So it’s Your First Time Adopting a Dog…
You’ve decided to welcome a furry friend into your home and you want to adopt a dog from a shelter. What could be simpler?
“But wait,” you say. “How does it work? What will it be like when I get there? Am I going to find the right dog?” Suddenly the process can seem overwhelming. Hang in there! With a little preparation, the dog adoption process can be as smooth as silk.
To Save a Life
According to the Humane Society of the United States, 6 to 8 million pets end up in shelters every year, and half of those will never be adopted. Many of these pets were given up for reasons that had nothing to do with the animal — often because the family moved or had financial troubles.
It’s a Bargain
Adopting a dog is much less expensive than buying one – and can even cost less than getting a “free” dog, since the shelter takes care of vaccinations, spaying/neutering, and other costs. You also won’t get a detailed medical/social history with a “free” dog you find in the classifieds.
Your Dream Dog Awaits
Shelters and rescue groups have every conceivable kind of dog, so with a little effort, you can adopt exactly what you are looking for – even if that is a purebred. In fact, Petfinder.com estimates that about 25 percent of shelter dogs are purebreds.
Choosing an Animal Shelter
Every animal shelter is different, and conditions vary widely, from state-of-the-art to bare-bones facilities. Most state and local shelters will be on the lower end, making the best out of limited resources. Expect a noisy, chaotic environment with numerous animals in chain-link cages.
Nikki Thompson, director of education and outreach at the Bucks County SPCA in Lahaska, PA, encourages prospective adopters to research their local animal shelters before going.
“Ask people about the rescue or shelter… see what experiences they have had,” she says. “The reputation of a shelter is a big deal. They should be willing to work with you to help find a good match, not just push an animal out the door.”
Thompson also recommends calling the shelter before you go to ask about their adoption policies, costs, and procedures. This will save you time and help avoid misunderstandings later on in the process. Also, ask if the animal shelter performs temperament evaluations on dogs before adopting them out.
Not sure where your local animal shelter is? You can search the database at Petfinder.com for shelters near you and then visit them in person, where you can get to know the staff and spend some time with the animals before adopting one.
When You Get There
Thompson suggests that you talk to an adoption specialist before looking at the animals. By finding out about your lifestyle and activity level, they can suggest specific dogs for you. If you don’t meet your match that day, they may remember you and call you when “your” dog walks in the door.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good shelter will be happy to provide you with information about the animal’s history and personality before you adopt.
“If the match is not right, it won’t do either you or the animal any good to have to return it to the shelter,” says Thompson.
The application itself can be lengthy and detailed, but it is important to remember that the shelter’s goal is to make sure that every adoption is successful.
“People who enter animal shelters are doing a good deed and don’t always want to be questioned about it,” says Amy Robinson, a dog trainer, shelter volunteer, and two time pet adopter. “However, the shelter is trying to make sure the adopter is prepared for the new pet so that the pet isn’t returned.”
They may ask about:
- Your income
- Home ownership/landlord information
- Previous/current pet ownership
- Living conditions (house, apartment, children, other pets, etc.)
- Where the animal will sleep
- How long you are away from home each day
- Who will take care of the animal when you’re away
- Who your vet is (if you already have pets)
They may also ask for references, and might want to do a home visit before finalizing the adoption.
Again, don’t hesitate to ask questions in return. For instance:
- What is included in the adoption fee?
- What are you required to do if the adoption doesn’t work out?
- If the pet isn’t neutered yet, will the shelter provide this service later?
When it’s Time to Go Home
Many animal shelters will send you home with some basic instructions on pet care and a starter supply of food. It’s a good idea to start your new pup out on the same kind of food he was eating at the shelter and gradually transition to something new, if you choose to do so.
Remember that it will take time and patience for both you and your new dog to learn what is expected of each other.
Stephanie Krol, board president of the Humane Society of Elkhart County in Bristol, IN, says, “I always remind people that our society today always wants a quick fix. Any pet needs time and training. Just like kids, pets need patience and love and confidence.”