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Dog Adoption Process & Costs – 3 Things to Consider


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After watching the ASPCA’s tear-inducing commercial featuring shelter dogs huddling in cages to the tune of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” it can be tempting to immediately run to a shelter and adopt the first dog you see.

However, before you throw on your shoes and head out the door, it is important that you understand the cost and the process of adopting a dog. Furthermore, it is crucial to take the time to assess whether you are truly ready to accept what can be an expensive long-term commitment.

What to Consider Before Adopting a Dog

1. Dog Adoption Isn’t Free

It’s not cheap to adopt a dog. Adoption fees vary based on the type of shelter or animal rescue, but typically range from $100 to $350. That may seem like a lot for an organization to charge when shelters are overflowing with dogs who need homes, but shelters use the funds to cover operating expenses, as well as provide healthcare for dogs.

Some organizations, particularly those funded in part by a municipality, may offer lower adoption fees but fewer services. For instance, several years ago when deciding where to go to adopt a dog, I compared a municipal shelter to a shelter run by the local SPCA. While the municipal adoption rates were less than $50, there was no veterinary care provided, and we would have been required to get the dog spayed or neutered on our own dime.

In contrast, the local SPCA charged $85 for dogs weighing more than 25 pounds, and that included all necessary shots, the spay or neuter, and a follow-up vet visit. This was particularly useful when we adopted our first dog, because during the follow-up visit, we opted to pay an additional $12 for a blood heartworm test. The test came back positive, and because they hadn’t detected the heartworms prior to the adoption, the shelter covered the full cost of heartworm treatment – something that typically costs hundreds of dollars. Because of our positive experience with the shelter, we ended up adopting two more dogs from the facility over the course of the next two years.

Know what services your local shelter provides in exchange for their adoption fee. It’s up to you to determine whether you’re willing to pay more for a dog if you receive additional services in return, or if you’d rather pay less upfront for your new pet and take care of the veterinary services on your own.

2. Dog Adoption Isn’t Always Easy

If you plan to make an impulsive puppy purchase, you may need to think again – many animal shelters require you to fill out an extensive application prior to taking a pooch home. Applications ask questions about your housing situation, family life, whether you have any other pets in your care, your general activity level, and if you have a vet you plan to use.

While the extensive nature of the application may seem like overkill, it’s a smart move on the part of adoption organizations. Sometimes, the animal a family wants to adopt does not get along well with other pets or young children. Similarly, pet shelters know that some apartment complexes or landlords don’t allow animals on the property, so they need to check with the landlord to make sure a dog has a permanent home waiting for it.

Shelters and pet adoption organizations have one goal: To place dogs in suitable, permanent homes that are mutually rewarding for the families and dogs. The application itself is one way shelters screen families before placing a dog in their care, but they may also take the application process a step further. Some organizations require a home visit prior to dog adoption. The home visit is arranged by shelter staff or their volunteers, and involves someone dropping by the permanent address of the applicant to make sure its a suitable environment for a pet.

All-in-all, shelters try to make the adoption process as quick and painless as possible, but it can take from one day to several weeks to be approved. Check with local shelters to see what they require before going in to adopt a dog so that you’ll have any necessary information and paperwork on hand.

3. It Is Important to Create a Welcoming Home

Once your adoption has been approved, it’s time to bring your new pup home. After living in the high-stress environment of a shelter, it’s likely to take several days for your dog to relax in your home. Make this process as easy as possible by purchasing necessary dog supplies in advance. A few dog toys, a dog bed, quality dog food, food and water bowls, a collar, a leash, a tag, and a crate are all must-have items.

Expect to spend between $100 and $200 on initial supplies, depending in part on the size of your dog. Larger dogs need bigger beds, bigger crates, sturdier supplies, and more food, all of which cost more to purchase.

If you have young children or other pets in your home, understand that there will be an adjustment period for everyone. Consider introducing your pets to one another in a neutral, nonthreatening environment (such as a park) to allow them to get to know each other before bringing them into the same house.

Warn your children not to overwhelm your new dog at first. Chances are your pup will want to sleep more than usual in the first few days as he or she relaxes after leaving the shelter. Do what you can to accommodate this rest, slowly acclimating the dog to your family, and vice versa.

Final Word

Adopting a dog can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do, but there are speed bumps along the road to adoption that you must cross. When you want a dog now, these barriers can seem frustrating, but they’re there for good reason.

Dog ownership is expensive, and it requires a committed, responsible owner. The ASPCA estimates that the first year of dog ownership costs between $1,314 and $1,843 (not including the dog adoption fee) before dropping to an annual expense between $580 and $875 for each subsequent year. That means you can expect to spend between $700 and $1,000 on the initial adoption, supplies, and vet expenses necessary when you bring a new dog into your home. It sounds like a lot, but the cost and process of dog adoption helps ensure that the approved families have the means and the motivation to create a positive, loving, and permanent home for their new pet.

Have you adopted a dog? What was the process like for you?


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Laura Williams holds a master's degree in exercise and sport science and enjoys breaking up her day by running her dogs, hitting the gym, and watching TV. Having been in charge of her own finances since the early age of 12, she knows how to save and when to spend, and she loves sharing these tips with others. Laura ditched her career as a fitness center manager for the relative freedom of home-based writing and editing work. She stays busy by working on her own website, GirlsGoneSporty, a website designed to help the sporty woman live the sporty life.