Adopting a Shelter Dog: Process and Costs

Dog adoption is a combination of emotional and financial choices. Dive into the costs, savings and process to ensure you make the best decisions for your budget.

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Last Updated: 9/13/2023
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Adopting a shelter dog is more than just bringing a pet home; it's a journey to give a deserving soul a second chance. According to the ASPCA's 2019 estimate, approximately 3.1 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters annually, and only 65% are adopted.

Dog adoption is also a financially savvy decision. Initial costs of pet ownership, such as vaccinations and neutering, are often covered in the adoption fee – which usually ranges from $50 to $500 compared to $1,135 to $5,155 upfront cost when you buy a puppy.

Dog Adoption in the US

Understanding Shelter Dogs

Many shelter dogs come from diverse backgrounds, each with a unique story. Some are strays, wandering without a home, while others have been rescued from cruelty or neglect. There are also those who were surrendered by their previous owners due to reasons like financial constraints or changes in living situations.

A common misconception is that these dogs are problematic or 'damaged.' In reality, they are often loving pets who have faced unfortunate circumstances, ending up in shelters or with rescue groups through no fault of their own. Another myth is that they are all mixed breeds. While many are, shelters and rescues also house purebreds.

Regardless of their pasts, many dogs have the potential to be loyal and loving companions. However, some dogs are better around families than others — your personal situation and willingness to invest in a dog’s rehabilitation are key things to keep in mind during the process.

Why Adopt a Shelter Dog?

By adopting a shelter dog, you’re making a decision that can positively impact both your life and the life of a deserving animal. It's a win-win situation that resonates with both the heart and the wallet.

Here are some compelling reasons to consider adoption:

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    Second Chance at Life

    Many shelter dogs have faced hardships like abandonment and mistreatment. Adopting them provides a second chance at a loving and supportive environment.

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    Financial Savings

    Adoption fees – which range from $50 to $500 – are generally lower than purchasing from breeders and often include initial veterinary care costs. This means you can save on expenses like vaccinations, spaying/neutering and microchipping.

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    Supporting Animal Welfare

    Your adoption fee goes back to the shelter, helping them continue their mission. You are directly supporting the care of other animals and the overall cause of animal welfare.

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    Behavioral Assessments

    Shelters often utilize behavioral assessments to gauge a dog's needs and behaviors, offering an added layer of insight for a more informed match. These evaluations, while insightful, are just one tool in understanding a dog's behavior. The ASPCA emphasizes that the quest for such information shouldn't prolong a dog's stay in the shelter.

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    Post-Adoption Support

    Some shelters offer post-adoption support, answering questions and assisting with any behavioral or adjustment challenges that might arise. While this is not a common offering, this support ensures you have the resources to build a successful bond with your new pet. Check with your shelter if they provide post-adoption support.

Cost to Adopt a Dog

The adoption fee for dogs can vary based on the shelter, the dog’s age and any running promotions of the shelter. These fees range from $50 to $500, often including initial veterinary care, vaccinations and microchipping. If you're adopting from a nonprofit, this fee might be tax-deductible.

Additional Costs Beyond the Adoption Fee

While the initial adoption fee for dogs often includes many initial expenses, you also have to budget for the ongoing costs of dog ownership to ensure a happy and healthy life for your new companion.

  • Routine Veterinary Care: The average cost for routine vet check-ups can range from $50 to $400 per year, depending on the dog's age, breed and health. Vaccinations can cost between $50 and $150 annually.
  • Food and Supplies: Quality dog food can range from $250 to $700 per year, depending on the brand and the dog’s size. Toys, bedding and grooming supplies can add another $50 to $300 annually.
  • Training: For puppies or dogs with behavioral issues, professional training sessions can range from $30 to $100 per hour. Group classes might be cheaper, while specialized training for behavioral issues can be more costly.
  • Emergency Medical Expenses: Accidents or illnesses can lead to unexpected veterinary bills. These are unpredictable but can range from $100 for minor concerns to thousands of dollars for surgeries or severe illnesses.
  • Pet License: Some states and cities require dog owners to obtain a pet license. For instance, cities like Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle have licensing fees ranging from $5 to $100, depending on the dog's neuter status. Check with your local regulations to ensure compliance because fees and requirements can vary.
  • Pet Insurance: Many owners opt for pet insurance to offset potential medical costs. Premiums for pet insurance can vary based on the coverage level, breed, age and location. On average, dog owners might pay between $200 and $600 per year for a comprehensive plan. Some shelters like Second City Canine Rescue and Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League give a 30-day complimentary pet insurance as a perk for adopting a dog.

