Adopting a Puppy or Dog From an Animal Shelter
An animal shelter might be called different names in different parts of the country. But when we refer to animal shelters, we mean a facility that houses homeless pets and allows the public to come and look at and adopt these pets. These facilities are typically run by either city/county governments or non-profit humane organizations, and are staffed by a combination of volunteers and employees. Most animal shelters have space limitations, and because many, many more animals are taken in than are adopted out, they are forced to put down a large number of homeless pets. Literally millions of dogs and cats are put down in animal shelters in the U. S. each year, even though there are some no-kill shelters availabe in some areas of the country. These no-kill shelters never put down an animal because of space limitations (they might for medical or other reasons). Instead, most of them stop accepting new animals once they run out of space. The animals that are turned away by these no-kill shelters than have no place to go but to a traditional shelter. So, as you can see here, one type of shelter is not necessarity better than the other. They both exist to serve a great need in society, and both need our support. Something else to keep in mind is that shelters need volunteers and staff members, and most of these are compassionate animal-lovers, many of whom have a hard time working in traditional shelters where they need to witness the euthanization of animals. So the no-kill shelters allow a greater number of people to become involved who otherwise would not.
- Saving a Life - The biggest pro of adopting a dog from an animal shelter is that you know for sure you are saving a life. As explained above, there is a very high risk of a perfectly healthy and perfectly adoptable dog being put down for lack of space in an animal shelter. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to reduce the pet over-population problem. Each dog that is adopted from a shelter instead of purchased from a breeder or pet store reduces the demand for puppies, which will eventually reduce the supply. Puppy mills will stop breeding puppies only when people stop buying them. It's as simple as that. All the negative publicity or even legal limitations won't stop them if the puppies continue to sell and they continue to be able to make a living breeding these puppies. In addition, dogs adopted from animal shelters are usually either already neutered/spayed, or come with a neuter/spay contract, so you are also helping by preventing "accidental" breedings in the future by your new dog.
- Lower Cost - Adoption fees at animal shelters are typically lower than they are at rescue groups, especially purebred rescue groups. And because these fees include the vet check, shots, deworming, plus sometimes the spay/neuter operation, you are also saving on your vet bill for these basics. However, this is only true of the upfront cost of adopting the dog, and the savings might be erased quickly if the dog ends up having health issues once you bring him or her home, as explained in one of the cons below.
- Health Issues - There is a higher risk of your new dog coming home with some hidden disease he or she might have picked up from the animal shelter. Because of the way dogs are housed tightly together with many other dogs in a shelter, there is a bigger chance of the dogs picking up contagious diseases from each other, rather than if you were adopting a dog that's living in a foster home instead. This is especially true if you were adopting a young puppy from a shelter. The fact is that many shelter puppies become sick with parvo, distemper, respiratory infections, and such. These are the diseases which are usually preventable if you keep them up to date on their shots. Most shelters certainly make a great effort to prevent these health issues and will vaccinate all the puppies/dogs on intake, but the risk is still there since some of the puppies/dogs are so stressed when they enter the shelter that their immune systems are not in the optimal condition to build up a response to the vaccines. This is unfortunate but is the reality. Of course, this does NOT mean that you should avoid adopting from an animal shelter, but just that you should be prepared to deal with that possibility. If you are particularly worried about this, then you can minimize the risk by adopting a healthy adult dog, especially one that came into the shelter already up-to-date on his shots. Such a dog would already have the antibodies in his system to prevent these viruses from making him sick. Most of the time the shelter staff won't be able to tell you which dogs were already up-to-date on their shots before coming to the shelter, but you can sometimes make an educated guess based on whether the dog looks very well cared for. And a healthy adult dog that has not been vaccinated before will still be much less likely to get sick than a puppy.
- Unknown History - Most of the time, you will not get much information about the history of a dog you adopt from a shelter. For a young puppy, this doesn't matter as much, since it's still very young and very adaptable. Most adults are surprisingly adaptable as well, and the only parts of their unknown past that matter to you are the ones that have resulted in a long-term behavioral issue.
So what you should really concentrate on is not what might have happened to the dog in the past, but what current behavioral issues he or she has and what you need to do to correct those issues. Or, if the issues are not what you can comfortably deal with, then perhaps choose a different dog instead.
- Temperament Might Not Be Apparent - This, to us, is perhaps the biggest con in adopting a dog from an animal shelter. All the effort we have put into our website is based on our belief that choosing the right dog to fit your particular lifestyle is one of the cornerstones of building a happy and healthy relationship between you and your new dog. Frankly, it is more difficult (but not impossible) to choose the right dog from a shelter environment. Choosing the right dog includes many things, such as the size of the dog, or how much fur the dog has and how much grooming is required. Many of these can be determined by just looking at the dog in the shelter. The one thing that is difficult to determine, however, is the dog's temperament. The shelter is a very stressful environment for dogs. And stressed dogs are going to behave very differently than they normally do when they are calm and relaxed. Some shelters are doing their best to overcome this problem by working with dog trainers who come to the shelter to do behavioral evaluations. Sometimes that includes the trainer taking the dogs away from the shelter environment briefly in order to see their "normal" behavior in a more "normal" environment. So there is quite a bit of variability between shelters depending on how they handle this issue. You should certainly get as much information as you can about the temperament of a particular dog you might be interested in from your local shelter before making any decisions.
Page Last Updated: October 4, 2021