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How to get a dog from the pound

How to get a dog from the pound

This post is focused on how to adopt a dog from the pound.

What is considered an actual ‘dog pound’?

Pointer/pitbull mix for adoption with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services

Every community runs its pound system differently, so whether you are trying to find your lost dog or adopt a new dog, the system can be confusing. In some areas, the animal shelter and pound are the same thing.

In other areas, the pound is a holding place for lost dogs until there is room for them at a shelter. Some pounds allow members of the public to adopt the dogs. Others do not, so the only way out for the dogs is if a shelter or rescue group takes them in.

This is the first post in a series on how to get a dog. The series will focus on adopting a dog from the pound, adopting a dog from a shelter, adopting a dog from a rescue group, adopting a dog through Craigslist and buying a puppy from a breeder.

For most communities, the dog pound is a government-controlled facility funded by tax dollars. It is usually linked with the city or county’s animal control or police department. Sometimes a private shelter manages the pound through an agreement with the local government.

Are you confused yet? 🙂

In general, most U.S. pounds still kill healthy dogs for “space.” Most pounds are legally required to hold impounded dogs for a minimum amount of time (such as 3 business days) before they can be killed or put up for adoption.

This gives owners a little time to claim their lost dogs. If you’re not sure if your pound has dogs for adoption, call and ask. It may or may not have a web site with pictures of the dogs.

There are many different ways to obtain a dog, and one way is not necessarily better than the other. Here are some pros and cons to saving a dog from the pound:

Reasons to adopt a dog from the pound

1. You save a dog’s life.

Saving a dog’s life is enough of a reason for some of us to choose the adoption route. I’ve saved four foster animals directly from the pound, and this is a rewarding experience for an animal lover.

2. Space opens up for another dog.

If you adopt a dog from a pound, more resources instantly become available for the existing or incoming dogs. You also lessen the burden for surrounding shelters and rescues because there is one less dog for them to find space for.

3. The adoption process at a pound is typically easy.

To adopt a dog from a pound, you typically pay a reasonable fee ($75 or less), fill out a basic form and take the dog home that day.

You may need to bring a form of identification, and you may need to provide proof that your landlord allows pets. Overall, the process is generally painless compared to the strict adoption policies of shelters and rescue groups.

4. There is a variety of dogs available.

Lots of different dogs end up in the pound – small dogs, purebred dogs, puppies, calm and obedient dogs, black dogs. Some are mixed breeds. Many are labeled as “pitbulls.” Some are middle aged. Overall, pound dogs are normal dogs.

5. The dog will most likely be up to date on shots.

The dog may also be spayed/neutered.

Reasons not to adopt a dog from the pound

1. Emotions get in the way.

We all feel sorry for dogs in the pound, and adopting a dog when we are highly emotional is not the best idea. We may end up choosing a dog that is not the best fit for our lifestyles. 

Try not to fall for the first puppy or the first senior dog or the dog that’s next to be killed. Yes, sometimes you can take a chance and it works out. Sometimes it’s a huge mistake.

2. Little is known about each dog.

Since many dogs come into the pound as lost or “stray,” little or nothing is known about their pasts. Some pound dogs are surrendered by their owners, but pound workers don’t always gather useful information about the dogs’ personalities.

3. The dog will have pent-up energy.

Once at the pound, the dogs typically live in small enclosures with little room to play, exercise and interact. It’s nearly impossible to see the dog’s true personality and energy level. 

The dogs will appear wound up. Others will be terrified and basically shutting down. Either way, it’s difficult to know the dog’s true personality, and he could be entirely different once you take him home.

4. Few resources are available after the adoption.

Some pounds are better than others, but most will not go out of their way to provide adopters with training advice and other resources once they take the dog home.

5. Pounds generally have poor marketing.

Pounds in general do not go out of their way to market the dogs available for adoption.

If the pound has a web site at all for its dogs, the photos are usually bad, like this dog on the right from the pound in Dickinson, N.D.

Does this dog look cute and cuddly to you or a little psycho? Descriptions of the dogs are vague, if they exist at all. Sometimes the dogs aren’t even named or there are no photos.

The overall pound environment is cold, dark and depressing. It takes a special person to even walk into a pound.

6. You won’t know if the dog is housebroken.

Since most of the pound dogs come in as “strays” and are then kept in cages, it’s difficult to know if they are housebroken.

It’s a good sign if a dog keeps his kennel clean, but sometimes the dogs are not taken out often enough or they just doesn’t understand where to go to the bathroom while at the pound.

Tips for adopting a dog from the pound

1. Take your time.

Step away from the urgency. You can’t save them all today, and it’s better for you and the dog if you choose one that matches your lifestyle. Look at as many dogs as possible.

Then go home and give yourself 24 hours to think about your decision. At the very least, take 30 minutes to grab some lunch, think things over and go back.

2. Gather as much information as possible about each dog.

If you have access to online photos and profiles of the dogs, study those closely before going to the actual pound.

Focus on the dogs’ behaviors and energy levels rather than their looks, age or “breeds.” Also read over the adoption policy so you know what to expect ahead of time.

