anne mikolay 2012 120Sunday, April 30th, is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day. As an animal lover, I can't stress too much the importance of this day, nor can I overly stress how vital it is for prospective adopters to understand a pet parent's responsibilities. Notice I did not say pet “owner”. When you welcome an animal into your home, the creature becomes a cherished member of your family. You cannot own family members. The late Pulitzer Prize winning author Edith Wharton aptly described a dog's status in the family when she said, “My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet.” If you don't comprehend the magnitude of her statement, you shouldn't adopt a pet. If you agree with Ms. Wharton and are considering adopting from a shelter, there are certain things to consider.

On the plus side, having a pet is beneficial to one's health. Interacting with a pet decreases depression, stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Researchers at the University of New York at Buffalo have determined that people accompanied by their pets during stressful events experience less anxiety than their counterparts without pets. While not all dogs meet the stringent criteria for emotional service animal certification, dogs and cats have an inherent sixth sense that enables them to key into human emotion and lend appropriate support. When my precious, elderly chihuahua succumbed to congestive heart failure, one of my cats, Lady Bean, instinctively knew how upset I was and became my constant companion, sitting beside me when I cried, leaning against me when I was depressed. She understood my sorrow. How? I have no idea, but I do know that my sweet tabby cat helped me get through a very difficult time. Pets can be remarkably supportive companions!

They can also be remarkably expensive! I spend a small fortune on veterinary care, food, and toys for my cats and my dog. The price of such things naturally correlates to the size of the pet; your emotional attachment to the animal does not. A chihuahua will bring you as much joy as a boxer will, and as much stress. If you are fully invested in your furry family member, you will worry about their health and wellbeing, and experience sleepless nights and eventual heartache. Knowing the unconditional love of an animal, however, far outweighs such negatives.

On this National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, if you plan to adopt, do your homework beforehand. Carefully review your space and finances, investigate the dog breed you are interested in, and don't rule out mixed breeds or “mutts”. If you bring home a furry family member, be patient, attentive, proactive, and loving. Bear in mind that you have been entrusted with the care of a very special creature, and you will come to agree with author Dean Koontz: “Petting, scratching and cuddling a dog (or cat) could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as a prayer.”

Don't shop! Adopt!