What to Expect When Visiting an Animal Shelter
Whether you are adopting a puppy or a dog from your local Humane Society or pet rescue shelter, you probably have some questions on how to adopt a shelter dog. The first step is to obtain and fill out an electronic application form and email it back to the shelter for evaluation. Your application will be kept on file and help the shelter to make sure you can offer a loving home for the puppy or dog.
Once accepted, you will visit the shelter to find a large assortment of dogs from which to choose. Many of the dogs are mixed breeds who, when compared to pedigrees, are healthier, smarter and calmer dogs. The challenge is to find the right dog in the midst of the shelter’s noisy, stressful environment. Barking, stressed dogs packed into depressing, harshly lit kennels is not seeing your potential adoptee at their best. So, how to make the determination?
Even though shelter employees are great people who devote their lives to animals, you may not get all the facts from them. They may be thinking in terms of animal control rather than adoption or they might have a hard-luck dog they want to see adopted. But asking basic questions can result in learning some crucial information about the dog so always ask these questions of the staff:
1) What Circumstances Brought the Dog Here?
Unfortunately, with strays its impossible to know much at all about their history. But if a dog was given up, ask ‘why’. It could be a behavior problem (treatable but good to know up front) or the result of the owners having to move, getting a divorce, or an allergy.
2) Are There Any Medical Issues with the Dog?
It’s best to know right away if you’ll be facing large vet bills.
3) What’s the Best (and Worst) Thing About This Dog?
Ask about the dog in this way rather than simply asking if the dog is ‘nice’ or ‘well-behaved’ which is subjective.
4) Did You Perform a Temperament Test on the Dog?
Temperament tests are given by shelters to help gauge a dog’s personality and can detect aggression and object guarding behavior in dogs. Even if the dog you want tested for aggression its not a lifetime guarantee since it happened once during a test but its still good to know.
Assess the Dogs
You may not get much information about the potential adoptee so plan on spending as much time as possible with the dog and make your own determinations.
1) How Does the Dog React to Other People?
Watch for a short distance away. If s/he’s sitting quietly and looking around as people walk past s/he’s most likely a calm dog. Now, if you see the dog still not reacting when people approach him/her, this could signal a dog who isn’t people-friendly and is possibly aggressive. Or, s/he might not be feeling well. If s/he’s too quiet, ask a staff member if s/he’s sick or recovering from surgery.
2) Pacing and Whining Dog?
This is an obvious sign of stress. This shows that the dog is not feeling too safe or happy in his/her current situation and if adopted it still may take time for him/her to relax and adjust.
3) Jumping Around and Barking?
This is good because it usually means s/he’s excited to see people. But often some training will be needed to help the dog calm down.
4) Aggressive, or Just Stressed?
Is the dog lunging toward the door, barking excessively, spinning, and chasing people’s feet as they walk by? S/he could be an aggressive dog, but s/he may just be feeling the stress of shelter life. Most likely its just momentary stress if s/he calms down quickly after people pass.
5) Hangs in the Back of the Kennel?
This could be a dog who is scared of people and will bite or snap when feeling threatened. They take a lot of training. On the other hand, the dog might just be sick or depressed. Ask the staff if the dog’s owner died or if the dog has been at the shelter for a long time. S/he might just be sad and not unfriendly.
6) Warning – Unfriendly Dog!
When you walk up to the kennel door and the dog freezes, growls, moves away and his hackles stand up, move along. These are all the warning signs of an unfriendly dog.
Is the dog licking your hand, jumping up, dancing, bowing down, rump wiggling in the air, lolling tongue in an open, relaxed mouth? These are classic dog gestures that signal s/he’s friendly, playful and a wonderful choice for adoption!
8) Does the Dog Like You in Particular?
Take the dog to a quiet room or yard and try to get the attention of the dog. Dogs, like people, have preferences for certain types of people. If you can get his/her attention after a few minutes, that’s a good sign that the two of you click.
9) Important! ‘Cuddle-Factor’!
Is the dog comfortable with a gentle pat? If s/he accepts it happily, it’s a good sign. If s/he moves away, freezes, or growls, s/he either doesn’t enjoy being touched or isn’t fond of people. Either way, it’s best to look elsewhere; you want a dog who’s safe to cuddle.
10) How’s the Dog on a Walk?
Take the dog for a short walk to see if s/he pulls or jumps up. If so, you can correct this behavior with a little training. But make sure you can control the dog. If s/he is barking excessively, growling or lunging at people, dogs or cars then s/he will need a good amount of socialization and training. If you’re not up for this work, keep looking. Finally, if the dog cowers, freezes or refuses to go on the walk with you that’s a sign of extreme fear and/or shyness and this means the dog could bite or snap. Timid dogs can be worked with successfully but they will need the most intensive training of all.
11) ‘Gut-Check’ Time!
Does the dog seem comfortable with you, and are you comfortable with the dog? Does he give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, or a funny feeling? You’ll be spending many years (10-15+) with your new dog, so it’s worth listening to your instincts as well as doing your research!
The Adoption Fee and What it Covers
Free pets (like finding a stray dog or getting a free puppy from a friend’s dog’s accidental litter) will most likely need to be spayed or neutered. They will also need to get a full set of vaccinations. Most adoption shelters will have already spayed or neutered the dog, and vaccinated him/her against certain diseases.
The adoption fee at a shelter is usually somewhere between $50-$350. It is actually a donation to help defray the costs of running the shelter, paying for all the medical care of the animal while s/he waits for a new home, as well as food and transportation costs. These fees also go towards the care of their animals with high medical bills. Finally, adoption fees help the shelter continue their efforts in rescuing and re homing pets.
An adoption fee saves you money over going to a veterinarian’s office where you would commonly pay between $450-$880 for office visit, spaying/neutering, distemper/rabies vaccinations, heartworm test and medication, flea/tick treatment, de-worming, microchipping and identification tags.
If you are thinking of adopting an adult or senior pet, shelters often have reduced adoption fees or even waive fees during special events. If you use Facebook, you can “like” your local animal shelter and then when they have an upcoming adoption event they will post about it and you will know when to go.