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8 tips for adopting a dog

By Michelle Sathe

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and that’s why Best Friends Animal Society is encouraging anyone thinking about getting a dog to take the plunge and find a new best friend at a local shelter or rescue group, since the need is still great.

Even with the pandemic pooch craze, 32 percent of the 347,000 dogs and cats killed in shelters last year were dogs, according to Best Friends’ 2020 data of U.S. shelters. And over the summer, the number of pets entering shelters was on the rise, with hundreds of thousands of dogs in need of new homes across the country.

Adopting a dog is not only fun, but it comes with a host of benefits. “Studies have shown that having pets reduces stress and lowers anxiety, says Dr. Erin Katribe, medical director and veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society. “This is especially helpful during challenging times like we’ve experienced over the last year and a half. Dogs are also great walking or hiking buddies. It’s like having a personal trainer with four legs.”

Another benefit of adoption is that it’s cost-effective. “Most shelter dogs are already spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and ready to go home for one low fee,” says Dr. Erin, who adds that since most dogs in shelters have already been in homes, they are usually housetrained. “For adult dogs, it usually just takes a quick refresher course to become housebroken in a new environment.”

Dr. Erin also says that saving the life of a dog in need is hugely rewarding. “These dogs are so eager to be someone’s best friend again,” she says. “They’ll pay you back for your kindness with a lifetime of unconditional love and companionship.”

If you are considering adoption, here are eight tips to help with your search.

Man and woman snuggling with a dog on a couch

1. Lifestyle is huge. Do you enjoy binge-watching TV and prefer quiet nights at home on the couch? A senior dog or one who prefers being an only pet could be your ideal match.

More athletic types should consider a high-energy dog who can keep up on any adventure. High energy doesn’t always mean young, either. Many older dogs are still bursting with energy.

Even if you don’t have a big home, dogs of all sizes can thrive in an apartment or condo (as long as they get the necessary amount of exercise). Large breed dogs are the most at risk in shelters, so keep your eyes open for a big boy or girl who may otherwise be overlooked.

2. Ask the shelter team to play matchmaker. Tell the shelter staff and volunteers all about your living space and who you share space with, including any and all pets (rodents and reptiles count). You’ll also want to note any pets you run into on a regular basis (such as small dogs at your apartment complex or a friend’s dog who likes to visit).

3. How much affection do you need? Some people love getting doggy kisses, while others not so much. It’s the same with sleeping: Do you want to snuggle in bed with your dog or do you prefer your dog to have his own bed elsewhere? How much (or how little) affection you want from your pet is an important factor in deciding which one to adopt.

Brindle dog kissing a smiling man's face

4. Involve the kids. It’s important to take your kids with you to meet all prospective pets so you can observe how they interact. Ask shelter staffers if any of the dogs in their care have previously lived with children.

5. Keep an open mind. Rather than fixating on looks, size or breed, focus on such characteristics as who best fits into your lifestyle and who you find a connection with.

6. Know your limits. If you’re not willing to potty train a puppy or can't handle a strong, young dog, don’t feel guilty. Knowing what you can and cannot take on when taking care of a dog is important.

7. Ask about medical history. Some dogs, especially seniors, can have current or ongoing health conditions that require medication or increased veterinary care. As such, it can cost more money and involve more time to care for the dog. It’s important to factor this into your decision-making process.

8. Foster first. Most shelters allow potential adopters to take a dog home for several weeks or longer. This is the best way to really get to know a dog and gain the confidence to decide whether you should make the situation permanent.

Person wearing a Best Friends foster T-shirt and mask with a fluffy gray dog

Adopt a dog

Dogs of all shapes and sizes are waiting in shelters, so visit your local shelter to meet them or search online to see many more pups at a glance. And if your heart is set on a certain breed, there are rescue groups for just about every kind of dog, too.

Start your search for a new pet

Photos by Lori Fusaro and Molly Wald