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Dog Adoption Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Dog Adoption

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Dog Adoption Guide
Photo © Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Dog adoption is a wonderful thing. There are millions of pets in shelters and rescues waiting for forever homes. By adopting a dog, you can help homeless pets and set a great example for others. Dog adoption is not right for everyone, and it is not something you should enter into lightly. Getting a dog is major decision that will affect your life for many years. If you have decided that dog adoption is for you, great news! Bringing an adopted dog into your home should be a rewarding experience for you and your family. Before you look for your future best friend, arm yourself with the knowledge to navigate the world of dog adoption and make the best decision possible.

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What Kind of Dog?

If you have decided on dog adoption, you may have your heart set on one specific breed. It is possible to adopt purebred dogs from shelters and rescues if you plan ahead. However, if you are not set on a certain breed, you should still have an idea of the type of dog you want. Consider age, size, grooming needs, health issues and activity level. Have your desires in mind before you go looking. Better yet, make a list of dog features broken down into three areas: what you absolutely need in a dog, what you'd like in a dog (but can live without), and what is not acceptable. This way, when you get out there and see all those cute faces, you will know where to begin.

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Where to Adopt

You can adopt a dog from an animal shelter, a general rescue group, or a breed-specific rescue group. The internet is a great way to find dogs for adoption in your area, but be careful to visit reliable sites. Go to the official websites of shelters and rescues or search a reputable site like Petfinder.com, where many rescue groups and shelters list their available dogs. If you want to go out and meet some dogs, contact groups in advance to find out if they hold special adoption days. Learn their hours of operation so you can allow yourself time to spend with the dogs and talk to staff.

Research shelters and rescues before visiting. The organization should have a good reputation and ideally be not-for-profit. The adoption fee should be reasonable ($100-$200 give or take), and it should go to benefit the organization and pay for the expenses of that dog. Very high fees (over $300) are suspicious. The facility should be clean and safe, and the dogs well cared for. Adults should be spayed or neutered. You should be able to tour the facility, see all dogs, and talk with staff or volunteers.

Unfortunately, some irresponsible groups operate under the guise of shelter or rescue, but are actually unethical or illegal businesses. Make sure you do not end up "adopting" from a puppy mill or similar operation. If something does not feel right, ask about it. If you still feel suspicious or uneasy, you should leave. As much as you may want to "rescue" a dog from poor conditions, purchasing the dog will only support them. Instead, contact your local authorities if you suspect abuse, neglect or other inhumane conditions.

Purchasing a dog from a pet store is not adoption, and it is not recommended. Sadly, these dogs may come from puppy mills, something you do not want to support. If you want a purebred dog and do not wish to go through a breed rescue group, you should find an experienced breeder.

Picking the One

Some say that when you find the right dog, you just know. This is not always the case. You may fall in love with more than one dog and be faced with a decision. Perhaps none of the dogs you met were for you. It's alright - you do not have to choose that day. After all, this is your new best friend. You may be spending the next 12-15 years together. You want it to be right, so sleep on it. You can always go back another day. If the dog you wanted is not there, maybe it was meant to be. The serious commitment of dog ownership should not begin with uncertainty.

The Adoption Process

Congratulations! You have found your new dog. Now it's time for the formalities. Most organizations require an application before you can adopt. This is to prevent pets from ending up in the wrong hands. While it may seem like an interrogation, these groups have policies in place for a reason. Fortunately, most people have no trouble getting approved. Some groups require a waiting period before taking your new dog home, possibly due to a medical procedure that was done. Some dogs can have a waiting list, so ask questions up front.

Find out what the adoption fee includes (vaccines, spay/neuter, etc). Before signing the contract, learn what is expected of you and what the group will do to assist you. If the dog is too young to be spayed or neutered, the contract will require you to have this done in the future. Also find out what happens if you cannot keep the dog. Most organizations ask that you return the dog to them if you can no longer care for it (not give it away to someone else). Find out what is known about the dog's history and what health issues, if any, were noted while the dog was in their care.

Coming Home

Great news! You have a new companion. What now? At the time of adoption, you may have received a kit or packet of some type that offers advice about caring for your new dog, so refer to this first. They may have provided a food sample and other supplies, but plan to go out and get some basic dog gear. Next, you should puppy-proof the house, even for an adult dog (in case he is extra curious). Find a veterinarian and bring your new dog in for a wellness exam as soon as possible. In the beginning, your dog will be adjusting to his new environment. Sights, sounds and smells will be unique and maybe even a bit scary. Depending on your dog's background, the concept of life in a house may be completely foreign. Be patient and try to make your home a positive environment for your dog. You may need to separate him from other pets at first. As he adjusts, you can gradually begin to work on training, bonding and preparing for your life together.

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