The joys of having a rescued pet: tips for new rescue parents

Rescuing an animal is one of the most life-changing decisions you can ever make. This is something that I discovered a long time ago, when I first welcomed a stray cat into my home, a decision that brought so much joy into my life.

Although I’ve been raised around dogs, none of them were rescues. Until I adopted my first cat, an orange tabby named Miming, I did not think that there were animals out there that had no homes. 

Miming was a friendly, scrappy cat who always passed by our place. He would always greet me when he saw me. I started to feed him my leftovers, and he became my daily visitor. I noticed that he was occasionally dirty and would sometimes disappear for days, only to reappear with wounds. I decided that he was putting himself in danger by going out there, and decided that I would keep him inside my tiny house, nevermind if I was allergic to cats. 

When I took Miming in, all I wanted was to give him a home where he could be fed and where he could be safe. Instead, he gave me a sense of purpose and a fulfillment that came with knowing I had made a difference in the life of a creature. 

It has been more than 30 years since I first rescued an animal, and since then, I’ve always had rescued animals in my life. In fact, many dogs in my current pack are rescues and discards. 

Recently, a number of my friends have rescued dogs and cats off the streets of Metro Manila, something which has again made me believe in the innate goodness of humanity. I see how there is so much love in people’s hearts, and it is my wish that everyone would have the opportunity to discover the deep-seated fulfillment of seeing a rescued animal transform into a happy, healthy version of itself. 

To be sure, the rescue and acclimatization process is not always an easy walk in the park. There may be bumps along the way, but these are not too different from the troubles encountered by those who have just acquired an animal from other sources. 

To all those who have recently rescued an animal, here are a few tips to make life with your new companion easier and even more joyous:

Relax. The sudden change in your life, coupled with all the adjustments you have to make, can all be overwhelming. I would even go as far as saying that this phase of your life more or less corresponds to that of a human mother having or adopting a baby — at least, that was how it felt like for me.  Know that things will eventually settle down, so relax and try to enjoy the moment. 

Be present, but give space. While you would want to give as much time as you can to your new companion, just remember that dogs and cats need their me-time too. This is not to say that you shouldn’t watch what your pet is doing; on the contrary, you should be monitoring your fur ball’s activities. But do let your pet eat in peace, sleep when it wants to, and stay where it wants to. I used to go nuts when my rescue Misty wanted to sleep under the car when there was a nice bed nearby. In the end, she discovered for herself that my bed is a great bed, and today, 13 years since I rescued her, continues to call it hers.

Spay and neuter. If your adopted or rescued pet is intact, do this immediately. If you rescued your dog or cat from an animal organization, especially the bigger ones, your pet has most likely been fixed. However, if you plucked one off the streets, then there’s a big possibility that the animal is intact. Don’t delay or you could end up with kitties and puppies very soon. Thirty years ago, spay and neuter procedures were almost unknown in Metro Manila, there was no internet to guide me, and I had no idea that cats could just multiply in the wink of an eye. To make a long story short, I ended up with 5 cats that a stray cat I regularly fed dumped into my couch, presumably for me to feed too. Mercifully, I discovered that there was such a thing as spay and neuter surgeries, and I had no more unwanted kitties since then. Similarly, I had no idea what my dog Misty’s age was when I welcomed her into my life, and did not realize it when she reached sexual maturity. Since she was my only dog at that time, I did not think she could get pregnant, but the neighborhood dogs were far smarter than me. To this day, I still do not know how she got pregnant — our helper says she bolted out of the gate where a pack of males from around the neighborhood had congregated. To cut the story short, she ended up with nine (!) puppies. I quickly had her spayed once her puppies were weaned and rehomed, and I have since learned my lesson.  Don’t be like me, act immediately.

Acknowledge if there are behavior problems. All animals–rescued or not–may come with behavior or health problems. Since you may not have the luxury of knowing your animal’s history, you’ll just have to make decisions based on what you see. But act on these problems. Some dogs may be anxious or not too sociable. Make sure to address these issues with the resources available to you. For instance, our dog Johnny (who was rescued from the meat trade) was food-aggressive when we rescued him 10 years ago. Although he is a good boy, he turns into a monster when food is available and would bite any dog that comes near his food. To prevent injuries, we bought him a cage, which until today is the only place where he is given food. 

Be patient – Whatever animal you choose to have, patience is always a virtue. Be patient in getting your rescue to adjust to your lifestyle, and in teaching the basics. Most dogs are extremely adaptable and ever-willing to please their humans, so don’t be too hard on yourself or your pet. 

Enjoy – Having an animal by your side is one of the best things that life has to offer. Make sure to savor every moment. 

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