- Looking at the different types of animal shelters and what they do
- Finding and recognizing a great animal shelter
- Assessing potential pets
- Questioning the shelter about policies, procedures, and pets
- Gathering all the information and documentation you need
Animal shelters do a great service for people and animals. Many communities have animal shelters, and some may even have several, but unfortunately, not every community has one. If you have an animal shelter in your community, consider yourself lucky! If not, local police routinely are relied upon to take care of animal-control issues. Regardless of whether they’re run by the city or county or privately operated and funded via donations, animal shelters serve an important function. They take in the pets that people don’t want — the strays wandering through the streets or countryside — and the lost pets whose owners are frantically seeking them.
- How shelters work.
- What to expect when you try to adopt a pet from a shelter.
- What you need to take with you to a shelter adoption.
- What questions to ask before adopting a pet through a shelter. I provide a similar list of questions on the handy Cheat Sheet at the front of this book. Tear it out and take it with you for quick reference.
Many people find the pets of their dreams from their local shelters, but many others encounter only regrettable circumstances and situations, so you need to be prepared and know what you’re doing. Start here.
Animal Shelters Explained
- Animal control agencies run by local government designed to protect people from animals, take in strays, and manage animal issues and problems within the community.
- Humane societies and other privately run shelters that are founded and managed by individuals who want to protect animals, advocate for animals, and find homes for animals that need them.
In general, both types of animal shelters do the same things; they take in animals without homes, arrange for adoptions, sometimes euthanize animals that cannot be adopted, and often rehabilitate animals to make them more adoptable by providing healthcare, spaying or neutering them, and working with them to socialize and train them. Not only do animal shelters provide you with a place to find pets that need new homes or look for your lost pet, but they also manage animal control issues where you live.
Thinking twice about the success of shelters
Many people refuse to visit animal shelters because they find it too sad or depressing. They shouldn’t feel so bad because so many lucky animals are saved from a dangerous life on the streets, where they’re at risk of traffic accidents, attack by other animals or humans, and subject to the elements. Many lost pets likewise are found and reclaimed by distraught owners simply because they were brought into animal shelters. Most important, adoptable pets find homes, and sick or dangerous animals are humanely relieved of their suffering.
Many people also think animal shelter employees are somehow the bad guys. If your average shelter employee had a nickel for every time somebody said, “I could never do your job. I love animals too much,” that employee probably would want to chuck those nickels right back at the unthinking visitors. Shelter workers have tough
jobs full of heartbreak and loss, but they do it because they are the ones who love animals “too much.” Volunteer at your local shelter to see what I mean. Need more proof? Did you know that:
Shelters are great places to find a pet to adopt, even if you’re looking for a purebred dog. Between 25 percent and 30 percent of the dogs taken in by shelters are purebred.
Exploring what no-kill shelters offer
Some animal shelters advertise as “no-kill” shelters, meaning they do not euthanize animals. Although the idea of a no-kill shelter working hard to place every animal it accepts may sound like a worthy one, the downside is that no-kill shelters accept only animals that are deemed adoptable. Animal shelters — usually those run by local government — accept all animals, and that means they sometimes have to euthanize
the ones that are not adoptable because of severe health or behavior problems. All shelters try their best to adopt out the animals that will make good pets; however, many animals suffer from abuse or abandonment, become lost, or are allowed to stray and may no longer be adoptable. At least animal shelters take them in and ease or eliminate their suffering.
- Save one of the millions of animals that are euthanized in shelters every year. When you adopt a shelter animal, you give one of these adoptable pets a second chance at a new, healthy life and a happy home.
- Discover that the pet you thought you wanted isn’t the one you need. An in-need shelter pet may be a much better fit for you — for example, you may think you want a puppy but discover that an older dog is calmer, better trained, and more bonded to you.
- Pay less for your pet. Adoption fees typically are far below what pet stores charge.
- Find out more about your new pet than you can from a pet store. Responsible shelters provide you with plenty of care information, support, temperament evaluation, and more.
- Get more specific information about a shelter animal from shelter workers. Talk to the people who have been spending time with the pet to find out about what the animal is like and what he needs.
- Feel good about contributing to and supporting a process that supports the welfare and management of stray animals in your community. You can get involved with the process in many ways, from adopting pets to donating money to volunteering your time. In fact, most shelters include many volunteers on their staffs, solicit donations, and conduct fundraisers. They often need your help. In fact, humane societies and privately run shelters usually depend almost entirely on donations and volunteers.
- Find a lost pet. Shelters often are responsible for reuniting lost pets with their owners.
