You want to do the right thing and give a shelter dog a home, so you visit the local shelter and look for the perfect dog. Having spent hours getting to know all the dogs at the shelter, you finally choose one. Now, what does the shelter need from you?
General Adoption Requirements
For most people adopting a dog, the process is pretty straightforward. There are several things modern adoption centers and shelters need to learn from you, much of which will be covered in the adoption application. Unless there are special issues to address, most applications ask the same questions. You will be required to either own your own home or, if you rent, produce proof you are allowed to have a pet. You will be asked about previous pet-owning experience, and in some cases you will need to be an experienced dog owner. Many shelters require you have a back yard, but this requirement can be waived if the shelter personnel feel it's appropriate. Many shelters require you supply contact information for a veterinarian or others who can attest to your suitability to have a dog. Finally, the dog must be for you, not a "surprise" or gift for another, and your spouse, if applicable, must join in the adoption process.
Special Situations: The Dog
In some situations, adoption requirements become a little more stringent. This is particularly true when adopting a breed of dog that requires a lot of exercise. In such cases, you will almost definitely be required to have a fenced-in backyard. If adopting a puppy, many shelters will require you to enroll the pup in a training class; many shelters offer them for free for adopters. Many times, well-meaning folks will adopt a puppy, neglect to teach him basic obedience and manners, and then, when he's fully grown into an unmanageable adult dog, return him to the shelter, where his chances of being re-adopted are slim. Even if the problem was not his fault, it looks bad on his record to have been returned.
Oh yes, those dreaded regulations. There are certain dog breeds for which owners pay dearly when it comes to insurance premiums and homeowner fees. Some homeowner's associations ban breeds they deem "dangerous," never taking into account that dogs have unique personalities. Even if you own your home, you may be required to show proof that your homeowner's association has not passed limitations on the size or breed of dog you may have.
Your homeowner's insurance company may also have something to say about the breed you choose. If you are considering a pit bull, Rottweiler or mastiff, for instance, you should look into your insurance policy to be sure there are no problems down the road. There have been cases of dogs such as greyhounds and German shepherds being disallowed by insurance policies, so check carefully.
If you rent and are allowed to have pets, be sure you can pay any necessary pet deposits, and don't select a dog that exceeds the weight limit.
Shelter personnel and rescue groups get to know the dogs in their care very well and are in the best position to gauge whether the dog you have chosen is the right dog for your situation. For example, a nervous little dog who may be a fear-biter is not the best choice for a family with small children. Certain breeds, such as terriers, are usually not adopted to people with cats or pocket pets because of their natural prey drive. An elderly person is not a good match for a strong, 80-pound, adolescent pit bull.
There may also be requirements as to your lifestyle. If you prefer to read a good book while curled up by the fire, an active breed will be miserable with you; get an older, smaller lap dog instead. Don't take it personally if shelter personnel feel you don't have the requirements needed to adopt a certain dog; their first priority should always be the dog's best interest.
By Michelle A. Rivera
About the Author
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.