Questions to Ask Shelters and Animal Rescue Groups When Considering Adopting a Dog

October is Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, hurrah! I’m sure staff and volunteers are excited about the prospect of a bevy of potential adopters visiting in the coming weeks to potentially add a new four legged family member to their home! As many folks begin researching the act of rescuing a dog, they may quickly realize that there may be a formal application and interview process where rescue groups and shelters try to assess a best match based on your replies to specific questions. It’s also important, as potential adopters, to prepare a list of questions to ask of the adoption group as well.

alex - dog for adoption

It’s important to first acknowledge that many groups and shelters have spent a lot of time and energy on maintaining their website. I recommend reading through their site to see if some of the answers to your questions are already available. This will allow for you to have more time speaking with the organization about specific animals and any unique circumstances pertaining to your availability or home situation instead.

1.  What is your adoption fee (if applicable) and process?

I would hope that this information is available for your review prior to visiting a shelter. If it is not, this is an important first step. Knowing the adoption timeline and what will be required of you at the onset should allow your family to make the most educated decision as to whether or not pursuing the next steps is appropriate. Knowing rate scales can also help. For example, puppies tend to have a higher adoption fee than those of adult dogs because so many folks go in to the adoption process under the mindset that they only want to consider adopting a puppy. There are wonderful adult dogs that will make amazing companions; I encourage adopters to consider them as possibilities as well.

2.  What comes with the adoption fee?

Some groups will provide shots, a supply of food, microchipping services. When age appropriate, spay or neuter procedures may also have been provided. Knowing what you will be financially responsible to undertake on your own accord after departing should allow for you to decide if continuing with the process makes sense. This is also important for context. If rescue group A only charges $100 for an adoption fee, but don’t provide some of the services listed, while rescue group B charges $250 and covers the items listed…rescue group B may wind up being the more affordable adoption organization in the long run.

dog getting blood drawn at vet emergency

3.  Can you provide a history of the dog(s)?

This may or may not be available and should NOT be the deciding factor but, if there’s any background information about a dog that you can be made aware of, that may help you to assess his or her compatibility with your home environment and schedule. Take these statements with a grain of salt, particularly if their coming from a third party. Just like the game of telephone, stories can get garbled when relayed multiple times.

4.  What training and socialization has the dog had an opportunity to obtain?

Connected, are there additional training & socialization opportunities available through your organization once adopted? If you can be eligible for puppy kindergarten or basic manners courses for free or a discounted rate, this is great for you to know and plan for at the beginning.


5. Can you provide any important medical information?

Does the dog need a surgery at some point down the road, are they on daily medication, are there specific dietary restrictions? These are all important for you to be aware of at the onset. To clarify, there’s nothing wrong with adopting a pup that may have some of these needs…everyone deserves a loving home. If you can help to provide that for them, they’ll love you forever!

6.  How long has the dog been at the shelter?

The reply may give you context. If the poor pup seems stressed out, for example, that may very well be a reflection on how long they’ve been an enclosed space with other dogs barking. It doesn’t mean they’re “damaged goods,” or unadoptable. Conversely, if the dog has only been with the shelter for a short while, staff may not have had the time to get to know his or her personality as well as others that have been there for a longer period.

7.  How is the dog with other dogs, cats, men, women, children, and whatever other variables you can think of?

While relatively self-explanatory, these factors are incredibly important to investigate. This is particularly true if some of those variables aren’t with you at the initial meeting to gauge the dog’s response. Home visits, if available, can afford you the chance to see how the dog may do in your home environment with the individuals and other animals the potential adoptee would encounter.

dog rolling around with cat

8.  What is the process for bringing the dog back should the home environment not be the best fit?

Everyone has good intentions when pursuing an adoption and if you’re doing your research, there is a lesser chance that the adoption won’t work. That being said, sometimes things just don’t work out. I would first recommend making your best effort to address those concerns and not return the dog at the first hiccup. That’s why socialization, creating a schedule, training, and exercise are essential tools for success. If, you’ve exhausted all options or if you feel there’s a safety concern for your family or the animal, you should be made aware of the steps for returning the animal. I’d also recommend being in contact with the shelter/rescue group so they are aware of the issues you’re encountering so they’re not taken aback if you show up at their doorstep at a future point.


Remember, no question is a bad question! I hope this helps and I hope you enjoy this process and the new family member that may result!

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