Financial Assistance for Adoption Fees and Vet Care

Numerous organizations and shelters offer financial assistance to ease the burden of adoption costs and help save on pet expenses. From reduced adoption fees to special programs for veterans, there's a range of support available for adopters.

1. Petfinder Foundation: Provides "Adoption Options in Action" grants to help cover adoption fees.

2. Pets for Patriots: Offers discounts on adoption fees and veterinary care for veterans who adopt pets.

3. North Shore Animal League America: Hosts special adoption events with reduced or waived fees.

4. BISSELL Pet Foundation: Sponsors "Empty the Shelters" events with reduced adoption fees.

5. Adopt A Pet: Partners with organizations for special adoption fee promotions.

6. Best Friends Animal Society: Runs promotions with reduced or waived adoption fees.

Questions to Ask When Adopting a Dog

Being well-prepared also means avoiding unexpected expenses down the line, making the adoption process smoother for your heart and your budget. These are the questions to ask a shelter when adopting a dog:

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    Origin and History

    Where did the dog come from? How long have they been at the rehoming center? Have they been rehomed more than once?

    Understanding the dog's background can provide insights into potential behavioral traits or preferences. It can also help you prepare for any specific needs the dog might have.

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    Health Status

    Are they on any medication? Have they had any surgeries? Do they have any joint issues or dietary requirements?

    Knowing about any existing or potential health issues helps adopters prepare for medical expenses and care routines.

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    Behavior and Temperament

    What is the dog's personality? How are they around other dogs, animals, children, or strangers? Does the dog have any behavior problems?

    This helps you gauge if the dog's temperament aligns with your household dynamics and lifestyle. Also, being aware of potential behavioral challenges allows you to seek necessary interventions or training early on.

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    Training and Manners

    Is the dog potty trained? Do they have basic good manners? What specific commands do they know?

    Understanding a dog's training level helps you know what additional training might be required and ensures a smoother transition to the new home.

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    Return Policy

    Will the shelter take the dog back if the adoption doesn't work out?

    While the goal is a forever home, knowing the organization's policy is essential should challenges arise that make rehoming necessary.

Navigating the Adoption Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

The adoption process for a dog from a shelter is a structured journey to ensure the best match. Here's a guide to help you navigate this process:


Determining Where to Adopt

Adoption centers are widespread, from local animal shelters to breed-specific rescue groups. The ASPCA’s national database and Petfinder are reliable resources for finding shelters in your area. If you have a specific breed in mind, breed-specific rescue groups like Arizona Golden Rescue and Friends to the Forlorn,are often volunteer-run, and focus on rescuing and rehoming particular breeds.


Filling Out Adoption Forms

Adoption forms can range from a simple questionnaire to a more comprehensive survey. Some shelters may ask for references, landlord permissions or income verification. Be honest and thorough in your responses to ensure a good match between you and your future pet. If you're interested in a specific dog, consider writing a personal note to the shelter or foster home detailing why you'd provide a great home for the dog.


Scheduling a Home Visit

Some shelters may ask for a home visit to ensure a safe and suitable environment for the dog. During this visit, you might be asked about your living conditions, other pets in the house and their health. The shelter might also inquire about your experience with dogs, your energy level and your plans for the dog's exercise and training.


Preparing Your Home for a New Dog and the Associated Costs

Before bringing your new pet home, prepare your living space. This preparation might include buying a bed, toys, food and safety gates. Consider costs for initial setup, like fencing for a yard or purchasing a crate. These upfront expenses ensure your dog's comfort and safety in their new environment.

Pet Insurance for Shelter Dogs

Pet insurance for shelter dogs carries unique considerations, given their unique histories that might make them more susceptible to certain health or behavioral challenges. Insurers might require more comprehensive health checks or have specific clauses for pre-existing conditions.

Factors to Consider When Insuring a Shelter Dog

With their diverse backgrounds, shelter dogs come with specific considerations that can impact insurance decisions.