- Give up an animal that you’ve found or that you’re unable to keep. If, for some unfortunate reason, you’re unable to keep a pet, you can turn it over to (or return it to) the shelter. If a stray wonders into your life, you can turn it over to the shelter — and maybe later adopt it.
Some shelter pets have special needs, and if you’re willing to manage those needs, you can save a pet that otherwise may not find a home — and that feels great.
- You’re unable to find the exact kind of pet you want.
- You’re unable to adopt the pet you want immediately. Shelters often must adhere to a waiting period so you don’t rush into a decision and so pet owners have time to reclaim any incoming animals that may be lost.
- You’re faced with answering a lot of personal questions and submitting a lot of paperwork.
- Shelters aren’t always rolling in dough. Just because the government funds an animal-control agency doesn’t mean it’s getting everything it needs. Some shelters are underfunded and may not be able to maintain spacious facilities or spend much time screening or training the animals. Most shelters do all they can with the resources they have, but all too often, those resources are pretty slim.
- Your new pet may turn out much different than you expected. When you bring any animal home, you may find it’s much different than it appeared to be at the shelter.
- Some shelter pets have special needs that you may not be willing to deal with.
- You may be rejected for the pet you want if you don’t meet the shelter’s requirements.
Finding a Great Shelter Near You
Sometimes the only nearby shelter is in great need of funds, volunteers, and resources, one that may not be able to provide careful screening, microchip identification, spay/neuter services, or even veterinary checkups before an adoption. These shelters may be busy, hurried, and so stressed that they may even let you walk in and walk right back out with a pet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt a pet from such a shelter; animals in low-budget shelters with little staff aren’t any better or worse than the animals in sufficiently funded and staffed shelters. You simply may not be able to find out as much about the animal, and that means you need to be extra vigilant in choosing an animal that’s right for you. If the animal turns out to have an insurmountable problem, you may have to return it. However, with the know-how you’re getting from this book, you can choose an animal that works in your situation. See the “Checking out the facility” section later in this chapter for help with adopting a pet from a less-than-perfect shelter.
Checking the Yellow Pages and Internet
- Petfinder: www.petfinder.org
- Pets 911: www.pets911.com
- World Animal Net: www.worldanimalnet.org
- 1-800-Save-A-Pet: www.1-800-Save-A-Pet.com
- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA): www.aspca.org
- Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): www.hsus.org
Rounding up recommendations
- Local veterinarians. Vets in the area have probably met and treated animals adopted from local shelters. They may have special insight into the way particular shelters handle the health of their animals. Although they may or may not like the shelter’s procedures, vets may also have good insight into the health and temperament of some of the animals people have adopted from local shelters.
- Local dog trainers. Dog trainers, especially the ones who teach basic obedience courses, have probably seen many of the pets coming from shelters and may have a unique perspective on the way shelters assess adoptability and behavior.
- Pet stores that don’t sell cats and dogs. These stores have probably sold pet supplies to many people who have just adopted a pet from the shelter. Some pet stores work in conjunction with local shelters, even sponsoring shelter animal adoption events. Pet stores may have information about and be able to recommend shelters.
Your shelter needs you
Animal shelters are notoriously understaffed and underfunded, and many of them rely on volunteers to keep doing the good work they do. Are you one of those volunteers? Volunteering at your local shelter is one of the best ways to understand how shelters work, to make a significant contribution to animal welfare, and to meet many potentially adoptable pets. Shelters need people to walk dogs, play with cats, feed and water animals, even apprentice as dog trainers. People with special knowledge about
small animals, birds, or exotics may be in demand to help out with these less common pets, and people interested in exotic pets may find shelters the perfect place to find out about them before adopting. You can feel good about making a difference in your community while helping animals. In addition, for people who want to adopt every stray dog and cat they meet, volunteering gives you an opportunity to get to know and spend time with many animals without the burden of bringing them all home.
Walking through the Adoption Process
- Animals are kept in clean, spacious, well-ventilated kennels.
- Animals get time outside their kennels to go on walks or play in outdoor kennels.
- The shelter offers adoption counseling to help you find the right match for your needs and situation.
- The shelter employs or is affiliated with a local veterinarian, a local dog trainer, and a local animal-behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist.
- The shelter spays or neuters animals or gives adopters vouchers to have this service performed by a local vet at a reduced cost or even for free.
- The shelter implants microchips in its pets for identification.
- The shelter works on socializing and training or taming animals and evaluates temperament and behavior carefully to help make the best pet/owner match.
