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

If you’re bringing a cat or dog into a home with children, include your family in the meet-and-greet. Having them in the meet-and-greet room is a good way to observe how the kids and the potentialnew pet do together. Some shelters require that the whole family meet a pet before he goes home. (Be aware, however, that some shelters will not adopt stray dogs without a history to families with children under a certain age.)

“You want to see the dog or cat proactively deciding to interact with the kids,” Weiss says. “Does that dog or cat enjoy being around children? If put in a room [with kids], does he move away from them or toward them? If you see the dog or cat is approaching — and approaching in a nice, comfortable way — he’sreally choosing to be near that child.”

Likewise, if you have other pets at home, you might want to bring them with you to meet the animal you are considering. In fact, some shelters require this step to help ensure that your current petsget along with your new addition. Check with the shelter first to find out if you should bring your pets along on your initial visit.

And don't be overly concerned about minor training issues.If you take a dog for a walk, the ASPCA says not to worry too much about pulling or jumping, because you can usually correct those issues with training. (And remember that he’s been cooped up in a kennel, so he may be excited to get outside.) However, you do want to make sure you can control him, so you should observe how he reacts when he sees people, other animals and outside sights and sounds.

Other behavior issues, though, such as a dog nipping or baring his teeth or a cat hissing, are more concerning. Talk to the staff member who’s assisting you to determine whether you need to reconsider adopting that particular pet.

What’s the Cost?

Adoption fees at municipal shelters vary widely. The fees might include spaying or neutering, a microchip, training, an offer for pet insurance and/or a voucher for a veterinary visit. During some special promotions, there may be no cost at all, but some fees can be as high as $500, Weiss says.

“One of the ways shelters can support those animals who have certain medical needs is by charging a larger fee for high-demand animals,” Weiss says. “That one fluffy puppy can save the lives of other animals [through] a higher adoption fee.”

Heading Home

Some shelters give you the chance to put a dog on a 24-hour hold, allowing you to think things over and come back to visit. You may also have to wait a few days for the pet to be spayed or neutered — but there’s a good chance your new best friend could go home with you the same day.


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