Pet overpopulation is a serious issue; as such, many people consider adopting a pet from a shelter. The sheer number of pets available and in need of adoption, especially in urban areas, can be daunting. Many of us feel intimidated to visit a shelter or rescue, fearful of having to decide between so many needy animals. With a little education, careful planning and a common sense approach, adopting a pet can be an exciting, fun and rewarding experience for the person and the pet.

Before you adopt a pet

Before you think about visiting a rescue, shelter or adoption center think carefully about the type of pet you want. Do you think a dog, cat, bird or exotic pet is best for you, your family and situation? In most areas, dogs and cats have the most need of adoption but often other types of pets are available for adoption as well. Because they have the greatest need and are most available, from here this article will address adopting a dog from a public animal shelter.

Choose the breed carefully. Some breeds are not appropriate for homes with young children, others need large yards so, aren’t a good match for an apartment dweller. There are other factors about breed to consider before bringing a pet into your home. Activity level (both yours and the prospective pet’s), how much time you spend at home and what you expect the pet to do while you are away, the general temperament, trainability and healthiness of the breed are some of the most important factors. For some people, physical traits such as size, weight, length/type of hair and amount of shedding are important considerations.

Adopting a pet means making a commitment to that pet for its entire life. As pets age, they can be quite expensive to care for and dogs tend to cost more than cats, over the long term. Remember to factor in the costs of veterinary care, food, grooming, housing and accessories for the expected life of the pet, before you visit the shelter for the first time.

Picking a pet adoption center

Most metropolitan areas have numerous public shelters, each overflowing with dogs for adoption. Research their hours, the number of pets they have for adoption, ask what the adoption process entails, the paperwork, and return policy and fees before visiting for the first time. Some public shelters have residency restrictions (people who live outside the city or area served by the shelter cannot adopt from there), find out if you qualify. Checking websites of specific shelters can be a great way to learn the kinds of animals they have for adoption as well as a lot of good information about the shelter. Keep in mind that they all describe the pets they have for adoption in the best, most poetic terms possible. You can gain a lot of information from the details the shelter provides about itself and staff and from the pictures on the website, but take what they say about their animals with a grain of salt.
Narrow your search down to a few adoption centers in your area and stop by each one, unannounced. When you arrive, make sure you can find the public entrance easily. When you enter, there should be someone to greet you. The staff should be friendly, attentive and courteous. The staff should be able to answer your questions.

Ask about their procedures for feeding, exercising, cleaning up after and washing the animals. Any place that holds many animals will have an animal smell, but it shouldn’t smell of urine or feces. Even kill shelters should take good care of all the animals under their roof. A quality shelter will have a fairly large, indoor or covered, area away from the other animals where you can meet and spend a little time with each prospective pet. On the first visit to each shelter, some experts recommend leaving without seeing any pets. The idea is that the first visit is to judge the shelter, not to pick a dog.

Once you’ve narrowed down your decision to one or two shelters call and make an appointment to visit the shelter and see some dogs. When you go to view some animals, take your time and be selective. If you’ve made an appointment, someone should show you around the facility answer any questions and spend the entire time with you, assisting you in selecting a pet.

Selecting a pet

View each dog you see in light of the attributes you’ve already decided on. Remember that you are in a foreign and uncomfortable setting for both you and the dog. Keep an eye out for warning signs such as extreme timidity or aggression. The look in the dog’s eyes, condition of the coat and, the cleanliness of the teeth and gums are good indicators of overall health, especially in younger dogs.

Spend as much time as you feel you need with each dog. Visit the shelter multiple times, or revisit another shelter, if you feel uncomfortable about anything with the shelter or the prospective pet. If you are considering a younger dog, try putting the dog on its back to look for submission. A dog that struggles to stay on the belly or to roll back over again once placed on its back is probably more independent and stubborn than one that rolls over easily or stays there without struggle. Try giving a prospective older dog simple commands like “sit” and “come” to see if it has had any training.

Make sure to spend some time playing with the prospective pet, “hands on”. Have everyone in the family show excitement around the dog and see how it reacts. Have everyone, though not all at once, pet the dog and play with it to see how it reacts to everyone in the family. Some places will allow you to take the dog out of the shelter to a local park for a short period. A good shelter understands that, understanding the personality of a prospective pet is vital to a positive adoption.

Even if it means making multiple trips to the shelter, everybody in the family should meet and accept the pet before bringing it home. Some shelters will even save a dog that is on “death row” if there is the prospect of adoption, but sometimes they require a small deposit. It is not recommended to adopt a pet into a home with very young babies as the true nature of the pet remains unknown.

Adopting a pet is a huge commitment and there are many things to consider before bring an adopted pet home. With some careful planning, the right approach and a good, local adoption center, it can enhance the lives of every family member and pet. For more information, visit the ASPCA (