Working with a shelter or rescue

Not sure what to expect when working with a shelter or rescue organization? Here's everything you need to know about the process.

by Good Dog

Successfully adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. And with all the dogs in shelters and rescues, we highly encourage you to consider adoption.

But before you get started, it’s important to take a realistic look at your needs. Make sure you’re a good fit for adoption and think about the type of dog that would fit into your lifestyle. Consider your preferences around size, energy level and behavior. Are you looking for a pup that’s good around other dogs or children? Live a low-key lifestyle and want a lower energy companion? Take some time to think about the factors that would make or break a successful relationship with your new pal. Poor match between pup and parent is what most often leads to dogs being in the shelter in the first place, so you want to make sure you don’t repeat the cycle.

It’s important to note that behaviors can be improved with the right training and socialization but make sure to understand what you’re signing up for and whether you can give your dog the attention and care he or she needs.

Once you’ve done some thinking, it’s time to start exploring shelters and rescues to find your new best friend. Here’s everything you need to know about the process.

Shelters versus Rescues

First off, let’s take a look at the differences between shelters and rescues.

Generally speaking, shelters are places where animals are surrendered (or brought in) for various reasons when their previous owners can no longer care for them. Shelters often also take care of animals who are found abandoned. Shelters usually have a facility that you can visit to meet and greet the dogs in person. They may be private non-profits run by a group of volunteers or run by your local government. You will find a mix of breeds, sizes and personalities in shelters so make sure to talk with the staff about which dogs might be the right fit for you.

Rescues are usually private organizations that save dogs from abuse or homelessness. Rescues may have a facility that you can visit or they may operate with a network of foster parents who house and take care of the dogs until they are adopted. Rescues sometimes specialize in a specific breed or cause they are passionate about so they can be a great option if you have a specific goal in mind. They are usually supported by donations and run by volunteers but rarely receive government funding or support.

A few things to know up front

Dogs are often in shelters due to no fault of their own. There is a misconception that dogs in shelters are somehow damaged or suffer from behavioral or health problems. Although there are certainly dogs with challenging issues in shelters, many are surrendered for reasons like being unable to afford care, moving to a smaller apartment where pets are not allowed or having a new child with a severe allergy.

You also might not realize that you may be able to find the specific breed or characteristics you are looking for in a shelter. Some shelters will even keep your name on a list to be notified when certain pups become available. If you are looking for a specific breed, working with a breed-specific rescue is a great way to try to find what you’re looking for.

As you get started with the process, remember that every dog is an individual and what’s required for one dog may be very different than another. Some dogs may not be a good fit with other animals while others may need a large yard to run and play. The staff at shelters and rescues take pride in getting to know their pups so they can understand their needs and make the right match with their new home.

How the process works

Every organization is different so you may have to adapt to different processes when searching for your new friend. Remember that their goal is to make sure their dogs go into loving homes that will provide the right environment for each pup. That’s why they may require you to fill out an application, provide references or participate in a home visit.

Filling out an adoption application

Shelters and rescues will normally ask you to start by filling out an adoption questionnaire. You’ll be asked to provide information like your name, living situation, age and address. This allows the staff to check their records and do some initial screening.

Interview and in-person visit

After your application has been reviewed, you will usually be asked to speak with a shelter or rescue staff member to determine whether you’d be a fit for one of their animals. The interview may also be combined with an in-person visit to the shelter or foster home, which gives you a chance to meet and get to know the dogs. Don’t feel nervous about being perfect — shelters are thrilled to have your interest in their animals. They may, however, end up deciding that they don’t have the right dog for you at that time. That’s ok as it’s better for you in the long run to find the right match.

When visiting a shelter or foster home in person, remember to respect the instructions of the staff as dogs may be anxious to interact with strangers. Don’t be disappointed if the pups are not very forward and engaged. Think about how you would feel meeting and being handled by so many new people!

You may want to work with a shelter or rescue that is far away and able to transport their dogs. Some notable examples of this are rescues in Texas or Puerto Rico who save animals after hurricanes or breed-specific rescues that may be based across the country. There are lots of great transportation methods that can safely facilitate this process.

When speaking with the shelter or rescue staff, be sure to ask lots of questions so you can make an informed decision. Here are a few that are helpful:

  • Was the dog found, surrendered or a stray?
  • How long has he or she been in the shelter or rescue?
  • How would you describe the dog’s personality and energy level?
  • Do they have any issues interacting with other animals or types of people?
  • Are they young, middle-aged or older?
  • Do they have any known health issues?
  • How receptive are they to training? Are they house-trained?

We are thrilled for you if you find the right fit on your first visit, but don’t be afraid to leave the shelter without a pup if you don’t find the dog for you. You’re making the right decision for you and the animals in the long run.

Some shelters or rescues may require you to complete a background check, provide references or complete a home visit. It may feel like you’re jumping through a lot of hoops but it will all be worth it in the end.

Paperwork and fees

Once you’ve found the right dog for you (congratulations!), it’s time to finalize the adoption and bring home your new best friend.

You’ll often be able to work with the organization to determine your pick-up date in case you need a little time to prepare. To seal the deal, you’ll sign some paperwork and pay the required fees. Adoption fees range between $20 to $500 depending on the organization and individual dog. Remember that these fees go directly to help pay for veterinary care, food and the many other things that were required to care for your dog in the shelter.

Then, after preparing your home for a new dog, it’s time to pick up your pup! No dog is perfect so you will have to be patient and loving with your new friend. Invest time and energy in your relationship and their training and you’ll be making memories before you know it!