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Dr. Gary Weitzman is president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society. Courtesy photo
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Teaching your kids responsible pet care during the pandemic adoption boom

By Dr. Gary Weitzman, President and CEO, San Diego Humane Society

One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is a boom in pet adoptions and fostering. Thanks to quarantine measures keeping more of us at home, many have decided to add a new pet to their family or to foster an animal. As a result, animal shelters are adapting to meet the needs of the animals, and those who want to add a four-legged friend to their family.

Adopting a pet from a shelter can be a wonderful experience for your family, and one that helps to save the life of an animal in need. But during this time of social distancing, it’s more important than ever to teach children about responsible pet ownership, so your furry friend can stay happy and healthy once you’re heading back to work and school again. Here are a few tips to ensure that welcoming a new animal into your home goes smoothly.

Be Prepared

Every pet needs clean water, healthy meals, a place to relieve themselves, appropriate exercise and a comfy spot to sleep — and knowing how to read your new four-legged family member’s behavior and train them is key to a successful adjustment.

New dog owners may wonder:

  • How do I keep my dog calm in new situations?
  • When is it a good idea to give my dog a treat?
  • Should I punish my dog for bad behavior?
  • What should I do if my dog pulls on the leash, jumps up on guests or has “accidents” in the house?

 Likewise, new cat owners may ask:

  • How do I get my cat into their carrier?
  • What should I do if my cat chews on things she’s not supposed to or urinates outside the litter box?
  • Why does my cat “go crazy” and run around at night?
  • Can you really train a cat?

Spoiler alert: You can in fact train a cat, and there is no such thing as a “bad dog!”

Learning to read a pet’s body language and teach them new behaviors won’t just make your lives easier (and save your furniture). Structured, regular training is a great way for kids and parents to bond with a new animal companion.

If you’re not sure where to start, I recently wrote two new children’s books that can start your family on the right track. Fetch! A How to Speak Dog Training Guide will take you through all the steps of training your dog, from basic obedience to correcting behaviors to teaching more advanced tricks. New cat owners can pick up Pounce! A How to Speak Cat Training Guide for tips on everything from teaching your kitty to use a scratching post instead of the couch, to walking on a leash. Additionally, San Diego Humane Society offers free virtual classes that provide socialization and training tips for puppies and kittens. Visit for up-to-date offerings.

Giving Back

All pets deserve to be cared for like any other family member. And starting out on the right foot with your new family members is essential. Behavioral challenges are one of the leading reasons why pets are relinquished to animal shelters, but we can reduce those numbers through proper training and ensuring that everyone in the family is ready to help in creating a successful transition for your new family member.

If you’re looking to adopt a cat, dog, pig, chicken donkey or horse, please consider adopting a shelter animal. San Diego Humane Society has a variety of animals waiting for their new homes and we would love to help you find the right fit for your next pet.

Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA, President and CEO, San Diego Humane Society

Gary Weitzman joined San Diego Humane Society as its President and CEO in 2012. A Certified Animal Welfare Administrator, he has served as Chair of the Board of the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement and is currently a board member of the California Animal Welfare Association (CalAnimals), Shelter Animals Count and Mama’s Kitchen, a San Diego nonprofit committed to providing food for people with chronic illnesses.

Dr. Weitzman was the former co-host of the nationally distributed public radio program The Animal House which ran for 7 years, and is the author of 10 books published by National Geographic, including: Everything Dogs, How to Speak Dog, How to Speak Cat, The Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness, Dog Breed Guide, and Cat Breed Guide.

A portion of proceeds from his books Fetchand Pounce! will support San Diego Humane Society.

About San Diego Humane Society

San Diego Humane Society’s scope of social responsibility goes beyond adopting animals. We offer programs that strengthen the human-animal bond, prevent cruelty and neglect, provide medical care, educate the community and serve as a safety net for all pet families. Serving San Diego County since 1880, San Diego Humane Society has campuses in El Cajon, Escondido, Oceanside, San Diego and Ramona. For more information, please visit