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Many people arrive at an animal shelter thinking they will be able to adopt a dog for free. They are often surprised to learn that certain fees apply.
You might be thinking, “Why should I pay to take responsibility for a dog that needs a forever home?” After all, you’ll be paying for the dog’s care for years to come, right?
It is important to remember that most animal rescues and shelters are volunteer-run and have minimal financial resources.
This basically means they can’t afford to let you adopt the dogs in their care for free. While they are giving their time freely, food, vet visits, and other important care that dogs need before they are rehomed can cost quite a bit of money.
The adoption fee most shelters will ask you to pay helps to cover both the costs of caring for the dog you are taking home as well as the general costs of running and maintaining the rescue or shelter.
The fee can also help the staff determine how serious you are about taking on responsibility for a dog for the next 10 to 15 years.
Let’s take a closer look at exactly how much it costs to adopt a dog from a rescue or shelter. We’ll also talk in detail about what your fees actually cover and why the fee you pay actually represents very good value for you as a new dog owner.
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Can You Adopt A Dog For Free?
Some opportunities actually do exist where you’ll be able to adopt a dog for free.
For instance, you might have a friend whose dog has had pups, and they need to find homes for them. Maybe they don’t want to sell the dogs, either because they aren’t a popular breed or they simply don’t want to go through the hassle or advertising.
Perhaps they know you are desperate for a dog and that you will make an excellent dog parent, so they decide to give you a puppy for free.
Similarly, if you know someone who is moving away and can’t take their dog with them, you may be able to adopt their dog for free.
Unfortunately, these kinds of opportunities are pretty rare and down to chance.
If you come across a rescue or shelter that lets you adopt a dog for free, you should be highly suspicious. How are they caring for the dogs if they aren’t collecting any money?
Perhaps they are doing sponsored adoptions where an individual or company is covering the cost. But if you see an opportunity like this, make sure to ask questions and figure out where the money to support the pups is coming from.
How Much Does It Cost To Adopt A Dog?
Adoption fees are different at different rescues and shelters. Fees will go up, for example, if the shelter is based in an expensive area where dog food and veterinary visits are expensive.
Costs can also depend on how the agency functions. Some agencies may be able to place all their dogs with foster parents, which helps to keep prices down, while others may need to invest in premises to house and care for some of the “less desirable” dogs themselves.
However, while fees can differ significantly from place to place, below are some general guidelines when it comes to what to expect from the cost of the adoption process.
Puppies under 6 months old or so will often cost around $500 to adopt. These are the most expensive dogs to adopt, as new puppies need lots of extra care in the first weeks of their lives, and there are many mandatory vaccinations for puppies. You can’t usually adopt a puppy until they are between 6 and 8 weeks old.
Once a dog is about six months old, though, you can expect the price to drop to around $300 to adopt them.
Senior dogs over six years old can be much cheaper around the $150 mark. This is not only because they have fewer years ahead of them. They are also more likely to have already been spayed or neutered, and any serious medical conditions they have will have already been identified.
What Do Adoption Fees Cover?
Now, what exactly does your adoption fee cover? It turns out your adoption fee covers a lot more than just fancy biscuits for the staff in the recreation room.
If you are adopting from a good quality rescue or shelter, your fee will cover the following items.
- A general medical examination of the dog conducted by a vet
- Canine distemper combination vaccination, bordetella vaccination, and a rabies vaccination
- Deworming medication
- Flea and tick treatment and medication
- Canine heartworm tests
- Spaying or neutering surgery if required
- 30+ days of pet insurance
- A free follow-up examination by an authorized vet
- Free medication for the first 14 days, if required
- A behavioral exam and training as required
- Food supplies to feed the dog appropriately while they are in the care of the rescue or shelter
- Other essential supplies for the dog while they are in the rescue or shelter
- ID collar, tag, or microchipping
If you add up all those costs, your adoption fee is actually an excellent value. You would be spending hundreds of dollars just on vet fees and vaccinations if you were to do all of those things yourself.
Shelters and rescues can do this cheaper because they deal with a lot of animals and therefore have good relationships with service providers.
Many organizations will also often have outside sponsorships. For example, many dog food companies will donate to shelters to support their work.
Expenses For A New Dog
Of course, when it comes to bringing a dog into the family, adoption fees are just one of the many expenses you can expect to incur within the first few months. You should also consider the following expenses:
Just as you need a lot of new things when you move into a new home, so does your dog. They’ll need a bed, toys, a bowl, a collar, a sturdy leash, a harness, a crate if you choose to do crate training, and much more.
