Your guide to adopting a pet in Northern Virginia

Thinking about adding a pet into your life? Whether you live in an apartment or want to expand your family, these are the things you should know about.

Photo courtesy of Animal Welfare League of Arlington

You’ve always been an animal lover. Every dog you see on the street you have to resist the urge to run up and pet it. You grew up with a pet in the house and you’re excited to add one to your growing family. Congrats, you are well on your way to becoming a pet owner. But there is likely still a lot to consider before you take on the responsibility of having a dog or cat. Northern Virginia Magazine spoke to several local shelters. Here’s what they told us.

Finding the right fit
Adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue isn’t exactly your typical consumer-business relationship. Though organizations work with adopters to make them happy, it’s as much about finding the right situation for owner and pet.

“We have a lot of conversations about schedule, lifestyle, even sometimes before people go and look at the animals,” says Chelsea Jones, a spokeswoman for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. “How many hours are you at work? Are you away from the house? What do you like to do when you come home after work? Thinking about your lifestyle and how a pet can fit into that is kind of the biggest thing.”

“There are times when we will turn down an adopter because it is simply the wrong dog,” explains Patti Stinson, the shelter liaison for the rescue organization A Forever Home. “We would not adopt a strong, young dog who needs to go out and run and have a lot of exercise, physical activity, to someone who is unable to provide that.”

Raising a pet in a small space
First, make sure your apartment allows pets, or if there are any restrictions. “Sometimes these people try to sneak the animals in even if they are on the restricted list and then what happens? They get caught and have to dump the dog,” says Stinson.

If the apartment does allow pets, “be prepared to make sure the dog gets enough exercise,” Stinson continues. “The most important thing you can do for your dog is to exercise them.”

Jones agrees. “I always say not to worry about size because you can have a Great Dane in the apartment, as long as you are getting the dog outside enough.” However, Jones says, the noise level of your dog is another important factor in apartment living. “Certain dogs we have noted bark a lot may not be a great fit for an apartment.”

Adding a pet to your family
“Having a pet with children—there’s data it’s very, very good for the child to grow up with pets,” Jones says. It is an adjustment though. AWLA offers classes to teach parents how to handle any issues they may be worried about or that come up with handling a new pet and their newborn at the same time.

Then with older kids, the parents need to be the ones making the call on what kind of pet they get, “because your 6-year-old is not going to be the legal owner of this pet,” Jones points out.

Photo courtesy of Animal Welfare League of Arlington

Not the right time for adoption
If at the end of the day, it’s not the right time for adoption or you are hesitant about taking care of a pet, fostering is a great option. “That’s the beauty of fostering, because it’s on your schedule,” says Stinson. “Old dogs, young dogs, big dogs, small dogs, it’s all up to you, whatever your preferences and whatever your schedule allows.”

To learn more about the adoption process, you can visit
aforeverhome.org or awla.org.

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