Email the pound and ask specific questions about two or three of the dogs. Here’s my list of what to ask before adopting a dog. Try to ask your deal-breaker questions first such as “How does she do with cats?”

Or, “Is this dog good with kids?” You may or may not hear back, so follow up with a phone call. Ask more questions, and schedule a time to meet the dogs you are interested in.

Bring your whole family, including your existing dogs if possible. Ask to spend some time with each dog in a quiet, separate area and to take each dog out for a short walk. Ask if your existing dog can meet the dogs you are interested in.

3. Ask for copies of the dog’s veterinary records.

Most pounds will give incoming dogs vaccinations and a basic exam. Some will even be spayed or neutered if they aren’t already.

Ask for a copy of these records. It’s also a good idea to take the dog to another vet for an exam within the first couple days after adoption just to make sure the dog is healthy.

4. Ask what to do if the dog doesn’t work out.

Let’s say you get the dog home and you realize he’s not the right dog for you. Will the pound take him back? Will you get a refund?

Will there be a “surrender” fee? How much time do you get to decide? You want to know these answers before you take a dog home.

5. Have a plan in place for dog training.

No matter where you get a dog, it’s best to start obedience training right away. I always recommend dog obedience classes, no matter how much you already know about dog training.

This is just such a good way to teach the dog how to work calmly around other dogs. It’s a good way to form a bond, put yourself in a leadership role and give the dog a sense of purpose.


You have done an amazing thing for a dog. You literally saved his life, and lessened the burden for the shelters/rescues in the area. You are a special person, and I wish you the best with your new dog.

Have you ever adopted a dog from the pound? What advice do you have for others considering this option?

The tan and white dog at the top is up for adoption with the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services. The fluffy gray dog is at the pound in Dickinson, N.D.


Thursday 4th of August 2016

Hi Lindsay, I have read several times this words since I m living in the United States. Im transcribing a few words that you post above: "4. There is a variety of dogs available. Lots of different dogs end up in the pound – small dogs, purebred dogs, puppies, calm and obedient dogs, black dogs..." Here is my question...what happen with black dogs?? Is something wrong with them? Are they less adoptable?? To be sincere, I don't my country people don't mind the colour of the dog and me neither. ..I have a black dog!and I ve had had several black dogs in my life. I really appreciate if you can explain to me this story about black dogs. Thanks, Maria.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 4th of August 2016

I'm not sure I understand your question. I was just showing there are a variety of dogs in the pounds/shelters including black dogs, brown dogs, spotted dogs, white dogs! Some people do say black dogs are less adoptable but I think that is a myth. There are just a lot of black dogs as it is a dominant coat color and a lot of breeds are black.


Friday 19th of April 2013

Great info! It important to know that dogs' behavior can change dramatically after leaving the pound. I got Kaya from one, but she was a puppy at the time. Norman was also a pound pup, but I got him from his adopters (craigslist) a week after they adopted him. I would do it again! I love the idea of saving a life, but you do have to take your time and find the right dog.


Tuesday 16th of April 2013

I love how you listed both the pros and the cons. I think it is great that people know what to realistically expect. It's been a while since I adopted. Maya was adopted from a shelter by someone else then given to me. Pierson came directly from his stray life at a park. The last time I adopted a dog was when I worked at an animal shelter. So the processes I went through for adopting a dog were different. I had more time to get to know the dogs and most adoptions were somewhat unplanned.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 16th of April 2013

I had forgotten that Pierson came to you directly as a stray. What a different dog he is now!


Monday 15th of April 2013

I'm gonna politely disagree with some of your terminology. The pound is an archaic term. A more appropriate term for municipal shelters is animal control. Or, for some, an open admission humane society or shelter. For example, the Marin Humane Society (California) is not animal control but it is an open admission shelter with state law enforcement humane officers. Or, if your shelter really sucks, "catch and kill" is totes appropriate. Or the pound, whatever. :)

Also, some of the reasons "not to adopt" a shelter dog seem like false barriers to me. Emotions are important when adding an animal to a family! Good emotions of "like", "love", "affection", "enjoyment", "joy" are important when adding a dog as a permanent member. Feeling sorry for a dog is fine, so long as it is not the sole reason for adopting a dog (it usually is not).

And if having a housebroken dog is why someone chooses not to adopt, they probably shouldn't consider a dog anyways. Even housetrained dogs may urinate and defecate in new homes and certainly puppies - regardless of where they come from - will need housetraining. One should expect to train a dog, it's kinda Dog Guardianship 101.

Dogs change after adoption and purchase. That's just a reality. I've fostered dogs who've spent only one day in the shelter (guardian surrenders) and dogs who have been in shelters long term. No matter how long they've spent at the shelter, within two weeks of fostering, they become comfortable in their new environment and adapt their personality to it. That's an expectation one should have welcoming any dog to their lives and shouldn't be perceived as a reason "not" to add a dog (regardless of source).

Those are my opinionated responses to your blog posting!

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 15th of April 2013

All good points!


Monday 15th of April 2013

I'm especially interested in reading how and why one would buy a dog from a pet shop.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 15th of April 2013

Yes. I don't support traditional pet shops, obviously. But some pet shops have puppies for adoption that came from pounds and shelters.