Justin Bieber just joined the growing list of celebrities — including talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, "Glee" star Lea Michele, singer Pink, and actor Kellan Lutz — who are promoting pet adoption. So if you suddenly get more (or more intense) "I-want-to-go-to-the-shelter" entreaties from your teens or grandkids, you'll know why. (Click here to see Bieber's "Animals Can Make U Smile" public service announcement for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)
If you and your family decide to take the plunge and rescue an animal, too, here's what you need to consider.
Why do you want a pet? Gallup surveys find that four in 10 dog owners say companionship or friendship is the biggest reason, followed by general love of animals. Other reasons include protection or security and hunting or exercise. (Today 59 percent of Americans own a cat or dog, including 16 percent who own both, 28 percent who own only a dog, and 15 percent who just own a cat.)
How strongly do you believe in adoption? What sways many people: About half of the 8 million or so unwanted dogs and cats who enter U.S. animal shelters each year are put to sleep. Still, some people prefer animals from breeders, often because they worry that shelter dogs may be psychologically scarred. Yet homeless animals can make the most adoring pets, says my friend Lauren Black. "My most loving cat was in the pound for a long time and was almost put to sleep because no one wanted him. He sleeps between my husband and me every night," she says. "We've found that it's the cats that have been through some tough times that become the most attached to us and are the most loving. We think that in their distant memory they know things can be bad and they are grateful for their turn of fortune!"
Are you patient? "You've got to give them lots of love, establish a routine for them so they know what to expect, and give them space when they need it as they adjust and learn that they are safe in their new home with their new family," says Black.
Are you prepared for a multi-year commitment? Pets require lifelong care. Dachshunds, for example, live about 15 years.
Are you ready for the expense? Veterinary bills and food add up. It can cost $700 to $3,000 a year to raise a dog.
Will you move? More than 37 million Americans a year relocate. If you join their ranks, will you definitely head to an apartment or condo that allows animals?
How often do you travel? If you go on many trips, you may run into trouble giving your dog or cat enough tender loving care. And pet sitters are pricey.
What's the best breed? You can get help with choosing the ideal type of dog or cat for you from "breed finders" on sites such as petside.com. Also, speak with the volunteers and staff at your shelter to learn what you can about an animal's temperament. (Do you want more playful? Or is gentle your ideal?)
Are you willing to do more homework? Check sites such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Humane Society, AnimalShelter.org, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.