You might be surprised by how much you manage to spend on day-to-day items in the first few months of bringing your pup home.
Exactly how much this will all set you back depends on the quality of products that you go for and where you purchase them, but you can expect to spend around $300 to $500 on this kind of equipment in the first few months.
The biggest ongoing expense for dogs is their food. You should receive a bag of the food that the shelter or rescue was feeding the dog when you take them home. This is because it is never a good idea to change a dog’s diet suddenly. Not only might they turn their noses up, but it can cause indigestion, an upset stomach, or diarrhea.
It’s best to continue feeding your new pup the same dog food they were eating at the shelter, and you can gradually mix in the new food you intend to feed the dog in the long term. Slowly increase the ratio of the new food in their bowl over a period of about two weeks until they have completely adjusted without any stomach upsets.
Exactly how much you will spend on dog food depends on the quality of the food that you go for as well as the size of your dog. Dogs tend to need calories proportional to their size, so big dogs usually eat much more.
It is reasonable to budget somewhere between $20 and $60 per month on dog food.
Hopefully, you will be able to train your dog yourself. However, if you aren’t experienced with dogs or you have picked up a dog with a difficult background, some professional training can make a big difference. Laying down the rules and showing them desired behavior right from the very beginning will make your dog’s life a lot smoother in the long run.
You can expect a basic six-week training course for you and your dog to cost between $100 and $600.
One of the benefits of adopting a dog from a rescue or a shelter is that they should already have been looked over by a qualified vet and received any necessary treatment or vaccinations. You may even get access to one free follow-up vet visit as part of your adoption fee.
Still, though, you never know when you might need to take your dog to the vet for an emergency. For example, if they manage to eat an entire bag of candy corn on Halloween – the sweetener in candies like candy corn is toxic to dogs.
Ideally, you are going to want to have at least a few hundred dollars available to cover any emergencies that might happen in the future as well as any sudden illnesses or other health conditions your dog develops as they age.
The whole point of pet insurance is to make sure you are prepared for the unexpected. While your dog might be covered by the insurance taken out by the shelter or rescue for a few weeks after you take them home, you will want to get your own coverage pretty quickly.
While costs can differ a lot, on average, you can expect to pay around $45 per month for standard pet insurance for a dog.
Why Are Shelter Dogs Spayed Or Neutered?
Almost all dogs available for adoption from a shelter or rescue will be spayed or neutered. This is because the majority of states have mandatory laws that require these releasing agencies to conduct these procedures to deal with the overpopulation of homeless animals.
How To Support Animal Shelters
Hopefully, it is obvious that animal shelters and rescues manage to do a lot for a little, caring for animals that need it and finding them their forever homes on a shoestring budget.
If you appreciate the work of these shelters, there are a variety of things you can do to support them beyond simply adopting from them.
First, you can donate money directly. Most shelters will have pages on their website that give simple instructions for donating. Many people choose not to donate because they feel like they can’t afford it. However, the reality is that even $5 can make a difference, especially if a lot of people capable of giving a little decide to help.
You can also volunteer to work at a shelter or rescue part-time. While you might not always find yourself given the fun tasks – such as playing with the pups – it is important to remember that cleaning up poop and accurate filing of necessary paperwork also contribute to finding these deserving dogs their forever homes.
If you are an experienced dog owner and you have quite a bit of space, you might also be able to foster. Dogs may be placed with you while they are waiting to be matched with an appropriate forever home.
You may only have them for a week, during which time you will need to care for them and make them available for visits with potential new owners. Some dogs need longer term foster homes.
Adopting a dog is a very rewarding experience, but despite the fact that you will be taking on the cost and responsibility of looking after a dog in need of a home, adoption is not free.
The fee that you pay to adopt a dog is essential to prepare them for adoption. Some of the things adoption fees cover include:
- Medical treatment for the dog while they are in the shelter’s care, such as spaying, neutering, vaccinations, and much more
- Essential supplies for the dog’s care while they are in the shelter’s care, like food, toys, and beds
- Behavioral exams and training
In reality, if you look at how much it would cost for you to do everything for your dog that the shelter or rescue does before you take them home, adoption fees are a bargain.
I’ve never heard anyone complain about the high cost of adopting a dog once they have successfully integrated a rescue dog into their family.
Do you have experience adopting from a rescue or shelter?
Share your thoughts with the community in the comments section below.
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