Start from scratch or opt for no surprises. Adopting a puppy or kitten is like starting out with a blob of soft, wet clay. You get the opportunity to mold his personality, but you also need to be a vigilant pet-proofing owner who is willing to be rudely rousted in the middle of the night for potty breaks and high-energy play demands. On the other hand, when adopting a middle-aged or senior dog or cat, what you see is what you get. Personalities are cemented. Older pets know and respect what "no" means. With mature pets, you usually get to enjoy uninterrupted sleep and steady affection for giving them a second chance at being in a loving home.
Factor in your family budget. Sure, pets are priceless in terms of the love and devotion they provide, but be sure to take into account a pet's food, bedding, toys, veterinary care and other costs before adopting. Certain breeds such as poodles and Bichons require professional grooming. Small breeds require more professional dental care than large breeds. If a special-needs pet like a one-winged Cockatoo or a diabetic Dachshund catches your eye and heart, tally the costs associated with his care.
To help you narrow your choice, I encourage you to educate yourself by attending dog and cat breed shows (many now feature mixed breeds up for adoption) and consulting responsible breeders, animal rescue leaders and your veterinarian. Arm yourself with knowledge before opening your arms to a new pet.
Sharing your home with a pet unleashes plenty of healthy pluses, especially in this high-tech, low-touch society we now live in. In a world with far too much contact without true connection, a trusted dog, cat, bird or other companion animal can bring out the best in you.
Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian," is the resident veterinarian for Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. His latest book, Your Dog: The Owner's Manual, became available this spring. Find him in the AARPPetPals forum of AARP.org.