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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Your Local Dog Shelter (Part I)

O.K., you've decided to get your new puppy from a local shelter. However, before you race off to the shelter, please make a vow (and make the rest of your family vow, too, if they're coming along) that this will be a look-but-don't-touch visit. This is not the time where you fall hopelessly in love with a puppy or dog, brush aside your better judgment, and whisk him or her home with you to live happily ever after. We know that's easier said than done, but if you adopt too hurriedly from a shelter you haven't carefully checked out, you could be in for problems later.

Your purpose during this initial visit should be to assess how well-kept and well-run the facility is. Start with the obvious: Is the shelter an inviting place? Is it clean and well-lit, or is it dingy and dim? Is the staff friendly, interested and willing and able to answer your questions? Do they greet you and offer their help, or do they ignore you or seem anxious for you to leave?

Introduce yourself as a prospective adopter and ask whether you can see the kennels where the puppies and dogs are kept. (The staff may want to ask you some questions before you meet the dogs) Be prepared to have your senses assaulted: The smells, sounds and sights of the inside of an animal shelter can be a bit overwhelming initially.

Be observant. What is the appearance of the kennels? You shouldn't see more than a couple dogs sitting in cages with feces or urine on the floor. (Be understanding, of course, as dogs aren't always the cleanest animals in the world, and even the most fastidious shelter can't keep all the cages spotless all the time.) Even a clean shelter is probably going to smell like, well, dogs, but if the odor of the shelter is enough to make your stomach turn, that may be an indication that the cages haven't been recently, or adequately, disinfected.