How to Prepare for an Animal Shelter Visit

By Savannah Admire

Woman visiting animal shelter
PH888 /Shutterstock
Looking at online listings for adoptable pets can be fun, but when you’re ready to decide on a dog or cat to bring home, it’s time to choose an animal shelter to visit. You may be surprised by which animal in your local shelter captures your heart and feels like the perfect fit for your home and life. Taking the time to interact with a potential pet in person can help you find the right pet for you, as well as give you the opportunity to ask questions of shelter volunteers.

When you feel prepared for your visit to an animal shelter, you can ease any anxiety you may have about shelter pet adoption and make sure that you’re ready for the commitment of pet parenthood.

Before visiting the animal shelter

While you can walk into an animal shelter any day they’re open, it helps if you can prepare yourself for the task of choosing a pet to adopt. Spend some time browsing online listings for your local shelter but don’t set your heart on a specific pet before you meet them. You may fall in love with a completely different animal at the shelter, so keep an open mind — and heart.

Consider what type of pet is the best fit

Before you visit a shelter, think about what you want in a pet.

Shelter volunteers can help you find the right pet for you. They know a lot about the animals’ personalities and temperaments and can answer your questions to pair you with the right animal for your family and household.

Do some research

Read up on the animal shelter online and learn what to expect from their adoption process. Every shelter and rescue has their own steps to adopting a pet, so make sure you understand required fees and the information you’ll need to fill out an adoption application. Some shelters may require a home visit to make sure your environment is suitable for your chosen pet, while others may only require you to fill out a form and provide references.

Gather your supplies

While you likely won’t bring home a new pet after your dog shelter visit, it’s still a good idea to have your home prepped for their arrival. Make sure to pet-proof your house or apartment, putting away any cherished personal belongings to avoid damage. Go on a shopping trip to purchase all the supplies you’ll need for your new family member, such as food and water bowls, a collar and leash, toys, and treats.

Choose a time to visit

Many animal shelters are fine with walk-ins during their posted hours, but if you want to make sure a volunteer is available to speak with you, it doesn’t hurt to call and schedule an appointment. Find a time that works for you and anyone else you plan to bring along, whether that includes other members of your family or a friend for moral support. If you’re not able to visit the shelter in person, ask if there are virtual animal shelter visits available.

Bring your entire family

A visit to the animal shelter should be a family affair. Bring along everyone who will share in the responsibility of caring for the new pet, so you can make sure the animal is the right fit for everyone involved.

Taking children along when you visit an animal shelter can be a challenge, so it’s important to establish rules for their behavior before you go. Bringing your kids along can help them feel involved in the decision and get them excited about caring for a new pet.

What are the things to remember during your visit to the animal shelter?

Keep in mind that shelter staff and volunteers are often very busy, and you may have to wait before you can spend time with a potential pet. Prepare for the animal shelter visit experience to be a noisy one, with excited shelter dogs barking about new people in their space.

Be patient and understanding

Animals may act differently in a shelter environment than they would in a home. Be patient and understand that a rescue dog or cat could be overwhelmed by new people, especially if you bring children with you. Give the animal space to approach you on their own terms, and remind children to pet them gently.

Ask questions

Don’t hesitate to ask shelter staff questions about your potential new pet, such as how the animal shelter cares for their animals and what training the pet may have had. This is your opportunity to learn about an animal’s health history, any behavioral issues, and how well they do with other animals. You can also ask about the next steps in the adoption process.

Take your time

As exciting as it is to visit a shelter and look for a new pet, don’t be disappointed if you don’t find the right dog or cat immediately. Your goal should be to connect with an animal who fits with your lifestyle. Be sure to take your time and be open to any animal in the shelter being the right one for you.

Other tips for visiting an animal shelter

When you’re looking for a dog or cat to adopt, seeing all the animals in a shelter can be overwhelming. Keep these tips in mind as you visit your local shelter.

  • Spend time with the animals to get a clearer idea of what pet is best for you.
  • Keep an open mind and give every animal the chance to steal your heart.
  • Consider pets who are less likely to be adopted, such as senior animals.
  • Stay safe and pay close attention to any posted signs or notices.

FAQs (People also ask)

H3: How can I ensure a successful shelter visit when looking to adopt a pet?

The best way to ensure a successful shelter visit is to be patient with both staff and animals, and take your time when choosing a new pet to adopt. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of shelter staff, whether about the animals or the adoption process — or both.

H3: Can I donate to the shelter during my visit?

Yes, you can donate to the shelter during your visit. Shelters are always in need of supplies and financial support to help care for their animals. The staff will likely be more than happy to accept a donation during your visit.


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Savannah Admire is a writer, editor, and pet parent to two dogs and a cat. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing Animal Crossing, or being an obnoxious nerd about her favorite movies and TV shows. She lives in Maryland, where she constantly debates whether or not to get a third dog.

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