Pet adoptions are up — here's what you should know before you adopt


One of the heartwarming effects of the coronavirus pandemic has been an increase in pet adoptions. Animal shelters across the country say they are being emptied out as people bring home dogs and cats in greater numbers than they have in a very long time.

If being constantly housebound has taken a toll on you mentally, it's perfectly reasonable to want a fuzzy friend to be there with you, especially if you're quarantined alone. But before you adopt, it's important to consider how well pet ownership fits into your life, and how able you'll be to support and properly care for an animal when this is all over.

Why adopting can be a smart financial choice

Over the past two decades, consumer spending in the pet industry has consistently increased every year across nearly every category, including food and veterinary care. The one exception: spending to acquire the pets themselves. Live animal sales peaked at $2.23 billion in 2013 and has been going down every year since. The 2019 total is estimated to dip below $2 billion.

Figures from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals show an estimated 18.5% increase in shelter adoptions nationwide between 2011 and 2017.

The cost of owning a dog

Video by Courtney Stith

By opting to adopt from rescues or shelters, pet owners often save money, since adopting from a breeder or a pet store can be more expensive. The average shelter adoption fee is $250, according to a 2015 WalletHub analysis. Buying from a breeder, on the other hand, averages around $1,250, and some of the priciest breeds can cost nearly $4,000.

Then there are additional health-related costs. According to the WalletHub analysis, an initial veterinary medical exam — which includes legally mandated vaccinations — costs $70 on average, while spaying or neutering will run you about $180.

If you adopt from a shelter, though, it's likely that those expenses have all been covered before you even bring Fido or Fluffy home. 

Shelter adoptions can be a bargain, overall, considering what that fee includes. "When you adopt a pet from a shelter, the animal has been examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated, spayed, or neutered, and may be microchipped, which also saves on costs for the new owner," an ASPCA spokesperson said in an email.

The challenges of adopting during a pandemic

Shelter employees are braced for the reality that some new owners might have to give up their pets both as the pandemic continues and once it passes.

"There is wider anticipation for owner surrenders and pets coming into shelters over the next few months as people lose their jobs and are less financially stable to support their dog," says Anna Lai, marketing director for Muddy Paws Rescue in New York.

While pets are an additional long-term expense, you can minimize the costs through smart planning. A dog can cost as little as $326 or as much as $2,000 every year, according to Petfinder. Cat ownership can be just as expensive.

For example, food is the single greatest expense for American pet owners. According to experts, those costs can be managed by buying in bulk, setting up online auto-delivery.

When you adopt a pet from a shelter, the animal has been examined by a veterinarian, vaccinated, spayed, or neutered and may be microchipped, which also saves on costs for the new owner.

Many shelters and adoption agencies have support networks in place to help new pet parents plan as well. "Regardless of the pandemic, our adoption counselors always chat through the financial responsibility of having a dog as well as any back-up plans should you not be able to care for the dog anymore," says Lai.

While uncertainty pervades nearly every aspect of daily life right now, pet ownership included, this can still be a wonderful time to give an animal a home and bond with them.

"[If] you have the means to give a dog a good life and understand the responsibility of having a dog, then of course go for it," says Lai.

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