Adopting a Dog or Cat From a Shelter: Advice for Your First Visit

If you want to see a specific cat or dog you’ve found on the shelter’s website, Weiss recommends that you call ahead to make sure that animal is still available.


The ASPCA also suggests you have a list of questions for the shelter about the animal you’re interested in, such as:

  • What do you know about the dog's or cat’s history?
  • What are his personality and behavior like?
  • What do the volunteers think of him?
  • Does he like other dogs and cats?
  • Does he like kids?

When You Arrive at the Shelter

In some city or county facilities, you might be allowed to walk through on your own and look at all the animals, while in others you might have to wait in line to see an animal, Weiss says.


You’ll also find a wide range in the information available on each animal. “In some cases, there might be a tremendous amount of information — it might have been an animal who was relinquished by someone else,” Weiss says. In that circumstance, you might know “his favorite place to sleep, how he uses the litterbox, how he does when he’s out on a walk,” she says.

In other cases — especially in a busy city shelter — there may not be a lot of information about an animal, especially if he was brought in as a stray, Weiss says.


If you walk through the kennel area, the ASPCA recommends watching the dogs’ reaction to you and looking for signs that they’re friendly. That could include pawing, wagging their tails or eagerly approaching the front of the kennel. Do keep in mind, however, that a shelter can be a stressful environment for pets, and one who seems shy might not behave that way outside the kennel.

Choosing the Right Pet

When you find a dog or cat you’re interested in learning more about, spend some time interacting with the pet. Most shelters will allow you to visit with the animal in a meet-and-greet room. If it’s a dog, you might have the opportunity to take him for a walk or spend some time outside with him.


Weiss says it’s important to “be able to interact with him the way you would in a home.” That can help you visualize your life with that animal and whether he would be a good fit.

“Keep in mind the things that are important to you,” Weiss says. “If being social is really important to you and he’s not really interacting with you in the room,” that’s something to think about.


The dog whom you saw online may not act the way you expected. He might be more shy — or more energetic. That may mean you’d like to expand your search to find a dog who better fits your expectations — or it may mean that you’re willing to change your expectations to accommodate his needs, now that you’re aware of them.

Weiss says you should “at least keep your ears open — listening to the staff at the shelter or watching the way the animal interacts.”


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