How to get a dog from a shelter

Note: This is the second 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, buying a puppy from a breeder and buying a puppy from a pet shop.

Today the focus is on how to adopt a dog from a shelter.

How to adopt a dog from a shelter

What is considered an actual “animal shelter”?

The animal sheltering system can get confusing because every shelter is different. “Animal shelter” is a pretty broad term that, depending on where you live, could be used interchangeably with pound, animal control, humane society, SPCA, rescue group, no-kill shelter, open-admission shelter, municipal shelter and so on.

Some shelters are funded almost entirely by tax dollars. Some are funded almost entirely through donations. Some shelters kill healthy dogs. Some do not. Some shelters serve as the area’s “pound” or animal control. Some are totally separate and “rescue” the dogs from those places.

Some shelters have a very simple adoption process – just pay $50 and pick out a dog. Others have a complex system involving applications, $300 fees, home visits and references.

If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is.

For the simplicity of this post, when I say “shelter” I am referring to a privately run organization that pulls dogs from the “pound” or animal control and puts them up for adoption.

Cal the pitbull mix up for adoption in Fargo ND

Tips for adopting a dog from a shelter

  • Take your time to find a good match; step away from the urgency
  • Get as much info as possible on the dog’s background, energy level and personality
  • Bring your whole family
  • Allow your current dogs to meet the potential new dog before adoption
  • Realize that every shelter is unique, with its own set of requirements
  • Be aware of potentially strict adoption policies
  • Be open to a variety of dogs
  • Choose a dog based on her energy and personality, not her looks
  • Have a plan in place for training
  • Get the dog examined by a vet within days of the adoption to make sure he’s healthy

Reasons to adopt a dog from a shelter

Dogs are spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

If you adopt from a shelter, the dog will likely be vaccinated and spayed/neutered if he or she is old enough. If the dog is not already “fixed,” some shelters provide an incentive such as a discount on a future spay/neuter surgery or a partial refund once you prove the surgery took place. Of course, this is only a benefit if you actually want your dog spayed or neutered. Most shelters will require you do so.

The adoption process is simple.

For the most part, it’s easier to adopt a dog from a standard shelter than it is to adopt from a foster-based rescue organization. The shelters want to get the dogs out of the shelter and into homes. Typically, there is a reasonable fee and a reasonable one- to two-page application process. You may need to provide a veterinarian’s recommendation and proof that your landlord allows pets.

Unfortunately, some shelters will require you to submit to a home visit and they may put up other barriers such as requiring a fenced yard.

You save a dog’s life.

Even if you adopt from a “no-kill” shelter, you could still save a dog’s life because you are opening up space at the shelter for an incoming dog that would have been killed elsewhere. Every time you adopt a dog, you are lessening the burden for the shelter/rescue system as a whole.

There will be a variety of dogs.

Dogs of all types end up in shelters. Everything from mixed-breed puppies to little, white fluffs to purebred Rottweilers to mixed-breed retriever types. There will be couch potatoes, older dogs, running buddies, dogs with obedience skills, former apartment dogs, quiet dogs and social butterflies. Take your pick!

Some shelters will take the dogs back if they don’t work out.

This is not always the case, so make sure to ask.

The shelter will have info on each dog’s personality.

It may not be as detailed as you’d like, but the shelter should at least give you some general info on each dog’s background, energy level and compatibility with other dogs, kids, cats, strangers and so on. Make sure to ask lots of questions before adopting a dog.

Dogs are usually walked at least briefly.

I’m generalizing, but most shelters will at least take the dogs out for brief potty breaks a few times per day. Some shelter dogs are given actual exercise when volunteers walk them or allow them to play in a fenced area. Even a little exercise and interaction goes a long way as far as keeping a shelter dog’s stress level down.

Black Lab mix for adoption Fargo

Some things to keep in mind before adopting a dog from a shelter

Some shelters have strict adoption criteria.

You may need to pay a fee close to $300. You may need to fill out an eight-page application. You may need to provide references. You may need to submit to a home visit. It all depends on the unique shelter’s adoption requirements. Some shelters make it impossible to adopt.

The dogs have quite a bit of pent-up energy.

Even if the dogs are walked every day, they will still be “wired” from life at the shelter. Some will come home and crash since they can finally catch up on rest. Others will be bouncing off the walls from so much confinement.

Shelters have poor customer service.

I’m generalizing again, but shelter staff and volunteers are not known for exceptional customer service. They don’t necessarily return phone calls or emails. They aren’t always welcoming when potential adopters visit. The shelter might be closed on the weekends and evenings when working people would want to visit. They tend to blame the public for not doing enough to help instead of thinking creatively to get members of the community more involved. I could go on and on.

Shelters have poor guesses on “breeds.”

Just about every shelter dog is labeled as a “pitbull mix” or a “Lab mix” or – if it’s small – a “terrier mix.” The dogs may or may not have any terrier or retriever in their breed heritage. It’s just a guess, so take it for what it’s worth. Sometimes shelter workers will then make inaccurate assumptions on the dog’s personality based on these false breed labels. Shelters might even put additional adoption requirements on “pitbulls.” This is not in the best interest of the dogs or the adopters. Each dog is an individual, regardless of what she looks like.

You can’t always take the dog home that day.

You can typically walk into a “pound” and take a dog home within an hour. This is the case with some shelters, but some will make you come back another day once your application has been processed and approved. It could take 24 hours, a few days or even a few weeks. This is not necessarily so bad, because it’s good to take some time to seriously think about an individual dog before adopting.

The dog may not be trained.

The shelter dog may or may not be housebroken. The dog may or may not have had obedience training. The dog may or may not know how to sit or stay. The dog will certainly have an “issue” of some sort. This is not a stab at shelter dogs. This is the case with all dogs. It’s just that with a shelter dog, you won’t necessarily know what the “issues” are until you’ve had the dog for a few days. Most shelter dogs are good dogs, but there will likely be some little things to work through such as leash pulling or barking at people on walks. This is usually no big deal, but it’s something to consider.

What advice do you have for people hoping to adopt a dog from a shelter?

Both dogs pictured in this post are with the Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead in Fargo, N.D. The tan dog, Cal, will be available for adoption soon. The black dog, Roxy, is currently up for adoption. Edit: Roxy has been adopted!