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All About Animal Shelters

Adopting a Shelter Pet

Keeping Your Pet Out of a Shelter
Many families give up a pet because they are moving, having a new baby, or because the animal has a behavioral problem. But others lose their animals by accident—because they didn’t take the proper safeguards to keep them at home.

Here are a few tips to avoid losing your pet to a shelter:

  • Make sure your pet always wears a collar with a clear identification tag that includes your name, address, phone number, and your pet’s name (this is even important for indoor pets, because it is possible for them to slip out through an open door or window).
  • Keep your pet’s license current. It can help a shelter contact you, should your pet run away.
  • Consider having your cat or dog microchipped. This tiny, implantable chip contains a unique identification number that can help animal welfare officials contact you if they locate your pet.

    Source: American Humane

Millions of people avoid a mall or chain pet store and adopt a pet from their local animal shelter. It costs only about $40 to $100 to adopt a pet from a shelter (this covers the shelter’s costs of spaying or neutering the animal, as well as vaccinations, medications and food). Considering that buying a dog through a breeder can run into the hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars, animal shelters are much more economical. And though you may think that you’ll only find “pound puppies” (in other words, mutts) at a shelter, that’s not always the case. About a quarter of the animals in shelters are purebreds for which the original owners probably paid top dollar at expensive breeders. Another misconception is that animal shelters only house older animals. In reality, most have large numbers of kittens and puppies.

Despite the many animals waiting for homes, shelter employees are all too aware that many people adopt pets without thinking the dec­ision through, just to end up bringing the animals back a few weeks later. So shelters try to learn all they can about potential adoptive families and match pets with the most compatible, responsible and caring owners possible. For that reason, you shouldn’t expect to walk into a shelter and walk out the same day with a pet.

Adopting a pet is a bit like signing up for a dating agency, except that your potential “significant other” is a member of a different species. Before you can pick out your new pet, you’ll have to fill out an often extensive application, which includes basic information like where you live and your age, as well as your pet ownership history (including veterinary records), and a personality profile. Once you’ve chosen a pet, you’ll have to go home for a designated waiting period (usually 24 hours) to talk it over with your family and make sure that you’ve made the right decision. Then you still can’t leave the shelter until you sign a contract promising to take good care of your pet and to return the animal to the shelter if you can no longer care for it.

Shelters also reduce mismatches by making every effort to give each pet they accept a full “background check.” In cases where the owner dropped off the pet, the shelter will ask whether the animal had any nasty habits, like chewing on the furniture, biting or urinating on the floors. Shelter employees will also do a health screen, checking for heartworm and other diseases. Some will even have an animal behavior specialist give the animals a thorough psychological evaluation.

Once you’ve found the right dog or cat, some shelters offer post-adoption services, such as “pet parenting” and dog training classes, to help you bond with your new pet.

For lots more information about adopting and caring for pets, check out the links on the next page.



Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • In Defense of Animals. “Unwanted Animals.”
  • Human Society of the United States. “Common Questions about Animal Shelters and Animal Control.”
  • Nash, Holly, DVM, MS. “Adopting from an Animal Shelter.”
  • Hewitt, Bill. “Should Strays be Killed?” People, November 6, 2006, pg. 99-100.
  • Hubbard, Kim and Gabrielle Saveri. “Sheltered Lives.” People Weekly, June 29, 1998, pgs. 61-62.
  • Siebert, Charles. “New Tricks.” The New York Times Magazine, April 8, 2007, pgs. 46-51.