This posting will help you navigate the waters of adopting an animal from a shelter. Let me say up front that I understand different shelters might have different policies, but the good ones will be making sure YOU are the right person for that animal. Their concern is the animals, first and foremost. It’s within the likelihood of possibility that some shelters are just glad to have another one out from care. Since I was impressed with how my adoption went, I’ll concentrate on it.

I had lost a dog six months before I adopted Molly. I struggled with the question of whether I was trying to replace Eddie, or whether I had mourned him enough to go ahead and open my heart to another animal. Was I being selfish? Did I just want another animal to fill the void left by Eddie? Was that fair to another animal, to still carry that kind of baggage?

That’s one of the reasons I thought long and hard before even daring to visit the websites of shelters in my area. But finally I did, and for a month, it was my morning routine to look at shelter websites while having my coffee. And then one day, there was Molly. She’s a small dog, 3/4 pug and 1/4 daschund. She looked a lot like Eddie, which made my heart melt. First red flag.

Molly looked frightened in the picture on the website. You could see she was nervous and afraid, but her spirit still showed through. I thought about it for a whole week, visiting the page each day to see if she was still there. If she was still there, I told myself, I was meant to adopt her.

I finally called the shelter and made an appointment to meet Molly. We went into a large open “cage” together and she ran around, barking. She wouldn’t let me pet her at first and when I attempted to, she’d duck as if I were going to hit her. I knew she’d been abused. (An earlier story tells of Molly’s backstory, so I won’t repeat it all here.)

I didn’t fill out the application that first day because I wanted to see if she’d react well to me a second time, since the first time was without incident (in her mind, I felt) but also without a connection. She seemed to remember me the second time and let me pet her. She came and sat between my legs and I just gently touched her legs, her belly, her back and her head. She was a bit nervous but let me do that.

It was in our second meeting I decided I wanted Molly to come home with me and be part of my family. I filled out the application and went home to wait. Two other families had also filled out applications for Molly. It came down to mine being the successful application because she was a girl with serious issues and I had a lot of spare time to spend with her. I had no other animals (at the time) and I had a fenced in back yard.

I had one week to take her to my veterinarian for a thorough checkup, after which I could return her to the shelter if something serious was found. As it turned out she had a hernia which had occurred and was missed at the time she was spayed. I had to take her to a different city where the travelling vet who’d spayed her, would fix the hernia at no cost to me. The poor little thing was terrified. The minute I knew she knew who I was and would be to her was when she came out on her leash having had her hernia fixed, saw me and wagged her tail. I had never seen her wag her tail before. She almost looked relieved to see me standing there.

She was terrified of cars for quite awhile and it makes perfect sense. She’d never been outside in her life and the first time she went in a car, it took to her to this big scary place with a lot of other animals and left her there. Then a car took her to a different city for another operation. Bad things happened to her when she went in cars. (She’s over that now.)

So the steps are pretty easy:

  1. Check out your local shelters online or in person;
  2. Find out as much of the animal’s backstory as possible so you can make an informed decision;
  3. Take at least two visits at the shelter with the animal you want to adopt;
  4. Fill out the application and pay the fee; (I also had to buy the city dog registration tags from the shelter)
  5. Take the animal to your own vet for an overall checkup; and if all circumstances align:
  6. Enjoy them for the rest of their natural life.

As it turns out, Molly had a lot of things to work through and the shelter knew that. I think that’s one of the reasons they chose me — I had a lot of available time and had always had animals. I’ve helped her work through a lot of things. Abandonment was her biggest fear at first, because her former owner died in their apartment and it was days before the body and the animals were found. Then someone she knew (relative of the deceased owner) took her to the shelter and left her there. Then I came and left her there. Then I took her to the vet for her operation and left her there. There was so much fear in her.

She’s over that now; I tell her every time I leave the house that “I’ll be back” and she knows that is true. She follows me around, she sleeps with me, she frets over me if I’m not feeling well. Come May, she’ll have been here three years and while there are some parts of her past she just doesn’t seem able to forget, she’s a far cry from that frightened little waif I saw that day on the shelter’s website.

George’s adoption by my dad was very similar, except he was already in a veterinary shelter so all he had to do was pay the fee and have him chipped. But the staff worked to make sure my dad and George were a good fit for each other (they adored each other and still do even though George lives with Molly and me now.) George and Molly have become true siblings — occasional fights and scuffles, but lots of playing and snoozing together too.

The biggest thing to remember when adopting a shelter pet is that they’re already traumatized to some degree. Their lives have been turned upside down and they might have some issues. Make sure you are willing to work with them to overcome these issues. That way, you’ll both have a loving friend for the rest of their life. If you make a hasty decision and end up having to re-surrender the animal to the shelter, you’ll put them way back on their journey to trust and love someone again.



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