Adopting a Shelter Dog

Pets & People


Deciding to add a new animal to your family is an exciting time!  

Adopting a dog or puppy from an animal shelter or rescue program can be very rewarding. Not only will you be adding a wonderful companion to your family, you will also be saving a life. Here are a few things to consider before, during, and after the adoption that can help ensure success.

Make sure you’re ready. Adopting an animal means agreeing to be responsible for the animal’s care for many years to come.  It is always wise to think ahead and consider what might change in your life and how you will be able to ensure that you meet your new dog’s needs as a beloved family member.  Veterinary care, nutritional needs, exercise requirements, and how well the dog will blend with children and other family members are all important.  It is also imperative to consider the financial obligation of caring for a canine companion.  There are expenses involved with caring for your dog if you travel, including veterinary care and emergency services.  Some of these expenses can add up to thousands of dollars.  Therefore, it is highly recommended your new friend has a major medical insurance policy.
Familiarize yourself with the type of dog you seek to adopt.  Breed, energy level, sociability, haircoat, age, and your personality and lifestyle are just a few.  Many shelters are experienced at helping to make lasting matches and may even have standardized, research-backed questionnaires for you to fill out to help with this process.
Most areas have multiple animal welfare organizations, and each may have different missions and philosophies.  You may wish to give your adoption support to the agency your philosophies align best with. Consider asking your regular veterinarian about the local shelters.  It can also be useful to ask friends what their experiences have been.  Ultimately, you should feel great about the dog or puppy you are bringing home and the organization you choose to support through your adoption.
Rescues and shelters take different approaches to the adoption process.  Some require you to fill out involved questionnaires and perform reference checks.  Others take a more open, trusting, and conversational approach.  Some shelters will send animals home the first day you visit, and others take a slower approach.  It can be helpful to familiarize yourself with how the shelter you visit works immediately so you won’t be disappointed after you’ve matched with a dog.  Almost all shelters will require their animals to be spayed/neutered before adoption.  Many shelters will have already performed the surgery before animals are available for adoption, while others will wait until adoption papers are signed.  This is also something you may want to find out about early on. Less commonly, shelters will send animals home with a voucher or other system and require spay/neuter at some point after adoption.  It can be helpful to keep an open and compassionate mind during the adoption process. Remember that shelters are busy and chaotic places for the animals they house and the humans that work there.
Once you have found a dog you are interested in, ask the shelter for as much information as possible!  Get a complete history, but recognize that sometimes little information is known.  Find out when and where the shelter obtained the dog; was it brought in as a stray, surrendered by an owner, transferred from another shelter, or in another situation?  Ask what is known about the previous living situation and how the dog has behaved since being at the shelter.  

You should also be shown the medical records the shelter has kept since intake (and any previous records that might exist).  You will want to ask about any ongoing medical issues, whether the dog is on any medication, and what anticipated care will be required if there are known medical issues.  Inquire about what sort of follow-up services the shelter offers, such as health insurance, microchipping, obedience training, or consulting for behavioral issues or medical issues.  

Finally, be sure to ask about return policies, as it is important to know what options exist if the adoption does not work out.
Although many sheltering organizations have staff veterinarians, many do not.  The level of veterinary care can be advanced to non-existent.  No matter what exists in the shelter your dog comes home from; it is always wise to schedule an appointment to see your regular veterinarian soon after adoption.  Illnesses such as upper respiratory infection and diarrhea are quite common in the early period after adoption due to the stress of shelter stays, and your veterinarian can help provide appropriate care so that your new friend recovers optimally.  Vaccination boosters, parasite examinations, microchip implantation, and other important preventive care may also be needed early after arriving home.
It can take weeks for a new dog to adjust to a new home, yard, family, and environment. Keeping things quiet for a week, learning about and employing crate training, and establishing a solid routine can help.  Especially for an older dog, patience is a very good idea during the initial adjustment period.