Expectations for Visiting an Animal Shelter

If you're considering a pet shelter adoption, you may have a lot of questions: What will the process be like? Can I bring my pet home the first day? Will there be a screening period? It's normal to feel anxious and excited to bring a pet home, and asking questions is a great way to prepare for the process. Visiting an animal shelter should be a happy moment, and it will be if you know what to expect.

Prepping for the Big Visit

First, understand that adopting an animal is not like shopping for something on the internet. Yes, your local shelter may list the profiles of its current animals on its website; however, keeping a website updated takes time, something that many shelters may not always have. Don't set your sights on a specific dog or cat you find online. Instead, go there in person to get a feel for all the animals looking for a home.A kitten with green eyes staring out from a cage

If you have a lot of animal shelters in your area, ask for recommendations from friends and family who recently adopted. If not, call or email to schedule an appointment where you, and possibly even your whole family, can visit with the animals and see if there's a special connection with any of them. However, don't rely on the phone call or email to secure your visit. Animal shelters are often staffed with volunteers, and they get busy. If a shelter's operating hours are listed online or on a building sign, head over there in person to meet the pets for yourself.

Make sure to prep your home before you visit on the chance that you fall in love with a furry friend and have the opportunity to bring him home that evening. However, never make a snap decision when it comes to adopting a pet. It's usually best to spend a day or two sleeping on it. Most shelters will allow you to place a hold on a pet because they know what a big decision it is to adopt. Be sure to dog or cat-proof so that your pet and your personal belongings will be safe in the beginning. You'll also need necessities such as food, a collar, a leash, cat litter and other items that will help both your new pet and your family handle the transition well. Once you have everything you need, you'll be ready to visit the shelter in person.

What Is the Process Like?

If you haven't identified a particular pet you'd like to see, the first step of visiting a shelter will involve walking through the kennel area to view the pets. Once you see a dog or cat that catches your eye, the shelter staff will take him out of his crate and move you into a space where you and the animal can get to know each other. If you're visiting to meet a particular pet, tell the person manning the front desk, and they'll introduce you to the animal immediately. If you're not 100 percent sure what you're looking for, talk to the staff about your household and why you've chosen to adopt. They can help direct you toward pets that meet your needs and personality.

There's a good chance you'll fall in love. You've been forewarned!

If there isn't a connection between you and the animal, don't feel bad — especially if you went there looking for a dog or cat you found online. The most important part of a pet shelter adoption is connecting with the right animal, not just any animal. If this pet isn't a fit for your family, don't worry. He'll find its forever home eventually. In this case, the shelter employee or volunteer will take the pet back to the kennel, and give you the opportunity to meet with other animals.

Or, maybe you automatically click with the first animal you meet. In that case, congratulations! Your family just expanded, and this dog or cat will always hold a special place in your heart. The first thing to do is tell a staff member you'd like to move forward with a pet shelter adoption.

Depending on the facility, they may allow you to continue playing with the pet while they begin the administrative process, or you may be temporarily separated from your new pet while you head to the office to fill out paperwork.

All adoptions require a photo ID, an application, and a fee to be collected before an animal can go home. The fee can range anywhere from $25 to $200, so call ahead to confirm the price if you need to budget for the expense ahead of time. Don't forget to ask for a spay or neuter certificate as well as a detailed list of vaccinations and any other medical history, if available. You'll need this to get a license in your town or city, and your veterinarian will also want this information on file.

Now, in most cases, you'll be ready to bring your animal home. However, there are many shelters that make individuals wait a period of time after visiting before they release the pet to them. Although not common, some will request a home visit. It can be a downer to expect to leave with a pet after a trip to the shelter. If that is a priority for you, call for more details before visiting.

Expect to be at the shelter for at least an hour, and if you bring family with you, kids especially, know that it might take longer.

What (or Who) Should You Bring with You?

Speaking of family, should you bring anyone with you for a pet shelter adoption? The answer to that varies from person to person and family to family. If you're single, there's really no need to bring anyone with you to approve of your decision, unless you want some company and moral support. If you're a couple, both of you should be present, especially since the dog or cat needs to view you both as his leaders.

A family makes the situation tricky. If you bring young children to a shelter to meet animals, yet don't feel comfortable bringing one home, your children may feel disappointed — especially if they felt a significant connection with one animal. Similarly, young children have a ton of energy, which may disrupt the get-to-know-you environment. And finally, while the pet may show no signs of aggression, it's impossible to know if the cat or dog has a history of aggression against children.

However, there are so many good reasons to have your whole family there as well. First, this pet won't belong just to you. Your new furry friend is entering an entire family, and you want to make sure everyone is happy with the choice and feels a connection to the loving animal. Children of all ages will feel special to help make the choice and give their opinion. Finally, you'll feel more confident to watch the dog or cat interact with your children, knowing that their relationship started out strong.

Important Questions About the Adoption Process

There are many questions you'll want to ask the shelter staff before adopting an animal. First, find out the current and previous health status. Have there ever been any problems physically? If so, find out if the pet needs to be on a specific diet or take any medications. You'll also want to know the animal's age, which will help you choose the best food and treats. Finally, don't forget to ask behavioral questions, too. You need to know if the animal has any dominance or aggression issues, especially if there are children in your home. Similarly, find out if this new pet plays well with other animals if you have another pet in your house.

Shelter staff will also have questions for you to answer. Their goal is to make sure the animal is placed in a safe, loving environment. They don't want the dog or cat to cycle through homes, ending up back at the shelter in a short period of time. Don't feel as if they are grilling you. All of the questions they ask are important to help them identify whether you are the right fit for the pet in question. Since animals don't talk, the shelter staff act as animal advocates to ensure the cats and dogs go to healthy families.

Visiting an animal shelter and going through with a pet shelter adoption is a very big deal. Congratulations on this momentous occasion!

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.


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