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Get Ready to Adopt

Establish your adoption plan before you visit a shelter

By Darlene Duggan

Adopting a pet is a momentous decision—one that no doubt requires a lot of thought. There’s nothing quite like visiting a shelter, connecting with an animal, and bringing her home to join your family. While you might envision taking home your new pet the same day you visit the shelter, it’s important to stay realistic. A lot of preparation is involved to ensure you are successfully matched with the new dog or cat of your dreams, and shelters have protocols and processes to help them best match an animal with a new caregiver. Before you head out in search of your forever friend, read these tips to improve your experience.

appy doggie with new family

Photo: Rhonda Holcomb

What to bring
Make sure you have a current photo ID as well as an additional proof of residency, such as a utility bill mailed to you at your current address. If you are a renter, bring a copy of your lease and have your landlord’s name and phone number ready. If your lease does not definitively state that you can have pets in your home, have your landlord sign a letter granting permission to have a pet. Expect to be asked to provide veterinarian contact information and records for your current pets and any you had in the past. Even if this will be your first pet, have a veterinarian lined up before you go to the shelter.

Adoption is a family affair
Shelters want to be certain that all members of the household, including children, are ready for a new furry friend, so make sure to bring the whole family with you. Do you live with a roommate? Even if you will be the sole caregiver, bring your roommate along for the adoption as well. If they are unavailable to be present on adoption day, you may be expected to provide their phone number for shelter staff to discuss the adoption with them. As with your landlord, it is also a good idea to have a signed letter from your roommate if they are not available.

Have a plan
Before walking into a shelter, most people already know what type of animal they’d like to adopt. So prior to filling out the adoption application, formulate a care plan suited to the type of animal you are most likely to take home. If you’re getting a puppy, what techniques will you employ to potty train the puppy? How will you introduce the new cat to your resident cats? What is your plan for providing adequate exercise for an 80-pound dog? What training techniques will you use? Articulating this care plan to shelter staff will show you have put thought and preparation into the decision to adopt.

Be open about your life
Shelter staff aim to make the best matches possible for the animals who have been entrusted to their care. As such, they may ask what seem to be invasive questions about your lifestyle. They may want to know what you do for a living and  even your pay range. They may want to know your work schedule and how long the pet will be left home alone each day. They may also ask about the close people in your life. If you’re in a relationship, they’ll probably want to know what your plan is in the event of a break-up. Some shelters require a home visit, and many ask for referrals from friends or family who can speak to your character or past experience with animals. Do not be offended by these sensitive questions, but know they are being asked so staff can make a good placement. The last thing anyone wants is the animal to be returned to the shelter because the adoption did not work out.

Be prepared to wait
For some shelters, especially smaller groups or rescue organizations, the adoption process could take awhile, sometimes stretching out over a few weeks. So, don’t expect to go home with a new dog or cat the same day. Even at larger organizations, the animal may still need a final physical exam or surgery, so they might not be ready for placement right away. To cut down on the physical time it takes to fill out the application, check online and see if the shelter has something you can print and fill out before coming in.

Feel good about your decision
Congratulations on making the decision to adopt from a shelter! Following this advice will help you through the application process and ease the stress of bringing home your new furry family member. It may take a bit more time and commitment in the beginning to rescue an animal rather than “buy” one from the store, but it is more than worth it for so many reasons—including stopping the demand for “puppy mill” puppies, nearly all of whom are sold to pet stores or via sketchy websites. And if a “breeder” does not ask just as many, if not more, questions than the shelter, and does not invite you to come meet the mom and dad and check out the facility, run the other way!

Remember the old adage; “When you adopt from a shelter you are not saving one life, but three: your new pet’s, the animal who will take her place in the adoption room, and yours!”

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