By choosing to adopt from an animal shelter, you give a second chance to a deserving pet and contribute to the welfare of animals in need. But it's not only the deep sense of fulfillment that comes from giving a home to an animal in need. The happiness and bond between a shelter pet and its adopter is truly special.

Benefits of adopting a shelter pet

Adopting a shelter pet comes with many benefits that are often overlooked.

  • A deep sense of joy and gratitude comes from giving a home to an animal in need. The bond that forms between a shelter pet and its adopter is truly special and can bring immense joy and happiness to both parties.
  • Unparalleled companionship - shelter pets often come with a surprising amount of resilience and gratitude. They can have experienced hardships and adversity, which makes them appreciate the love and care they receive in their new home even more.
  • Skip the demanding and time-consuming puppy or kitten stage. Many shelter animals are already past their youth's hyperactive and destructive phase, making them suitable for individuals or families who prefer a calmer and more relaxed companion.   

Jasmine Bryant ’12 DVM ’17, Director of Alumni and Referring Practitioner Relations at the college, spent five years as a shelter veterinarian at the Regional Center for Animal Care and Protection in Roanoke and advises bringing your whole family to meet your potential new pet.

"Some animals don't do well around younger kids, maybe too active for the elderly, or may not like loud environments. It's best to find that out when initially meeting the pet rather than after bringing them home. This also includes bringing your current dog to meet a potential new dog. Dog-to-dog aggression can manifest even in your pet, who may not want a new sibling. Again, finding that out before adopting is very beneficial, said Bryant."

Common misconceptions about shelter animals

Several misconceptions surrounding shelter animals deter potential adopters from considering them as viable options.

  • Behavioral issues. While it is true that some shelter pets may require additional training or socialization, it is important to remember that their history does not define their potential. With patience, consistency, and love, most shelter pets can overcome challenges and become well-adjusted, loving companions.
  • Shelter pets are all older or less desirable breeds. Animal shelters are home to a variety of pets, including purebred animals. Mixed-breed pets are known for their unique and charming characteristics. You can find a pet that perfectly matches your preferences and lifestyle.
  • Less healthy than pets from other sources. Animal shelters prioritize the health and well-being of their animals, providing them with necessary vaccinations, spaying or neutering, and regular veterinary care.

Bonding, training, and socializing with your shelter pet

Building a strong bond with your shelter pet is essential for a harmonious and fulfilling relationship. The key to successful bonding is to establish trust and create positive associations. Begin by giving your new pet space and time to acclimate to their new environment. Provide them with a designated area in your home where they can feel safe and secure.

Engage in your pet's activities, such as play sessions, walks, or grooming sessions. These activities provide mental and physical stimulation and create opportunities for you and your pet to develop a deeper connection.

Building a bond takes time and effort, but the rewards are immeasurable.

Proper training and socialization are essential for helping your shelter pet become a well-behaved and confident companion. While some shelter pets may have had previous training, others may require additional guidance and patience.

Use positive reinforcement, be consistent, and socialize with your pet. Gradually introduce them to new experiences and provide positive reinforcement when they exhibit calm and appropriate behavior. Consider enrolling your shelter pet in obedience classes or seeking the assistance of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide expert guidance and help address any specific challenges you may encounter during training.

Remember that training and socialization are ongoing processes that require patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement.

Health considerations for shelter pets

While animal shelters prioritize the health of their animals, some pets may have pre-existing medical conditions. Here are some key health considerations to keep in mind:

  • Veterinary care: Visit your veterinarian shortly after adopting your shelter pet. They will conduct a thorough examination, update vaccinations if necessary, and address immediate health concerns. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for maintaining your pet's health and detecting potential issues early on.
  • Spaying or neutering: Most animal shelters spay or neuter their animals before adoption. However, if your shelter pet has not been sterilized, scheduling the procedure as soon as possible is important. Spaying or neutering helps control the pet population and offers numerous health benefits, including preventing certain cancers and behavioral issues.

Like any new pet, be proactive about your pet's health. Adopt a parasite and tick-borne disease prevention regime and provide your shelter pet with a well-balanced and nutritious diet to support their overall health.

By being proactive about your shelter pet's health, you can ensure they live a happy and fulfilling life by your side.

Bryant also advises researching the breed (if it is known) you are interested in adopting. Well-known breeds like German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Border Collies, etc., are in high demand, but you need to understand what adopting one of these breeds takes. They need a job, and without proper training, exercise, and mental stimulation, these animals will deteriorate behaviorally in the home.

For existing dog owners, Bryant highly recommends that you microchip your animals and keep that information updated consistently. "Many stray animals are being held at local shelters that have come from loving homes, but they can't be reunited with their families promptly, or at all, because they don't have a microchip or the information associated with it is incorrect, said Bryant.”

The impact of adopting a shelter beyond your family

By alleviating shelter overcrowding, you are creating space for another animal in need, and most animal shelters operate on limited budgets and rely heavily on donations. Adoption fees can help cover their expenses. By adopting from a shelter, you are providing financial support that enables them to continue their rescue and rehoming efforts.

Adopting a shelter pet from an animal shelter is a truly rewarding experience that brings countless benefits to you and your new companion. From providing a second chance to a deserving animal to experiencing the unparalleled bond and loyalty of a shelter pet, the rewards of adoption are immeasurable.

Adopt a dog in the ACE program!

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine opens doors to about 30 dogs from three local shelters through the Animal Care for Education (ACE) program every fall.

Students work with the dogs, improving their physical and mental health and helping them develop social skills. After their time in the ACE program, dogs are adopted into loving homes. 

If you want to adopt a shelter dog in the ACE program, click here for more information!


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing