Ask these two questions to any animal shelter you’re thinking of adopting a dog from. The answers may surprise you
“What medical care has already been provided, and should I be aware of… before adopting a dog from you?”
There are certain baseline medical needs that must be met before you take a dog from a shelter: she needs to have been wormed; her blood needs to have been checked for heartworms (in most areas of the country); and her ears and skin need to have been checked or treated for mites and other parasites. And she needs to have had her first vaccinations for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus and parainfluenza (DHLPP), as well as bordetella, coronavirus and (if she’s old enough) rabies.
Be certain that any shelter you contact provides at least these basic services. Spaying or neutering is another basic medical requirement that a shelter may or may not provide. Many shelters spay or neuter all dogs six months of age or older before they leave the facility, and that’s ideal for you.
But lots of shelters, understandably, don’t have the money to provide such services, before adopting a dog. Nevertheless, they’re acutely aware of the importance of stemming canine overpopulation, so good shelters always require adopters to have their dogs spayed or neutered within a reasonable time period after adoption. Some require a deposit, which is refunded upon submission of proof of spaying or neutering, while others give adopters low-cost spaying/neutering certificates from area veterinarians or provide low-cost services themselves.
In some areas, it’s becoming common practice for shelters to spay or neuter all their dogs – even those under the traditional minimum six-month age. Opinions are mixed on this approach to population control. Cities and counties whose shelters alter 100 percent of their animals report a dramatic decrease in the numbers of stray animals on their streets and of animals euthanized in shelters. But some experts believe that medical complications can arise in dogs who are spayed or neutered too young.
If you adopt a dog, make sure she’s been operated on by a reputable veterinarian and is certified healthy before you take her home.
The second question is: “Do you evaluate your dogs’ temperaments, before adopting them out?” At some shelters, you’ll find formal temperament evaluations posted on each dog’s cage that you can read, before adopting a dog. At others, you’ll find staff members who can tell you all about each dog’s personality.
Either approach is fine. What’s not fine is a shelter whose employees know little or nothing about the natures of its animals. Since you’ll have only a limited time to spend with the dogs you meet, you’ll want to find out about their habits, quirks, assets and drawbacks from the people who have been caring for them. Ask whether the shelter does any formal temperament testing of its animals (that is, specific exercises designed to assess a dog’s level of dominance, submissiveness, protectiveness, etc.). If the answer is no, ask whether the staff has spent enough time with the dogs to know their dispositions and to know what kinds of adoptive homes will likely be best for them.