Adopting a Pet in L.A. (Part 1: Shelters)

There are many options for adding an animal to your household, including purchasing from a responsible breeder, getting an animal from a rescue organization, and adopting from a local shelter. Over the next few weeks, this column will offer information on each of the above options, as well as an overview of how to select the right animal for your home. (Note: I do not recommend buying an animal from a pet store, because animals in pet stores usually come from puppy mills or other inhumane breeding operations, regardless of what the staff at the store may claim. The best way to put puppy mills out of business is to deprive them of their profits.)

Today’s topic is adopting from a shelter.

If you really want to save a life, the best thing you can do is adopt from a shelter. Animals in shelters are living on borrowed time. Many of them are euthanized despite being completely adoptable because shelters simply don’t have the resources to care for them all. When you get an animal from a shelter, you both give that animal a second chance and donate money to a system that is generally underfunded.

Shelters in Los Angeles house a wide variety of animals, ranging from dogs and cats to rabbits, chickens, horses, and more. You can check a shelter‘s online database to see what animals are available for adoption. These databases are not updated continuously, so if there is a particular animal that interests you, you may want to call ahead to make sure the animal is still at the shelter and is not on hold.

If you choose to adopt an animal from a shelter, be aware that you will most likely have to assess for yourself whether or not a particular animal is suitable for your home – unless you hire an expert to accompany you, of course. Watching how the animal behaves can be helpful, but an animal’s behavior can be quite out of character in a stressful shelter environment, so take what you observe with a grain of salt. Spend a little time asking the staff and volunteers at the shelter about the animals that interest you. Note any written or verbal comments that imply the animal is unsuitable for certain types of homes. Most importantly, don’t choose an animal based entirely on looks, especially if that animal’s personality makes him or her a bad fit for your household.

It’s usually possible to meet animals outside of their cages. Don’t be shy about asking a volunteer or staff member to bring an animal to the shelter’s “meet and greet” area. In most cases, the volunteer or staff member will stay with you and the animal to ensure everyone’s safety, as well as to help you decide if a particular animal is right for you. You can also use this opportunity to ask about the shelter’s adoption procedures.

If you visit a shelter and see an animal you like, but are not sure about taking him or her home yet, ask how soon the animal is scheduled to be euthanized and whether you can put a hold on the animal while you think things over. An animal that has not been placed on hold can be moved to another shelter, euthanized, or adopted by someone else at any time. Not all shelters allow you to put a hold on animals, and in some cases (such as with litters of kittens or puppies), the animal you want may not be available until a certain date, at which point there may be competition from other potential adopters. Some shelters even encourage bidding for particularly popular animals. If you are interested in an animal, be sure to get all the information you need to ensure you will be able to adopt that animal.

The Los Angeles area has many shelters, including several in the county shelter system and a variety of municipal shelters, as well as non-governmental shelters. The county shelter system has shelters in Agoura, Baldwin Park, Carson, Castaic, Downey, and Lancaster. For more information on these shelters, as well as an online database of adoptable animals, visit the L.A. Country Department of Animal Care and Control online.

The second largest shelter system in Los Angeles is the L.A. municipal system. Its network includes the North Central, South L.A., West Valley, East Valley, West L.A., and Harbor animal care centers.

There are also shelters in Burbank, Corona, Newport Beach, Rancho Cucamonga, and Santa Monica, as well as a municipal shelter serving about a dozen different communities that is located in Downey.

Non-governmental organizations also maintain shelters in Los Angeles. Unlike municipal and county shelters, these shelters are entirely donor-funded. SPCA Los Angeles has shelters in Hawthorne and Long Beach, and there are other non-government shelters in Canoga Park, Glendale, Ontario, Pasadena, Pomona, San Gabriel, and Van Nuys.

Residents of Orange Country can visit any of the above shelters, as well as OC Animal Care, the Coastal Animal Services Authority (which serves San Clemente and Dana Point), Irvine Animal Care Center, Mission Viejo Animal Shelter, Seal Beach Animal Care Center, and the Orange County Humane Society.

The Los Angeles area is so vast that it’s difficult to make a comprehensive list of shelters in the area. If this article does not list a shelter near you, I encourage you to search online for other options.

The next installment of this series will address adopting from a rescue organization.

NOTE: It’s sometimes difficult to tell if a shelter is run by the government or not, so please excuse any misattributions.


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