Everything You Should Know Before Adopting a Shelter Animal

Are you thinking about adopting a shelter animal? Congratulations — you are a life saver! Just be sure to read the following tips so you’re well prepared for your new family member.

“Preplanning is priceless in terms of reducing not only the stress on your new addition, but the stress on your family as well,” said Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian and animal advocate.

To make sure you’re ready to adopt a new furry family member, you might want to answer these 10 important questions.

Choosing the Right Pet for Your Lifestyle

Like people, pets have different temperaments and activity levels. If you’re basically a couch potato, a working dog like a border collie would not be the right pet for you. If you’re always on the go and want your pet to accompany you, a cat may not be a good match. Although you may fall in love with a pet you see on the shelter’s website, consider your lifestyle before making a commitment.

This is the most important thing you should consider when adopting a shelter animal, according to Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA), an independent animal organization.

“The best type of pet for you and your family age, breed appearance, species, activity level is dependent on you,” she told me. “Shelter pets, like people, have different needs and personalities. Do you have kids? Are you active? Do you want to spend a lot of time training? Ask yourself these questions and discuss as a family. Most importantly, come to the shelter with an open mind. Personality and compatibility are really the important things to factor into a decision.”

Finding a Perfect Match at the Shelter

Adopting a pet from a shelter has some benefits over adopting one from a rescue. For example, there are many more pets to choose from and lower adoption fees.

“In our community, there are too many wonderful, sweet and healthy pets and too few owners,” Bernstein said. “By choosing to adopt, you are helping to end the pet overpopulation crisis. Any adoption is a win, but when you adopt from a shelter, that kennel space is opened for the next needy pet.”

  • Be sure to bring a photo ID. If you’re a renter, it’s a good idea to bring a copy of your rental agreement or a letter from your landlord indicating that pets are allowed in your home.
  • If possible, you should bring all family members, including your other pets if the shelter allows it, to see how the pet reacts to them and vice versa.
  • Unless you’ve already selected a pet from the shelter’s website, let the shelter staff know what kind of pet and personality you’re looking for, and if you’d prefer a certain breed.
  • Shelters are very stressful environments for animals, so don’t dismiss a pet just because he seems scared and unfriendly in his kennel.
  • Many animal shelters have “meet-and-greet” areas where potential adopters can interact with pets. Just remember that because of their circumstances, many shelter animals may be skittish and apprehensive at first.
  • Don’t be disappointed if you can’t immediately take your new family member home with you. Many shelters require pets to be microchipped and spayed or neutered before being released to their forever homes.

This video, which is played in the lobbies of Salt Lake County animal shelters, has additional helpful tips about finding the right shelter dog for you.

Preparing Your Children for a Pet

If your children, especially little ones, have never been around a pet before, you can prevent injuries by teaching them how to respectfully treat your potential new family member.

  • Tell your children not to yell at or run toward the pet, which will frighten him. Explain that pets are not toys and must not be treated roughly.
  • Decide who will be responsible for various tasks like walking and feeding your new pet — but don’t give your child too much responsibility right away. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that until you know what tasks your children can handle on their own, always supervise them when they are caring for your pet.

Additional helpful tips can be found on the AVMA website.

Preparing Other Pets for Your New Pet

dogs sniffing noses

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Some shelters have play areas where you can bring your pet to meet the pet you want to adopt so you can see if they get along. If this isn’t available, be prepared to gradually introduce your pet to your new family member. And be sure to give your existing pet just as much, if not more, attention as you do to the newcomer.

  • For dogs, it’s important to introduce your new pet on neutral turf never inside your house. With both dogs leashed, take them for a relaxed walk, side by side and a safe distance apart. Let them meet and sniff each other. If they’re getting along, take them to an enclosed area and remove their leashes. The Best Friends Animal Society has detailed instructions for introducing dogs successfully.
  • For cats, keep your new pet in a small room with food, bedding and other supplies for the first several days. Feed your cat and your new cat on opposite sides of the door so they associate something pleasant with each other. Try to get your cats to play with a toy on a string together. The Humane Society of the United States has more information about making the introduction go smoothly.

Preparing Your House for Your New Pet

Before going to the shelter to adopt a pet, make sure your house is prepared.

  • Buy pet supplies including food, bowls, toys, bedding, and a collar and leash.
  • Many adult shelter animals have already been housetrained, but be prepared with potty-training pads just in case.
  • Put anything you don’t want your pet to chew or eat out of his reach.
  • Inspect your house from a pet’s-eye view. Hide or tape down any hazards such as electrical and mini-blind cords.
  • Put childproof latches on low cupboard doors. Install baby gates or keep the doors closed to block areas that are off-limits to your new pet.
  • Make sure all trash cans have secure lids or can’t be accessed by your pet.

Check out more pet-proofing tips from the American Humane Association.

Additional Resources

For more information about adopting shelter animals, visit these websites.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks Laura for sharing the great information.

Irene S.
Irene S2 years ago

I got a shelter cat and rescue dogs and due to their former life, all of them brought some special peculiarities. Be prepared of that, help them to get over their fears and traumas and after a lot of work, you´ll get wonderful companions.

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago


Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

Good info, sharing

federico bortoletto

Grazie degli ottimi consigli.

ANA MARIJA R2 years ago

Great reminders. Thank you!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Good tips.

dagmar karin dag
dagmar karin dag2 years ago

Muchas gracias

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R2 years ago

Good advice. Thank you for sharing.