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How to Adopt Shelter Dogs

Navigating the Dog Adopting Process

By Lauren Leonardi. April 16, 2013 | See Comments

How to Adopt Shelter Dogs

Animal shelters can be stressful places, and dogs won't always be themselves at first when you go to meet and adopt. Learn how to successfully adopt a dog from a shelter.

If you’ve decided to adopt a dog, congratulations! Adopting or rescuing a shelter dog is more humane, more earth conscious, and you could very well be saving a life.

Here’s what you need to know to adopt a dog.

What to Expect at the Animal Shelter

A visit to an animal shelter can be a difficult experience. In urban areas, kennels and cages will likely be brimming with dogs. Rural or suburban shelters may be somewhat less populated. Either way, prepare yourself for a cacophony of barking and a long line of sad faces. Some of the dogs may be in poor health or appear aggressive.

Spending time in a kennel can be very traumatic for a dog. They can become reclusive, anxious, and protective. In the shelter environment, dogs will often exhibit behaviors that will disappear after just one or two days in a loving home environment. Keep an open mind. Remember, they’re not at their best.

Shelter Tips

  • DO. Adopting a dog from a kill shelter can very well save a life. If you have one in your area, try there first.

  • DON’T. Don’t expect to see many young puppies. Pups tend to be adopted first, and can be hard to come by.

  • DO. Be open to adopting a dog 6 months or older. You’ll be doing a real kindness to adopt an adult dog, as older dogs are the most likely to perish in shelters.

  • DO. Ask shelter staff about the history of an animal you’re interested in. Many shelters, like some ASPCA-affiliated shelters, will have stories about the animals posted to their cages. Take the time to read those. If there’s no information provided, ask shelter staff what they may know about your dog of choice. There may not be any history, but sometimes there will be details that help a lot. For example, it may be known that a dog is already housebroken, if they exhibit food aggression, whether a dog gets along well with other dogs, or if a dog is good (or not) around kids.

  • DO. Ask to take the dog for a walk. Some shelters will allow a brief jaunt around the block. Others will bring the dog out into a yard or fenced area, so you can get a better sense of them one-on-one.

How to Greet a Dog So You'll Become Friends

  • DO. Visit a dog you’re interested in more than once. Just as we all have good days and bad days, so do dogs. It’s unrealistic to expect to go to a shelter once, and go home that very day with the dog of your dreams. Visit them three, four, even five times. Get to know them, and let them get to know you as well. If you’re worried that your dog of choice might be adopted out from under you, ask shelter staff to get in touch with you should anyone else express interest.

  • DON’T. Don’t ever bring a dog back to a shelter. Make sure you can handle the dog before bringing them home. Once you sign your papers and leave the shelter, you’re making a commitment to the dog. Just as you wouldn’t return a $900 Labradoodle to the pet store, neither should you return your adopted mutt to the shelter. It’s traumatizing for a pet to be returned to a shelter environment.

  • DON’T. Don’t adopt a dog until you’ve made a real heart-to-heart connection. Get to know the dog who appeals to you. Most adoptive pet parents say the same thing: you’ll know it when it happens. Don’t settle, and don’t rush the process.

What to Bring to the Shelter

Adoption requirements are different from shelter to shelter.

  • Some shelters require proof of age, so bring along two forms of identification.

  • A personal character reference may be requested.

  • In some areas, you may need to prove that dogs are allowed in your place of residence. A letter from the landlord, or copy of the lease, should suffice.

  • Some rescue organizations and shelters will want to send a representative out to your home to be sure you have the means and the space to properly care for an animal.

  • Most shelters and rescue organizations will ask for a donation or adoption fee. These fees go toward food, medical care, and upkeep of the facilities. Most shelters operate on a shoestring budget, and rely on adoption fees and donations to remain operational.

Before Bringing Your New Dog Home

Many shelters will offer to spay or neuter your pet. Some shelters will even vaccinate your pet for you. This can be a real money saving step, so inquire about these options during the adoption process.

If the shelter does not provide these options, make an appointment with a local veterinarian as soon as you can after bringing your new dog home.

  • Shelters can be havens for common ailments like kennel cough, fleas, worms, and other illnesses. Have your new dog fully checked out as soon as possible after adoption.

  • Be sure to get all the first stage vaccinations. Your veterinarian will advise on what’s needed.

  • Newly adopted dogs should not socialize with other animals outside the home until they’re licensed and vaccinated.

Bringing Your New Family Member Home

The whole family will be excited to receive your new family member. No one more so than the dog! In the first few hours and days your new dog will likely want to wander the house and sniff around, checking out their new environs. Keep an eye on them, as you may discover that areas of your home aren’t entirely safe. Electrical cords and breakable objects, for example, may need to be moved.

Make sure your dog has a place of their own to sleep, and you’re on your way! Now is a great time to start training your dog as well.

More on Bringing a Dog Home

10 Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog
Transitioning Your Pet from Shelter to Happy Home
Which Dog Breed is Best for You?

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