal you've dropped off for altering and shots. That way you can be sure the pet is off to a great start.
-- Don't lie about the pet's problems or why he's being placed. Although finding a new home for an older pet or one with behavior problems takes longer, it can be done. But the person who feels lied to is more likely to bring the pet back or place him somewhere without your knowledge, maybe into a horrible situation.
-- Ask lots of questions and verify that the answers are true. Ask for a telephone number and call back to check it. Ask to see a driver's license. Check out the home in person, and take along a friend. Don't forget to ask prospective adopters if they've had pets before and what happened to them. Make sure you're dealing with people who realize that owning a pet is a long-term commitment.
Above all, take your time. Young, small pets are generally easier to place, as are some purebreds. But if you keep looking, you'll be able to find a home even for a pet that's older, has health problems or is disabled. I still get cards from some of the families in which I placed pets, and there's nothing better than knowing a pet I saved is set for life.
Pets on the Web: Birds n Ways (www.birdsnways.com) offers articles on health, behavior and nutrition as well as links to a fabulous array of bird clubs, veterinary sites and merchandisers. Among the must-see areas is a page of links to articles and Web sites on individual bird species, complete with a search engine to help narrow things down to a manageable few.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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