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Shelter vs. Rescue: Where Should You Adopt Your Next Dog?

Adopting a dog is one of the most exciting experiences an animal lover can have. Falling in love with a fur baby and bringing them home is a feel-good event unlike any other. But before you and Fido can embark on a life together, you have to find that four-legged friend that makes your heart go pitter-patter. You know that buying a pup from a dog breeder is a bad idea, but you’re unsure if you should start your search for canine companionship at a shelter or through a rescue organization.

Today, we’re going to break down the advantages and disadvantages of adopting a dog through a shelter or a rescue.

Differences between a shelter and a rescue

Shelters are facilities that provide a safe place and veterinary care for surrendered, stray, or abandoned animals. They are often government-funded, and their primary aim is to find homes for as many animals as quickly as possible.

Rescue organizations are usually non-profit organizations. They are often run by volunteers that save animals from shelters, puppy mills, and other dangerous situations. They then place the pups in foster homes until permanent homes are found. Some rescues are specific to a certain breed (like Chihuahuas) or demographic (like senior dogs).

Advantages of shelter adoptions


The sheer number and variety of dogs available at a shelter are among the main advantages of adopting at a shelter. Are you looking for a puppy, a lap dog, a walking buddy, or a quiet senior pup? You’ll likely be able to find that perfect canine companion at a shelter. If you go to a shelter one day and you don’t click with any of the animals, don’t worry. There is so much turnover at most shelters that there will be a whole new pack of dogs to meet soon.


Adopting from a shelter is often less expensive than a rescue. Right now, as many shelters experience overcrowding, adoption fees may be lower than usual. Some shelters even waive them altogether.


The adoption process at a shelter is often faster than through a rescue. That’s because shelters are trying to rehome dogs as quickly as possible so they can help more pups. A prospective dog owner can find a dog online, visit them in person, and go home with their new fur baby all on the same day. Rescue organizations, however, often have a more rigorous vetting process. This process may involve an application, interview, home visit, and reference checks.


Shelters have few restrictions about who can adopt which animal. Unless there is a safety risk (say, a dog that doesn’t respond well to young children), most people can adopt whichever animal they choose. Rescue organizations, however, can be very picky about potential pet owners. Rescues may require that certain animals go only to homes without children, live only with work-from-home parents, or have access to fenced-in yards.


Shelters generally provide basic veterinary care, vaccinations, and spay/neuter services for every dog eligible for adoption. While the cost of these services is factored into the adoption fee, it is usually well below what you would pay to have the procedures done with a private veterinarian. Some shelters also provide medication for any current health conditions your adoptable dog might have.


When you adopt from a shelter, you can feel good about your decision because you may have saved a dog from euthanasia.

Disadvantages of shelter adoptions

Limited information

Shelters don’t always know where the dogs in their care came from. They also may not know how they behave in a home setting. Their health history may also be a mystery. What’s more, a dog’s behavior in a kennel at the shelter may be wildly different than how they will behave at home.


Many dogs who end up in shelters have experienced some form of trauma, be it the separation from their former families, living on the streets for extended periods of time, or getting stressed out in a noisy shelter where they feel threatened by other dogs and the constant stream of strangers going by their kennel. All of these things add up and can alter a dog’s personality and behavior.

Health issues

While shelters endeavor to care for all the dogs under their roofs, the fact is that a large number of animals living together tends to spread illness and the resources of a shelter only go so far. The dog you adopt from a shelter may get sick as a result and require medication after adoption. If a dog had a procedure or surgery done while in the care of the shelter, be aware that complications could arise post-adoption that you will have to care for.

Advantages of rescue adoptions

Targeted search

While going to a shelter can be hit or miss depending on the day, with a rescue organization, you will only meet dogs that you are truly interested in and that will be a good match for you. You also aren’t vying with other potential pet parents for the same animal, as a rescue will usually make sure to only introduce a pet to one potential adopter at a time. This limits the amount of time and energy you have to invest in finding the right dog, reduces the disappointment you experience if you can’t get the one you want, and allows you to calmly decide if a pup is perfect for you.

Detailed information

Rescues tend to know more about the dogs they care for because those pups are often living with foster parents. Because these people have seen the day-to-day behavior of the animals in a home setting, they’ll be better equipped to match you with a dog whose temperament, training, and behavior align with your lifestyle. In the case of breed-specific rescues, you will further be able to prepare yourself for your new furry family member with breed information as well.


Rescues are heavily invested in placing animals in the right homes and making sure they stay there. The people who volunteer for rescues are often very knowledgeable about resources that can help you learn how to be an effective and compassionate pet parent for the long haul.

Disadvantages of rescue adoptions


Rescue organizations rarely have the sheer number of adoptable dogs available that shelters do. It will likely take longer to find a pup that you want to adopt through a rescue organization.

Adoption restrictions

Rescues often have a more rigorous adoption process than shelters, so you may feel like you are put under the microscope while you’re trying to adopt from a rescue. Many personal and private parts of your life, from your employment status and your living situation to prior pet ownership and your family makeup, may be picked apart in the process. Those wanting to adopt from a rescue must brace themselves for a lot of questions, as well as possible rejection.


Rescues often have higher adoption fees than shelters, which may be a barrier for some potential adopters. Some rescues also do not provide certain health services, like spaying and neutering, which you will have to pay for out of pocket in addition to the adoption fees.


Rescues are often less visible than shelters, so you’re going to have to do your research if you’re determined to find one that will work with you.

Choosing between shelters and rescues

Adopting a dog is a major decision, and a deeply personal one. While both shelters and rescues have their pros and cons, it is important to weigh them carefully before making a decision. Ultimately, whatever avenue helps you find your ideal fur baby is the right one for you.

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