If you have decided to adopt your new dog from an animal shelter or rescue group, congratulations! You have made an incredible choice that will undoubtedly leaving a lasting impact on you, your family, and your new pooch!
Just because a dog is in a shelter doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it; in fact, the majority of shelter pets are there through no fault of their own. Sometimes they have gotten lost and picked up by animal control, and sometimes they have been turned over by their owners for any number of reasons, as you can see in this chart:
Shelter and rescue dogs typically make great pets, and with proper care and handling the vast majority of them will never have any major behavioral issues at all. However, there are things to look for and keep in mind while going through the process of selecting a shelter or rescue dog.
There are some cases where a shelter or rescue receives a dog because their owners simply can’t handle that dog’s strong personality or aggressiveness. And while the organization will usually do a good job of letting potential adopters know about behavior issues like this, it’s also important to know what to look for to ensure you find a dog that will fit in well with your family.
Adopting from an animal shelter is one of the best ways to help give a dog a second chance, and possibly save its life. Most dogs in shelters have ended up there because their families (for any number of reasons) couldn’t care for them anymore and turned them over to the shelter, they were picked up by animal control (often abandoned or had run away from their owners), or they were rescued from an unsafe situation (bad living conditions or a commercial breeding facility, for example).
However they ended up in the shelter though, some of these dogs have experienced abandonment or other heartbreaking circumstances, and are in desperate need of a good home and a second chance. Most of these dogs are going to have little or no issues integrating into your home quickly and easily.
Tips for the Adoption Process
1. Locate the shelters near you
As we mentioned in the last chapter, there are a number of great websites that list shelter dogs available for adoption in your area. Check out these sites to see if you can find a pup that fits your needs. In addition, you can call your local shelter (find their phone number through a quick Google search) and ask about available dogs.
2. Wait to visit the shelter
Eventually you will need to go visit a shelter, but we recommend waiting at least until you have have a certain dog in mind, especially if you have kids. It is very difficult for a young child (and many adults) to walk away from a kennel full of cute dogs without taking one home.
If you end up going to visit the shelter first, chances are good that you’ll leave with a dog, or have one of them soon after.
3. Go to the shelter with a specific dog in mind
Use the websites we mentioned in chapter three (especially Petfinder.com) to “preview” many of the dogs that are available in shelters near you. It’s the quickest and easiest way to see many of the dogs available for adoption, and will help reduce the likelihood of bringing home a dog that doesn’t work for you or your family.
4. Prepare to be strong and say “no”
Adopting a dog because you can’t say “No” to the wrong one may lead to heartbreak down the road if it doesn’t work out. The process is an emotional one, but your decision making needs to remain logical. It doesn’t make sense to get a big, active dog if you have a small apartment; don’t let his big, loving eyes pressure you into making the wrong choice for you and for him.
5. Talk with the staff
Shelter staffs have a reputation of being unfriendly, but this is an unfair stereotype, and certainly isn’t the case in most shelters. Most staff members will be more than happy to help you with your questions once they know you are sincerely interested in being a great owner.
The staff can provide you with a lot of basic information, and some will even have a sheet with details about the dog. However, if they don’t cover something you want to know, be sure to ask them lots of questions about the dog:
♦ Where did this dog come from?
♦ Can you tell me anything about the previous owners?
♦ How long has the dog been here?
♦ How old is the dog?
♦ Do you know if the dog is housebroken?
♦ What is the dog’s personality like?
♦ How does the dog get along with the other dogs?
♦ Have you noticed anything that concerns you with this dog?
♦ Does the dog know any commands?
♦ Do you know of any diseases or illnesses the dog has had in the past?
♦ What is the timeline for adoption – how long will it take?
Also ask about what would happen if the dog got sick right after being adopted, or if the dog were to exhibit some unexpected behavior. It’s good to know beforehand whether the shelter will help with things like this.
6. Spend some time with the dog
Ask the staff if it’s okay to take the dog on a walk, or outside to play. Many shelters have a fenced-in area outside for the dogs to run around in each day. Spend some time playing with it and getting to know its personality. Try out some basic commands like sit, stay, come, heel, and stop. The dog probably won’t know them all, but may know some which will let you know they have some basic training.
Most shelters will let you know if the dog has exhibited any aggression, but if it’s a traditionally aggressive breed, you may want to keep your kids away for the first walk or play time. Once you get to know the dog a little better and trust it more, then you can let your kids come play with it.
If you have other pets (especially if they’re other dogs), it’s also a good idea to introduce them to the new dog as well. Bring them to the shelter and see how they interact. Some dogs will be great with humans, but not so great with other animals. Make sure everyone who lives in your house will get along with the dog before making your decision.
7. Sleep on your decision
It’s always a good idea to wait overnight before making any big purchase or decision, and this is a big decision. Unless you are absolutely sure you have found the perfect dog for your family and absolutely sure your family is ready for the dog, you should wait 24 hours before you decide to adopt. The only thing more heartbreaking than seeing a dog in a shelter is seeing a recently adopted dog brought back to the shelter because their owners rushed into a decision.
Take some time; if it really is the right decision, then it won’t hurt to wait a day to make it. Let the shelter staff know you want to think about it overnight. Many will have a 24-hour hold period and if they do, take advantage of it. Then go home to talk it over one last time with your family or a trusted friend.
Adopting from a rescue group will have a lot of similarities to adopting from a shelter, so if you skipped ahead to this point, we recommend jumping back to the beginning of the chapter and reading through the process of adopting from a shelter. In this section we will cover the main differences for adopting from a rescue group.
Quick facts about rescue groups:
1. Rescues are commonly (but not always) dedicated to one breed or type. For example:
2. Rescues are mostly run by volunteers.
3. Many rescues will house their dogs in “foster homes” and may not have one physical building where their rescue is centrally located.
4. Rescues are almost always no-kill groups, meaning they don’t put down dogs simply because they’ve been in the rescue for a certain period of time. Most shelters are not no-kill, and unfortunately their policies are necessary because of the overwhelming number of animals without homes.
5. Many dogs in rescue groups were turned over by animal shelters who work with the groups.
The Adoption Process
Once you have picked out your dog and are ready to adopt, the process usually takes a relatively short time. Many shelters will let you take the dog home the same day, and most others will allow you to bring your new dog home within 24-48 hours.
Rescue groups can have a longer wait time, but it varies from group to group.
You will want to be sure to be prepared on adoption day, as some requirements may surprise you. Whether you are adopting from a shelter or rescue, you want to remember a few things to have with you when you pick up your dog.
Things to bring on adoption day!
- Your veterinarian’s name – you’ll usually need to provide this on the application
- Signed permission statement from landlord (if you are a renter)
- Money – the adoption fee’s will vary from place to place, and can range from $50-$400 or more
- A collar and leash
- A towel for the car ride home, in case of dirty paws (or accidents)
Finally: Adopt Your New Best Friend
If it has felt like a long process, good! That means you made a thoughtful, informed decision. Congratulations, you are ready to adopt your puppy! Call or stop by the shelter and inform them of your decision.
Some shelters may have a thorough adoption process which takes some time to complete, while others will be happy to send the dog home with you right away to make room for incoming pets. But once you jump through the final hoops, you will be a new dog owner and will soon be introducing your dog to his new house, new family, and new life!