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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

For dogs, have:

  • A crate for training and for creating boundaries in your home
  • Barrier gates to restrict the dog's movement until you are comfortable allowing him unsupervised access
  • A leash
  • A chew toy or bone

Cat-proof and dog-proof your home by tucking away electrical cords and putting away small children's toys that they can swallow.

For new pet owners, line up a veterinarian you trust and bring in your new family member for a wellness exam as soon as you can.

What if It Doesn't Work Out?

If there are reasons why an adopter can no longer take care of the pet -- such as financial problems or allergies -- returning it to a shelter is the way to go, Saunders says.

"Part of the adoption process is understanding that the adopter will bring back the pet if it doesn't work out," Saunders says. "We want it to be a lifetime match, but if it isn't working, having them bring the animal back to the shelter, we consider it a success. The shelter is a support for adopters and pets.''