American Humane Society Guidelines for Animal Adoption

The American Humane Society (AHS) estimates that approximately three to four million cats and dogs are adopted from shelters annually. To ensure that these pets get the best homes possible, the AHS has established adoption guidelines for animal shelters. These recommendations provide guidance on making the pet adoption process attractive for individuals and families and on establishing a positive relationship with the local community.

During the Intake Process

The AHS recommends obtaining as much information as possible on any pets surrendered to the animal shelter. Age, breed, veterinary history, behavioral issues and exposure to children and other animals can all be helpful in finding a new home for the dog or cat. The history and background of stray animals may not be available; in these cases, shelter personnel should make their best educated guess regarding the age, breed and medical condition of the pet during the intake process.

Veterinary Care

After the initial intake process has been completed, dogs and cats should be given a thorough physical examination to determine their state of health. If the dog or cat has not been spayed or neutered, that procedure may be performed at this time or at a later point during the pet’s stay at the shelter. Weight, temperature and general physical appearance should be noted. Tests for feline leukemia, heartworms, tapeworms and other common illnesses should also be performed before introducing the pet into the larger animal shelter environment.

Determining Adoptability

While many animals have a good chance of finding a home with a loving family, some dogs and cats are unlikely to be attractive candidates for adoption:

  • Older animals are notoriously hard to place and may be traumatized by the stress and noise of the shelter.
  • Aggressive or biting dogs and cats are not considered suitable candidates for adoption.
  • Pets that are overly shy may reduce their chances of appealing to an adoptive family.
  • Behavioral issues can significantly reduce the chance of adoption for dogs and cats.
  • Bully breeds are banned in many municipal areas and are often targeted for euthanasia due to the lack of homes available for these large and powerful dogs.

Depending on the shelter, animals that cannot be placed in a home may be euthanized or passed on to local groups who specialize in foster care and rehabilitation for these animals.

Increasing the Appeal of Adoption

The AHS suggests enhancing shelter décor with individual pet beds and toys to increase the comfort level of dogs and cats and to boost their chances of being selected for adoption. Assigning names to each of the adoptable pets can also improve their chances of finding an adoptive home. Ensuring that pet areas are clean, odor-free and inviting is one of the most effective ways to attract potential adoptive families and boost the reputation of the shelter in the local community.

Increasing the number of pets adopted by loving families can potentially reduce the number of euthanizations that occur each year. Encouraging responsible pet ownership and promoting spaying and neutering programs can help to reduce the overpopulation problem and can help shelters work more effectively on behalf of the animals in their care.