Before you adopt an animal from a shelter that doesn’t screen for behavior or provide veterinary care before adoption, be sure to:
- Take any animal you may want to adopt to the vet before you take it home and before you sign any paperwork committing you to adopt the pet. Get clearance from your vet that the animal is healthy, in good shape, and free from diseases and parasites. This visit may be costly. Expect to pay for tests, vaccinations, dewormings, and treatment. If you decide not to adopt the animal, take copies of all the veterinary records back to the shelter and hand them over. You may be able to deduct the cost of the vet visit on your taxes as a charitable donation. Ask your accountant whether you can.
- Spend several visits with the animal to get a better sense of its temperament. Pets need to act confident but not aggressive, and may act reserved but not overly shy or cowering. Extremely shy or aggressive pets can turn out to be even shyer or more aggressive when you get them home and they get used to you. On the other hand, sometimes shy or pushy animals calm down and settle into a new home nicely. These pets are stressed at the shelter but gain confidence and self-possession when they realize they have somewhere to stay. You need to realize that adopting a shelter animal comes with risks and that you’ll be adopting a pet with some unknowns.
- Be careful about unscreened animals if you have children, live near children, or if children often visit your house. Don’t put your children or other children at risk.
- Look for animals that appear healthy, with shiny eyes free of discharge, healthy skin, coats or feathers (if applicable) without bare patches, and without fleas, ticks, or mites.
- Consider adopting a special needs pet. Even if an animal has health or temperament problems, you may decide to adopt it anyway. Only do so if you’re prepared to put in some serious time, money, and work rehabilitating the animal. The last thing such animals need is to think they have a home and then again be given up and returned to the shelter.
Looking at the pets
If you don’t see the kind of animal or breed you’re looking for at the shelter, don’t assume the shelter won’t get that animal or breed. Most shelters take in new animals all the time. Although some shelters don’t have time to keep lists of special requests and call people when those animals arrive, some shelters will oblige. You just have to ask. If you want a Chihuahua or a Persian or an Amazon Gray parrot, you may be able to get on a list to be notified when such a pet comes in and is made available for adoption. If the shelter doesn’t provide that kind of service, just keep visiting and looking. Your perfect pet probably will appear eventually. Or, look into breed rescue (see Chapter Rescue Me! All About Pet Rescue Groups).
Asking the right questions
- Do you have the pets spayed or neutered, or do you require that adopters spay or neuter the pets? If so, do you offer a voucher to have the procedure done locally at a discount?
- Do you embed microchip identification in the animals? How much does this procedure cost?
- What information and supplies do you provide with an adopted pet?
- Can you recommend a good trainer or behavioral consultant?
- What information and paperwork do you require from people who are adopting pets?
- What are your adoption fees? Are there other costs involved?
- Do you have other requirements that I must meet before I can adopt a pet?
Avoiding second thoughts: The waiting period
Sealing the Deal
- Filling out an application form that includes basic information about you, your living situation, other people and pets in your household, and where you plan to keep the animal. The application may also ask whether you have a fenced yard, plan to let a cat roam, or have proper enclosures and other environmental requirements for small animals, birds, reptiles, or other exotic pets.
- Showing proof that you own your home or that your landlord knows you’re adopting a pet and gives you permission to do so — usually in the form of a signed letter, a phone call, or personal visit. If you show proof of home ownership, the shelter may contact the assessor’s office to verify that proof.
- Showing proof that you are not a student. Some, though not all, shelters won’t adopt pets to students, because they’re notoriously prone to leaving pets behind after graduation.
- Agreeing to take certain steps in the future, including:
- Having your pet checked regularly by a veterinarian
- Having a microchip implanted in your pet for identification and so that it can be tracked if lost
- Having your pet spayed or neutered
- Agreeing either verbally or in writing to take proper care of the animal by providing good nutrition and veterinary care and by having the animal adequately vaccinated, as required by law and as recommended by a vet.
- Verifying either verbally or in writing that the animal is for you and not a gift for someone else and that you intend the animal to be your pet and not your guard dog, barn mouser, or breeding stock.
- Agreeing that the pet will live inside and not be kept outside.
- Providing proof that you have a fenced yard or the right kind of facilities to keep the animal.
Come prepared to transport your animal home safely. Dogs and cats need to be in kennels that can be secured inside a vehicle or strapped safely into a pet seatbelt, both of which you can purchase at the pet store or online (for example at ruffrider.com). Animals in cages also need to be safely secured with a seatbelt or other secure device. Bring your own mode of transporting your new pet, because most shelters won’t provide one for you.
by Eve Adamson