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Couples Adopting A Pet Must Discuss ‘Long Term Planning Needs’



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Are you and your partner contemplating adopting a pet together? There are many reasons people choose to welcome a new animal friend into their home, and for couples many do so to signify a new step forward in their relationship.

While the passage of time proves that not all relationships last forever, responsibly caring for a pet must never end.

So before making the leap of adding a new, furry, feathered, or scaly friend into your lives, Marla Valentine, MSW, has some advice for people to keep in mind.

Valentine is not only an experienced licensed master social worker who has worked with individuals and families for more than 30 years, but she is also the co-executive director and director of therapeutic services at Rock n’ Rescue, Inc.

The group is a nonprofit animal organization, based in South Salem, N.Y., that has adopters in Newtown. It also has a variety of community outreach and therapeutic services, including bringing monthly kitty cuddle sessions to children and adults with cancer, and their loved ones, at Ann’s Place in Danbury.

Rock n’ Rescue (RNR) adopts out to couples regardless of marital status, meaning that people who are engaged or dating are eligible.

“Our adoption policy does not discriminate against couples, but we do ask for one person to be the primary adopter. This is to ensure that one individual is ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of the pet. Additionally, the minimum age to adopt through RNR is 23. We will accept an application from a 22-year-old with a parental co-sign,” Valentine explained.

She recommends that prior to putting in an application, the couple needs to have an honest conversation about each person’s expectations for the next 20 years.

“Adoption is a commitment that both individuals need to prepare for,” Valentine said. “This goes beyond the simple, who is responsible for cleaning or feeding or taking to the vet. Long-term planning needs — such as housing, financial care, pet health care, and most importantly — custody (who will take this pet should the couple separate) — needs to be discussed.”

She added, “Backup plans need to be in place should something happen to one or both and if neither can properly care for the pet. There needs to be a plan for someone, like a friend or relative, that would be willing to step in and care for the pet. Then there are the easier, yet still important, questions as to what type of pet and which pet should be considered.”

If these matters cannot be agreed upon, it is a sign that the couple is not ready to adopt a pet together.

“Other things couples need to think about is: Why a pet and why now? Adopting a pet to ‘save’ a relationship is doomed for failure,” Valentine said. “Both partners need to feel safe and comfortable in their own relationship, and both need to be onboard with adoption and be prepared emotionally, financially, and have a home that is appropriate for a pet.”

Adoption Process

If a couple is in agreement about the short- and long-term plans for a jointly shared pet, then the process of selecting an animal and applying to adopt can begin.

At RNR, the group has saved more than 6,000 animals since being incorporated in 2017.

“We primarily rescue pets from our partner shelter in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The pets we rescue from there have little hope for survival. We also rescue locally and from New York City,” Valentine noted.

When someone is looking to adopt from RNR, the staff takes measures to ensure the person, whether they are part of a couple or not, meets the qualifications they require.

Like many rescues, RNR requests veterinary references, non-family references, and home visits prior to and post adoption.

Then, depending on the type of pet, they have different approval needs for cats and dogs compared to guinea pigs and rabbits. This can include providing information about past pet experience and complying to not let cats outside unless in a safe enclosure or leashed.

“Our goal is to place these pets into forever homes, not temporary ones. The more information we have about the adopter, their level of experience, their comfort level with behaviors, and their intentions — are they looking for a companion for their current pet? A therapy cat for a child with autism? A lap cat for a bed-bound family member? A dog-like cat for the entire family? A dog to take on hikes or a dog that’s a couch potato? Etc — the better,” Valentine said.

RNR will sometimes incorporate both people in the communication process if the adopter is married or part of a couple.

At this stage, Valentine said, “We include adoption info, wellness info, references for reading, and info on what to expect. What we have found is that communication is key to ensuring that the family is prepared for a new pet prior to the adoption and, even more importantly, post adoption. We tell our adopters to utilize us as a resource for wellness concerns as well as behavioral.”

There Is Help

For couples who did not have these discussions prior to adopting a pet together and are now looking to separate, Valentine says people should consider a variety of circumstances.

“Is someone staying in the home? This would give the pet some stability by not having to be uprooted,” she said. “Are the partners going to remain in each other’s lives? If so, shared responsibility may be the right choice.”

Valentine continued, “Most often, though, a pros and cons list for each partner will help decide what is the best next step for the pet. One which involves the least amount of change and the most amount of 1:1 interaction should always be the preference in this scenario.”

In cases where there are no other options but to surrender a pet, they should contact the organization they adopted the animal from first. Many rescues, including RNR, have policies in place to accept the animal back instead of it being surrendered elsewhere.

“Adopters sign an agreement stating that they will contact us if they can no longer care for their adoptive pets, and this is our expectation. Adopters are welcomed into the ‘family’ the moment they leave with one of our pets,” Valentine said.

RNR also accepts surrender animals that were not adopted out through them.

Valentine added, “RNR steps in to help problem-solve issues that arise within the family circle. It could be an older cat that has stopped eating, or an older dog that is having difficulty navigating the house due to arthritis. We tell our adopters to use us as a resource.”

To learn more about Rock n’ Rescue, visit rnrpets.org or contact a representative directly at rocknrescue1@gmail.com or 914-916-2230.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Rock n’ Rescue Co-Director/Therapy Coordinator Marla Valentine, pictured holding a cat with Founder/Co-Director Juli Cialone, gives advice for couples who are considering adopting a pet together. —photo courtesy Marla Valentine
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