Answering the question of whether or not it is a good idea to adopt an abandoned animal may not be as straightforward as one might think, according to veterinarian Lloyd Kenda, of Valley Veterinary Centre (www.valleyvetcentre.com.hk).

"There is always a tremendous amount of news about unwanted pets. Animal welfare charity organisations in Hong Kong are inundated with stray dogs and cats looking for a new home. This seems to be the same the world over," Kenda says.

These animals have either been dumped and then handed to an animal welfare organisation or surrendered to such a group and, Kenda says, due to the recent clampdown on keeping pets in government housing, there are now even more animals in need of a home. "Some of these pets may not be show quality, but who cares if all you want is a pet for that unconditional loyalty and love?"

There are many mixed-breed animals available for adoption and, Kenda says the advantage of having one as a pet is that it is less likely to suffer the inherited medical problems that are often seen in pedigree breeds. On the other hand, "with pure-bred pets, there is some idea of their size, coat, personality and known predisposition to certain medical problems. Mixed-breed pets come with no such guarantees and hence can be more of an unknown".

Therefore, adopting a mixed breed may lead to some surprises - for example, with a puppy it may be difficult to determine what size it will be when fully grown. This is less of a problem for cats, but can be a significant gamble if choosing a medium- to large-size dog breed.

"Hybrid vigour, however, seems to make mixed breeds hardier and healthier," Kenda says.

Looks and size are important, but personality should also be considered, according to the vet. "Behavioural problems are more likely to occur in pets, especially dogs, from shelters. Many of these dogs have been abandoned or lost, and many have been mistreated, making them somewhat untrusting of people."

He warns that adult dogs with known behavioural problems should only be adopted by experienced dog owners. "It would be more distressing for everyone concerned if a pet is taken and then had to be returned due to the new owner not being able to cope."

The emotional and financial costs also need to be considered. Kenda says: "What you may pay for a pet initially may or may not seem like a good buy in the long run. A free or cheap pet from an animal welfare shelter may come with a variety of problems that could have high financial or emotional costs. Yes, you are helping save a life, but beware of the pitfalls."

As with any new pet, Kenda says it is vital to do the appropriate research before making a commitment. He encourages adopters to spend as much time as possible with their potential new pet to try to determine its personality. He also advises that they have the pet checked out by an independent vet.

"Discuss with the vet fully what you want from the pet, your lifestyle, your time commitments and financial ability to look after the pet. Don't take a pet because you feel sorry for it - you may regret it later, and this will then obviously not be giving the pet a good home," Kenda says.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) has information in the Service section of its website www.spca.org.hk about adoptions, including a discussion of the most appropriate pet for people based on their lifestyle. There is also detailed information on the care of dogs, cats, small animals and turtles that provides further insight into what is required to be a good owner. This includes basic considerations - for example, dogs will require a commitment of up to 20 years - the daily and long-term needs that the owner must provide for, and behavioural differences depending on the age of the pet. This expert advice can help potential pet owners make the right decision for them, and the animal in question.

Kenda emphasises that the costs associated with adopting an animal are not just financial. "The emotional costs to you and the pet can be devastating if a bad decision is made." 

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