Adopting a Shelter Dog

The Best Way to Bring Home Your New Friend

Gracie, a huge black dog with a heart of gold, lounges on her well-worn bed in the den. Tasha lays perpendicular to her and gnaws on Gracie’s leg like it’s a chicken bone. Gracie just stares at her smaller companion, occasionally swatting at her if the chewing gets too vigorous. The little brown dog considers Gracie to be her mothr, although we estimate that they are both the same age… and Gracie has only known Tasha, the newest member of our family, for a little while.

They are beautiful, clever creatures who love our children, play with each other constantly, and insist on their daily allowance of hugs, scratches and cuddles. They drive our cat crazy. They are watch dogs, companions and the delight of the family.

Oh yeah… and they were both “shelter dogs” once.

Shelters As Good Sources for Dogs

Your local animal shelter can be the best source.for a new dog. Most feature a good mix of puppies and adult animals. Many even have purebreds; the Human Society of the United States estimates that purebreds account for about a quarter of dogs in animal shelters.

Contrary to what many people believe, animals in shelters are not primarily troubled, violent or unsocialized pets. Instead, most are victims of unrealistic expectations. Someone adopted them, or bred them, without any idea of the time, effort and money it takes to raise a dog. These animals end up in the hands of animal control, or dumped in shelters, or left on the side of the road to fend for themselves. And the sad story doesn’t end there. Experts estimate about half of the dogs who wind up in shelters will be put to death, solely because there is no one available to adopt them.

Finding A Good Shelter

If you want to explore the idea of adopting a dog from an animal shelter, first you must find a good shelter. Local animal control officials can give recommendations. Also, neighbors and friends who have adopted animals may have suggestions as well. When you walk into a shelter, you want to see a clean, well-organized facility with helpful staff. All animal feces have an odor, and no shelter will smell like a rose. But a good shelter will do its best to keep dog kennels clean and fresh.

You also want a shelter that does its best to get a thorough history of its dogs. Information such as age, gender, background, medical history, and whether he or she gets along with other pets, can be very helpful as you make a decision whether to adopt a dog. Obviously if the animal was a stray, this information will not always be available. In that case, the shelter staff should be able to give you at a minimum the dog’s gender, estimated age, and a summary of his or her behavior since arriving at the shelter. Shelters are also required to make sure dogs who live there receive booster shots, and some will pay to spay or neuter any pets that are to be adopted out.

What Kind of Dog Should I Get?

When you first visit the shelter, you may already have an idea of what kind of dog you want. In that case, you might have to come back several times before the dog you are looking for is available. Shelters get new animals all the time, so odds are the breed you want will show up sooner or later. Ask the shelter staff if they can put you on a calling list for a specific breed or kind of dog.

If you have no idea what kind of dog you want, or if you are open to all kinds of breeds, talk to the shelter staff about your needs. They will have an idea what dogs in their facility will get along with your children, your other pets and your living situation.

Many shelters will have adoptive families fill out a questionnaire before seeing any animals. They do this to assure that you will provide a good home for their dogs. Often they will follow up with a phone call or letter after the adoption as well, to make sure all is working out as planned.

How Much Will It Cost to Adopt a Dog?

The cost of adopting a dog from a shelter varies from shelter to shelter. Some ask for an initial donation and will cover the costs of shots, spay/neuter surgery and other procedures. Others have a basic fee, $75 for example, that covers their costs but does not include shots and surgeries. Still others can refer you to a veterinarian who provides discounts for animals adopted from particular shelters.

Before you bring your dog home, you will also have to invest in bowls for food and water, a leash and collar, chew toys or synthetic bones, and whatever other items you feel will make your dog feel at home. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the fees and costs involved before you adopt a dog, so there will be no financial surprises when you bring your new friend home.

Patience Is the Key

Once you bring your shelter dog home, remember that it may take a while for everyone to learn how to get along. Don’t be surprised if a house-trained dog suddenly forgets to do his business outside, or if a puppy starts chewing on everything she sees. They won’t magically know the rules of your house. Instead, you’ll have to take the time to teach them.

Gracie and Tasha certainly didn’t settle in on their first days with their new family. Gracie liked to chew shoes, while Tasha never met a couch that she didn’t try to jump on. But gradually they learned the rules, even as we learned about their personalities and habits. And now it seems like we can’t remember a day when they weren’t here, lounging in the den, Tasha chewing on Gracie, and Gracie good-naturedly putting up with it all.

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