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    What Kind of Shelter Should You Adopt From? continued...

    "The biggest drawback is not knowing what you're going to get, but it's the same drawback with breeders and pet stores," she says. "Choosing a shelter that provides as much information as possible about the animal is important."

    Keep in mind that you may not find exactly what you're looking for the first time around.

    ''This is up there with getting a car or a house; expecting to walk out the same day with a shelter animal may not happen. It may require several visits," Buchwald says. "Making the commitment to adopt means you're going to help a homeless animal, even if it doesn't happen instantly.''

    Why Is the Shelter's Adoption Fee So High?

    Though the average shelter adoption fee is $75, Saunders says, the price of taking home a new pet can be as high as $250 to $300.

    That can come as a shock, but consider the cost to a shelter for spaying and neutering, giving vaccines, testing for disease, deworming, and general upkeep, which can easily come to $2,000, says Buchwald.

    "Typically, the donation doesn't cover the cost, much less keep the lights on in the shelter," Saunders says. "Someone won't think twice about walking into a pet store and spending $600 on a puppy that's been poorly bred and likely to get sick. They'll also have to pay for spay/neuter and additional medical costs.''

    Preparing for Your Adopted Pet

    Dogs and cats have different basic needs, but for both, it's a good idea to get ID tags or microchip your new pet at the beginning of your relationship so you don't get separated from each other. Also, make sure you've got food and water bowls at the ready.

    For cats, the ASPCA advises you to have:

    • A litter box with clean litter, preferably the kind used in the shelter where she came from
    • A bed lined with a blanket or towel
    • A brush and a nail clipper, if the cat has her claws
    • Stimulating, safe toys
    • A scratching post that is at least 3 feet high