The ASPCA estimates that 3.9 million dogs enter a shelter each year. Many of these animals will be reunited with their owners or find new homes, however, many will not and are at risk of euthanization. If you’re considering adding a new family member, a shelter is a great place to find the love of your life.

Many shelters and rescue groups have similar adoption processes. The steps outlined below offer a general outline on what to expect when adopting a shelter dog, however you may see some variation in the adoption process of the shelter or rescue in your area.

Step 1 – Determine the right dog for you and your family.

Step 2 – Visit your local animal shelters.

Step 3 – Complete an application and meet the dog.

Step 4 – Introduce your new family member to the household routine.

Let’s take a look at each of these steps in more detail.

Step 1 – Determine the right dog for you and your family.

As is often the case, the first step of any new adventure is the most important, and that’s true with adopting a new pet. Understanding what type of dog will fit into your family is critical to your happiness, and the happiness of your dog. The folks at the shelter or rescue group can help with these questions, but it’s good to have an understanding of what you’re looking for before visiting the dogs. Some key questions to explore include:

  • Why do you want a dog? If you can answer this question all of the rest are easy.
  • What will you do with a dog? Do you like to lay on the couch and watch movies or are you training for your next race?
  • Do you want a high-energy puppy that needs a lot of training, or an older, housebroken dog?
  • Are you planning on having children (or do you already have them)? If you remember, taking care of family members is a team effort, dogs included. You can’t do it alone, and neither can the kids.
  • Do you adore the sound of a barking dog? Even if Beagles are like opera singers to you (they are me!), they might not be welcomed by the neighbors on the other side of the apartment wall.

There are several resources to help you understand the characteristics of different dogs, including a 10 question tool provided by Animal Planet.

Step 2 – Visit your local shelter.

The ASPCA estimates that there are 13,600 community animal shelters, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a shelter or rescue group. In central Ohio, some shelters and rescue groups to check out include:

Franklin County Dog Shelter

Capital Area Humane Society

CHA Animal Shelter


Columbus Dog Connection

When you first visit the shelter, be sure to walk through the entire facility. If a love connection doesn’t occur on your first visit, don’t give up! Animals are welcomed into shelters daily in many areas, so be patient and take your time. The right companion will arrive!

Step 3 – Complete an application and meet the dog.

Once you’ve found a dog that you think is potentially a good fit, it’s time to complete an application and meet the dog. This step can be a little stressful, but if you’ve done your homework, and you know the answers to the questions you explored in Step 1, as you meet with the people in the shelter or rescue you’ll have no problem answering their questions. And their questions are necessary.

Imagine for a moment that you’re the staff member or volunteer. Think of the number of dogs they’ve seen come through their organization that are scared and maybe abused, and you begin to understand why they’re asking the questions they’re asking. They want nothing more than for you to be the right match for the dog you want to add to your pack. But they need to make sure that the match is perfect.

If the dog you’re interested in matches your living arrangements (e.g. is quiet and doesn’t require a fenced yard) and temperament needs (e.g. good with cats), it will be time to meet the dog. Depending upon the organization and your living arrangements, this step might happen the day you visit the shelter and find a dog, or it might also include scheduling a home visit or a visit with any pets that are already members of your family. Be patient.

Step 4 – Introduce your new family member to the household routine.

The adoption is final and you and your new family member are excited! There are some things that you’ll want to consider before bringing your dog home. Your dog will be thrilled to be joining you forever, but she’ll also be stressed and perhaps a little frightened. Some of these tips offered by will help you make your first day with your new dog successful:

  • Before going into your house, give your dog a walk around her new neighborhood to help her acclimate and burn off some energy.
  • It’ll be hard, but avoid having everyone meet the new dog all at the same time. Introduce your dog to each family member slowly.
  • Show your new family member each room before taking her to her new bed.

It will take some time for your new dog – and you – to acclimate to the new living arrangements, but before you know it you won’t remember what life was like before the adoption! – Chris Niehoff

Chris Niehoff is a central Ohio animal lover who wants to see the lives of non-human animals, and human animals, improve individually and collectively. He believes this will happen only when human animals recognize the interconnection of all life and begin to act accordingly. He knows he has a lot to learn and hopes to connect with others on a similar journey.