The decision to adopt a pet is a big one. Not only do you have to make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of taking care of an animal every day for years, you also have to think about which kind of animal to adopt. Regardless, one of the steps you’ll want to take when preparing to adopt a pet is to find an animal shelter near you. Most communities have them, and familiarizing yourself with the shelter and the animals they have available for adoption can actually help you better prepare for the transition to becoming a pet owner.
Some people shy away from the thought of adopting a pet from an animal shelter for a variety of reasons from pet availability to lack of detailed animal history. However, many animal shelters in reality are full of full-breed animals, puppies and animals with well-known histories whose families had to give them up for adoption for situations outside of their control (like a death in the family or an unexpected health diagnosis). In other words, you may be able to find exactly what you’re looking for at an animal shelter.
It’s also important to note that when you choose to adopt from a shelter, you’re helping your community. Animal shelters, especially open-intake shelters, provide a necessary service for taking in and providing for lost, abandoned or stray animals. They also provide spays and neuters before adopting animals out, which ultimately helps control the population of dogs and cats to prevent an excess of stray or unwanted pets. And certainly not least of all, you’re giving a sweet pet in need a warm and loving home — something all dogs and cats deserve.
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Even if you’re not aware of any animal shelters near you, chances are there's at least one. Almost all municipalities have an animal control department, and there’s often a shelter affiliated with the office. Aside from government-run shelters, you may have a non-profit or privately-run shelter nearby. Common types of shelters are affiliated with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or humane societies. You may also find other shelters or rescue groups founded and run by good-hearted citizens trying to take some of the burden off larger shelters. These are frequently geared to a particular breed or type of pet.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the types of shelters close to you so you can best decide which one (or ones) to support when you make your adoption.
“The most important attribute for folks to understand about shelters in their community is which shelter takes in lost and stray animals since that’s an essential service. That could be a government-run shelter, or it could be a private shelter like the Brandywine Valley SPCA (BVSPCA) that’s contracted to provide that service to the community,” says Director of Operations forBVSPCA in Pennsylvania, Walt Fenstermacher.
You may also want to consider whether the organization is considered a “kill” or “no-kill” shelter.
“For a shelter to be considered no-kill, no healthy or treatable animal is euthanized when the necessary resources are available. The no-kill threshold is considered to be a 90% live release rate, or 90% of animals exiting alive,” Fenstermacher explains. “Achieving this level of lifesaving can be challenging for open admission shelters, which are shelters that accept lost/stray animals, since they have no control over the condition, medically or behaviorally, of animals entering their shelter. The BVSPCA is one of the few open admission shelters consistently operating at a no-kill level.”
So if you feel drawn to support the mission of an open-admission shelter aiming to attain or maintain a no-kill status, it’s best to start your pet search at a shelter like this. It’s also important to understand that the title “SPCA” or “humane society” doesn’t necessarily carry specific meaning.
“‘SPCA’ and ‘humane society’ are generic terms that don’t really indicate anything specific about a shelter,” Fenstermacher says. “They’re just descriptors, mostly meaning the same thing as far as being an animal welfare organization. The most important thing for folks to realize is that each community shelter operates independent of national organizations. Many folks think, for instance, that SPCAs are affiliated with and funded by the national [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] ASPCA or that humane societies are affiliated or funded by the Humane Society of the United States. Our shelter, for instance, is an independent, private organization funded by donors.” In other words, if you want to help your local shelter, help by adopting from them or donating to them directly, rather than to an unaffiliated national organization.
The good news is, even if you don’t know where your local shelters are, they’re easy to find. In addition to a simple internet search, you can also explore our shelter partners.
One thing to keep in mind as you search for your pet is that sometimes adoptions happen quickly. If you do find a pet you’re interested in online, you’ll want to head to the shelter to meet the pet as soon as possible.
“Most shelters practice open adoptions. These tend to be same-day adoptions,” Fenstermacher says. Open adoptions take place on a first-come, first-serve basis. In the case of puppies, or high-demand, full-breed animals like goldendoodles, you may need to act fast if you see that one’s available at your local shelter. Fenstermacher emphasizes that when it comes to adoption, visiting your local shelter and meeting different animals is probably the best way to find your perfect pet.
“Go in with an open mind. You may think you want a specific dog or cat based on a photo, but get to the shelter and completely fall in love with another animal,” he says. At the end of the day, that’s what you really want, right? A furry friend that you’ll love and bond with for years to come.
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Photo by Cierra Voelkl on Unsplash