How do you adopt a dog?

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How and why to adopt a dog from an animal shelter, an alternative to pet stores. Save a life and find your new best friend.

There’s nothing like having a dog.

Children and adults alike bond with dogs in a special way--it’s no wonder they’re “man’s best friend.” When considering where to go to get a new family dog, many people think automatically of the pet store, or of the breeder down the road. An overlooked resource is the local animal shelter. Many dogs are abandoned each year and end up in animal shelters--just waiting for you, their new “best friend.”

There’s a lot to think about before adopting a dog, though. Before you bring a new animal into your family, please consider if you are able to take care of your new pet. Most dogs live between 10-15 years, and all dogs need love and companionship in addition to food, shelter, and regular veterinary care. Dogs are not disposable. They bond with a family, and should be considered part of the family all their lives. Also to consider is what breed, age, and gender of dog would be appropriate for the owner’s age and lifestyle. You can do research on various breeds at the local library, or contact an animal shelter near you, to find one that would be suited to you. Some questions to ask are:

Who will be taking care of the dog? If it is a child, who will help the child with that responsibility? Children should not be solely responsible for the welfare of a pet. Parents and children can spend quality time together with their new “best friend.” Where will the dog eat, sleep, and do its business? Dogs should live primarily indoors, with the family. The more preparation you do ahead of time the more enriching the relationship you will have with your new pet. Owners that obedience train their dogs are also more likely to keep the dogs.

When you’re certain you’re ready to get a dog, where do you go? Though the obvious location would be the pet store, pet stores are not good places to find your family’s new “best friend. Nine out of ten pet store pups come from places called puppy mills. These “mills” are farms that are more like factories, with the goal of producing as many dogs (and therefore as much money) as possible with little or no concern for the animals’ welfare.

Puppy mill dogs are bred and raised under terrible conditions, often in small wire cages with no bedding, protection from the elements, human companionship or veterinary care. Due to the lack of veterinary care, many injuries and illnesses, such as kennel cough or ear infections, go untended. Careless inbreeding may result in genetic disorders like hip dysplasia, costing the unsuspecting pet store patron thousands in medical care for their new dog.

While a way to avoid supporting this unscrupulous industry is to go to a reputable breeder or rescue society, an even better solution is to visit your local animal shelter. For shelter dogs, adoption can be the literal difference between life and death. While many “no-kill” shelters do not euthanize under any circumstances, there are a good number of shelters that must.

The SPCA can only keep dogs for an average of a week before they have to be euthanized, because of the overwhelming number of unwanted animals. PeTA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, states in a flyer on puppy mills, “When you buy from a pet shop, you kill a pound pup.” These are the sad facts of shelters.

While many pet store patrons go outside of an animal shelter to buy their new pet because they are looking for a certain breed, they are unaware that on average 25% of shelter dogs are purebred. Also, there are many adult dogs in shelters, which means people looking to avoid the “puppy stage” can save their furniture and carpets from chewing and toilet training while giving a good home to a needy dog. Shelters can often give information on the temperament of the animals there, which helps to place animals in homes well suited to their personalities. Some dogs are better with children, while others are good companions for the elderly, and so on.

Adopting itself is easy, and like taking that new puppy into your home and heart, you get more than you give. There is a fee involved, to cover the costs the animal shelter incurs. Contact your local shelter for adoption fee amounts and other details. Dogs from animal shelters are almost without exception spayed or neutered. Often shelters give new owners food, and animals will have up-to-date shots.

Pound pups are ready and willing to give love to a new home. So many dogs were never given a chance in a loving home, or their families could no longer take care of them. If you’re ready to commit to taking care of and loving a dog, and make its 10-15 years of life rich and rewarding, please consider your local animal shelter. You’ll be saving a life, and finding your new best friend.