Before you adopt, think about…

Shelters can be heartbreaking places to visit — crowded, chaotic, and full of sad, adorable faces. The more prepared you are emotionally for what you’ll see at the shelter, the less likely you are to lose your heart to a dog you feel sorry for rather than to a dog who’s a good match for you.

Before you go to the shelter, have an idea of what you want to do with this dog — jog, play with children, take long walks, visit nursing homes, compete in organized sports, or hang out on the couch. When you’re looking at dogs, remember those traits and keep your head about you. You’re protecting the dog you’ll eventually adopt, as well as your own heart.

If you find shelters too disturbing to visit, go to an adoption event instead. They’re often held at pet stores or farmer’s markets, and since they feel like field trips for the dogs, they’re generally less depressing.

What to know about services and fees

No federal agency oversees shelters or rescue groups. Some people assume that the HSUS takes care of these things, but it’s a nonprofit animal protection agency and has no legal authority. This means that shelters vary significantly in their levels of quality, animal care, and medical services.

A responsible and well-funded organization, whether it’s a shelter or rescue group, will make sure the dog is spayed or neutered, current with vaccinations, and has been treated for any necessary health care issues before he’s allowed to go out the door with you. (This by no means is the way every shelter operates.)

Organizations that operate this way pick up the cost of spaying or neutering, vaccines, and medical treatment and appreciate additional donations if the dog required significant medical care. (Or even if he didn’t — they always need more money.) Your adoption fee for a healthy dog helps cover expenses for dogs needing more care.

The adoption process

Each organization has its own adoption process and forms, but the basics are similar. The best and most responsible among them do their best to see that you provide a good home. So don’t be surprised if a humane shelter or rescue group is as rigorous in assessing you as you are in checking out the dogs.

  • Select the dog(s) you’d like to meet on the website, at a public event, or during a visit to the shelter.
  • Bring proof of home ownership or proof of landlord approval for pets.
  • Meet with an adoption counselor.
  • Meet the dogs.
  • Fall in love.
  • Ask for a cat test if you have a cat or plan to have one living with the dog.
  • All people, and sometimes pets, who live in the home will meet the dog in question, cutting down on the risk you’ll want to return the dog.
  • Pay the adoption fee and sign papers.
  • Wait whatever period of time the organization requires, and then bring a leash, and a good home, to your new best friend.