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    Pre-existing Conditions

    Many shelter dogs come from backgrounds with unknown medical histories. Insurers might classify certain health issues as pre-existing conditions, which can affect coverage eligibility or premiums. Clarify with insurers what they consider as pre-existing and how it impacts the policy.

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    Age and Breed Considerations

    Older dogs or specific breeds might face higher insurance premiums due to potential health risks. For dogs whose exact breed or age is uncertain, insurers typically rely on the information provided by the pet owner or shelter and their internal data from similar breeds or age groups to estimate rates. Be sure to provide as accurate information as possible to get a fair quote.

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    Coverage Options, Waiting Periods and Direct Payments

    Different policies offer varying coverage levels, from basic accident plans to comprehensive care. Also, some policies have waiting periods before certain coverages become active. A notable perk some insurers offer is direct payments to vets, alleviating the need for out-of-pocket expenses followed by reimbursement.

Choosing the Right Pet Insurance for Shelter Dogs

With all the pet insurance options available, it's important to find a policy that offers both comprehensive coverage and peace of mind.


Research to Select the Best Policy

Dive deep into customer reviews, policy details and claim processes. Compare premiums, deductibles and coverage limits to find the cheapest pet insurance for your dog. Consider the insurer's reputation and customer service responsiveness. Tailor your choice based on your dog's specific needs and your financial comfort zone.


Be Thorough and Honest on Your Application

Being transparent about your dog's health history, even if limited, is vital. Misrepresentations can lead to denied claims or policy cancellations. Honesty ensures that you get the coverage you're paying for without surprises.


Explore Alternatives to Traditional Pet Insurance

Consider wellness plans that cover routine care or pet health discount programs. Some organizations offer financial assistance for specific treatments. While these aren't replacements for comprehensive pet insurance, they can complement a policy or serve as an option for those seeking a different kind of financial safety net.

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The Post-Adoption Period: What to Know and Expect

Once your new pet is home, there are several considerations and steps to ensure a smooth transition for both of you.

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    Adjustment Period and the 3-3-3 Rule

    Every dog will require an adjustment period when introduced to a new environment. The 3-3-3 rule suggests that the dog might feel overwhelmed in the first 3 days; in 3 weeks, they start getting comfortable, and by 3 months, they should feel fully settled.

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    Behavioral Issues

    Some rescue dogs may exhibit behavioral challenges due to past traumas. Seek professional training if needed and provide a nurturing environment to help them overcome these issues.

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    Healthcare Considerations

    Some shelter dogs may have pre-existing health conditions. Schedule regular vet check-ups to monitor your dog's health and to ensure they're free from any health issues.

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    Anxiety-Inducing Situations

    Be mindful of situations that might stress your dog, like loud noises or large gatherings. Provide a place where they can go when they feel overwhelmed.

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    Ongoing Support and Resources

    Join local pet groups, or online forums or seek advice from your shelter. These resources can provide valuable insights and support as you navigate the joys and challenges of pet ownership.

Dog Adoption Resources

Navigating pet adoption and ownership becomes smoother with the support of these organizations and platforms, each dedicated to providing guidance and information.

1. ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals): A national leader in animal rescue and protection, offering a wealth of resources for pet owners and those looking to adopt.

2. Petfinder: An online database of animals in need of homes, connecting adopters with local shelters and rescue groups.

3. The Humane Society of the United States: Provides resources on pet care, adoption and animal protection issues.

4. Best Friends Animal Society: A national animal welfare organization dedicated to ending dog and cat killing in American shelters.

5. Adopt A Pet: A nonprofit pet adoption website that supports animal shelters, humane societies, local SPCA chapters and pet rescue organizations by providing free adoption advertising.

6. Dogster: An online community for dog lovers offering articles, forums and advice on dog care and training.

7. Association of Professional Dog Trainers: Provides resources for dog training and offers a searchable database to find trainers in your area.

8. Petco Foundation: Supports animal welfare organizations and promotes pet adoption through in-store adoption events.

9. PetSmart Charities: Dedicated to supporting initiatives and thought leadership to find all dogs lifelong, devoted homes.

10. AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association): Provides resources on pet health, safety and veterinary care.

About Nathan Paulus

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Nathan Paulus is the director of content marketing at MoneyGeek. Nathan has been creating content for nearly 10 years and is particularly engaged in personal finance, investing, and property management. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of St. Thomas Houston.