HomePet AdoptionHow to Prepare for Your First Visit to a Shelter

How to Prepare for Your First Visit to a Shelter

Making the decision to adopt a pet is an exciting and fulfilling one, but it also comes with its fair share of responsibilities. While purchasing a purebred animal from a breeder may seem like the easier option, choosing to adopt from a shelter not only gives a deserving animal a loving home, but also helps contribute to the well-being of countless other animals in need. However, visiting a shelter can be an overwhelming experience, with many emotions and considerations involved. In this article, we will guide you through the process of preparing for your first shelter visit, to ensure that it is as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Importance of Preparing for a Shelter Visit

Visiting an animal shelter can be an emotional experience. The sight of animals who have been abandoned, lost, or surrendered by their previous owners can trigger a range of emotions, from joy to sadness. It is important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before stepping foot into a shelter, to avoid feeling overwhelmed or making impulsive decisions. Additionally, being prepared can help make the adoption process smoother and more efficient.

Researching Shelters in Your Area

How to Prepare for Your First Visit to a Shelter

The first step in preparing for a shelter visit is to research shelters in your area. Most cities and towns have at least one shelter or rescue organization, and a simple Google search can provide you with a list of options. Take the time to read reviews and look at their websites, as each shelter may have different policies and procedures. Some shelters may specialize in certain types of animals, such as cats or dogs, while others may have a variety of species available for adoption. Reading up on the shelters will also give you an idea of their adoption fees and any special requirements they may have.

Making a Checklist of Items to Bring

How to Prepare for Your First Visit to a Shelter

Once you have selected a shelter to visit, it is important to make a checklist of items to bring. These items will not only help you during your visit, but also show the shelter staff that you are prepared and serious about adopting a pet. Some necessary items to bring include:

  • Identification: Most shelters require identification before allowing visitors to interact with the animals. Bring a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license or passport.
  • Proof of address: Shelters may also require proof of your address to ensure that the animal is going to a suitable home.
  • List of specific requirements: If you have any specific requirements for your potential pet, such as size, age, or breed, it is helpful to write them down and bring them along. This will save you time and help you narrow down your options.
  • Questions to ask: It’s natural to have questions when considering adoption, so come prepared with a list of things you would like to know about the animal or the shelter’s policies.
  • Donation: While not mandatory, many shelters operate on donations and would appreciate a small contribution towards their cause. It can also help show your dedication to caring for an adopted pet.

Having these items ready will not only make your visit more efficient, but also convey your seriousness and commitment to providing a loving home for an animal in need.

Understanding Shelter Policies and Procedures

Before visiting a shelter, it is important to familiarize yourself with their policies and procedures. Each shelter may have different rules and regulations, and it is essential to follow them to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals and other visitors. Some common policies at shelters include:

  • Age restrictions: Many shelters have a minimum age requirement for adopters, usually 18 years old. This is to ensure that the animal is going to a responsible and capable home.
  • Adoption fees: Shelters often have adoption fees to cover the cost of caring for the animals. These fees can vary depending on the age, breed, and medical needs of the animal.
  • Home visits: Some shelters may require a home visit before finalizing the adoption, to ensure that the living conditions are suitable for the animal.
  • Spaying/neutering: Most shelters will spay or neuter their animals before they are adopted. This is to prevent overpopulation and to promote responsible pet ownership.

It is important to understand and respect these policies, as they are in place for the well-being of both the animals and potential adopters.

Tips for Interacting with Shelter Staff and Animals

Upon arrival at the shelter, you will likely be greeted by friendly staff members who are passionate about animal welfare. They are there to help you find the perfect companion and to answer any questions you may have. Here are some tips for interacting with shelter staff:

  • Be honest about your lifestyle and expectations: When speaking to shelter staff, be open and honest about your lifestyle and what you are looking for in a pet. This will help them guide you towards suitable animals.
  • Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the animal’s background, medical history, and behavior. The more information you have, the better prepared you will be to make an informed decision.
  • Listen to their advice: Shelter staff have experience with a variety of animals and can offer valuable insights and advice. Listen to what they have to say and take their recommendations into consideration.

When interacting with the animals, remember that they may be anxious or scared, as they are in an unfamiliar environment. Approach them slowly and give them space if they seem uncomfortable. If the staff allows, try to spend some time alone with the animal to get a sense of their personality and behavior.

What to Expect During Your Visit

Every shelter visit will be different, but here is a general idea of what to expect during your first visit:

  • Greeting: Upon entering the shelter, you will likely be greeted by a staff member who will ask about your reason for visiting and what type of animal you are looking for.
  • Tour: The staff may take you on a tour of the shelter, showing you the animals available for adoption and explaining their backgrounds and personalities.
  • Interacting with animals: You will then have the opportunity to interact with the animals that caught your eye. This can include playing with them, taking them for a walk, or simply spending time in their enclosure.
  • Adoption process: If you have found an animal that you feel is a good match, the staff will guide you through the adoption process. This may include filling out paperwork, paying the adoption fee, and scheduling a follow-up appointment.

Remember to be patient and open-minded during the visit. It may take some time to find the perfect companion, but it will all be worth it once you bring them home.

Aftercare and Support for Shelter Animals

The journey does not end after you have adopted your new furry friend. Bringing an animal into your home comes with responsibilities, and it is important to provide them with proper care and support. Here are some tips for caring for your newly adopted pet:

  • Be patient: Your pet may need time to adjust to their new environment and may exhibit behavior issues initially. Be patient and understanding, and give them the time and space they need to feel comfortable.
  • Stick to a routine: Animals thrive on routine, so try to establish a regular schedule for feeding, exercise, and playtime. This will help your pet feel secure and comfortable in their new home.
  • Seek professional help if needed: If your pet exhibits any concerning behaviors, such as aggression or anxiety, seek help from a professional trainer or behaviorist. They can provide guidance and support to address these issues.
  • Stay in touch with the shelter: Most shelters have a follow-up policy to ensure that the animal is settling into their new home. Keep in touch with them and reach out if you have any concerns or questions.


Adopting a pet from a shelter is a wonderful and fulfilling experience, but it requires preparation and research. By following the tips in this guide, you will be well-equipped to navigate your first shelter visit and find the perfect companion to bring into your life. Remember to be patient, open-minded, and understanding throughout the process, and you will soon have a loving and loyal animal by your side.


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