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Adopt don't shop: But before you go to an animal shelter

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The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized. A low adoption rate is one factor driving the high number of animals in shelters. Every year, millions of dogs and cats are relinquished by their owners—or rescued from the streets by animal control officers and private citizens—and brought to animal shelters.

So if you've decided to adopt a shelter pet. Congratulations!

But before you go to an animal shelter in search of a new pet, you'll need to identify your needs and prepare a list of questions to ask. You should ask any and all questions relevant to your particular needs.

Identifying your needs:

  • Are you a single adult looking for a dog who can go everywhere with you?
  • Are you a parent looking for a dog who loves children?
  • Do you have other dogs or cats at home?
  • Do you enjoy grooming or do you want a dog with an easy-care coat?
  • Do you have a quiet, mostly sedentary lifestyle or are you active and looking for an exercise partner?
  • What size and breeds of dogs does your landlord or co-op board allow?
  • Do you want a dog who will love going to the dog park?
  • What size dog would fit best in your home, car, and yard?
  • What age? Puppies can be irresistible, but raising them properly takes a lot of time and hard work. Most adult dogs only require a bit of basic obedience training and a house-training refresher.

Questions to ask shelter staff members

Most shelters ask people surrendering an animal to provide detailed information about the pet, including medical history, likes and dislikes, and behavioral characteristics. Shelter staff members can sometimes provide insight into a dog’s personality, as well.

So before you head to the shelter, prepare a list of questions to ask about the dogs you’re interested in:

  • What do you know about this dog’s history?
  • Where did he come from?
  • Was he surrendered by a guardian, found as a stray, or transferred from another shelter?
  • If he was surrendered by his former guardian, may I see the intake information?
  • Did you conduct a behavior evaluation on this dog? If so, what were the results?
  • What have you noticed about him since he’s been at the shelter?
  • How would you describe his personality and behavior?
  • Does he like other dogs?
  • Does he like children?
  • How is he with cats?
  • Is he easy to walk on a leash?
  • What do the volunteers think of him?
  • Is he affectionate, aloof, calm, energetic, fearful, shy, outgoing…?

Generally speaking, it costs between $25 and $250 to adopt a pet from a shelter. Sometimes pets are free, if there is a special promotion going on, and occasionally they may cost more. However your adoption fee will benefit other animals.

Once you find and adopt your special pet, the first few days in your home are critical. Your new pet will be confused about where he is and what to expect from you. So setting up some clear structures will be paramount in making as smooth a transition.

Before You Bring Your Dog Home

  • Decide where your dog will be spending most of his time. Due to the stress of moving from shelter or foster home to your house, he may forget any housebreaking (if any) he’s learned. Often a kitchen will work best for easy clean-up.
  • If you plan on crate training your dog, be sure to have a crate set-up and ready to go for when you bring your new dog home.
  • Dog-proof the area where your pooch will spend most of his time - tape loose electrical cords to baseboards; store household chemicals on high shelves; remove plants, rugs, and breakables; set up the crate, and installing baby gates, if necessary.
  • Begin training your dog from the first moment you have him. Create a vocabulary list everyone to use when giving dog directions to prevent confusion and help your dog learn commands quickly.
  • Bring an ID tag with your phone number on it with you when you pick up your dog.

READ: Buyer Beware! Why you should never buy a puppy online

Happy trails!

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