A recent Washington Post story revealed how the process of adopting a pet is becoming almost as involved as the process of adopting a child. Restrictions are mounting, to the point where the president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was ruled unfit to adopt a dog.

Although policies are becoming tougher, most government-run animal shelters do not place unreasonable restrictions on potential adopters. After all, the animals need homes. At the same time, careful vetting of potential adopters helps cut down on animal returns, since shelter workers can better match pets with appropriate homes when they have the right information.

Scooby, American Pit Bull Terrier, age 7

The Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center in Derwood has dozens of dogs, cats, puppies, kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, turtles and more currently available for adoption. (Adoptions occur daily; check the site before heading out to make sure they have the type of animal you are seeking to adopt.)

In its dog adoption policies, the shelter specifies that puppies 4 months old and younger cannot be left home alone for more than four hours per day. Animals — especially puppies — get lonely, and they can be destructive when stressed. The alternative to having your dog chew up everything in sight is to crate them, but if you are gone 10 hours a day, most pet care professionals would agree this is not a good situation for a dog.

Midnight, schnauzer, age 8 months

An older dog who is not particularly active may be better suited to a home that is frequently empty. Some dogs do poorly in active homes with children. That’s why it’s best to match a dog’s personality to its potential home situation.

On a visit to the shelter a number years ago, I found almost all the dogs available for adoption were some breed of terrier. On a more recent visit, I found a large number of mastiffs. A volunteer explained that apartment dwellers often get these dogs when they are small, not realizing how much space they will need when they grow to their full size of 75 to 100 pounds.

Moreover, a grown mastiff needs as much food per day as a teenage boy. When the owners realize the cost of feeding them and the space they take up, they often surrender them.

At the MC shelter, if potential adopters live in an apartment, they need written proof from the landlord that pets are allowed. The shelter also will not adopt out an animal to a home that intends to primarily house the animal outdoors. (Although the shelter does have a program in which they adopt out barn cats — cats unsuitable for traditional feline domestic life — to live in less restrictive conditions than a home.)

Animals adopted out by the shelter are spayed or neutered, and they require that any other animals you have in your household also be spayed or neutered. Sterilization cuts down on the birth of unwanted pets, and thus the population in shelters.

Cat shelter policies forbid declawing of cats.


Although kittens are often available to adopt from the MC shelter, many of the cats housed there are older than 7, and some are overweight. Many of these invariably come from the homes of elderly men and women who have passed away without making provisions for their animals.

Shelter volunteer Lois Greer said she wished she could find a way to spread the word that even if you are in good health, you should make a plan for what will happen to your pet in the event of your death. Otherwise, they are liable to end up in a shelter.

Greer said most people who want to adopt a cat seek one that is under 3 years old. This makes sense, since people want to have a pet whom they expect to be with them for a while, but it stacks the odds of adoption against older cats.

Snoop, tabby, age 9

If you live in D.C., you have a wide selection of organizations from which to adopt a dog. The Human Rescue Alliance (the new combo formed by the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Animal Rescue League) has dogs, cats and birds available for adoption.

I have personally adopted a guinea pig and a chicken from the MC shelter, and the process has been easy and rewarding. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, consider taking a look at your local shelter before going to a breeder and paying top dollar. You might find just what you’re looking for!

Goldie T. Chicken, age 2
Caramel T. Guinea Pig




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