By Janelle Leeson

woman holding cute shelter dog with bandana she just adopted
Demetr White / Stocksy
If you haven’t yet heard, October 1 marks the first day of one of the most important months for pups in need: Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. And while many shelters and rescues say every month is the right month to adopt a dog, October definitely calls for a special spotlight on hard-working shelters and the precious pooches in search of a forever home.

To commemorate the occasion, here’s why adopting a shelter dog is such a doggone good idea.

The history of Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, also called Adopt-A-Dog Month by the organization American Humane, is celebrated in October each year. The special month was created in 1981 to bring attention to the growing number of dogs and puppies entering shelters.

“This month gives people an opportunity to get excited about giving a homeless dog a second chance,” shares Nina Thompson, Director of Public Relations at the San Diego Humane Society. The organization is hoping to rev up adoption rates in October with special shelter events and reduced adoption fees.

Keep in mind that while it’s important to give extra attention to shelter pups this month, they need our help all year round. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 6.3 million companion animals, just under half (3.1 million) of which are dogs, enter U.S. animal shelters annually. About 2 million lucky shelter dogs are adopted each year, which leaves approximately one million shelter dogs waiting for their forever humans every year.

How to support Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

Obviously, adopting a dog is the best way to support Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. That said, adoption isn’t the only way to support shelter dogs. According to Megan Newcomer, Marketing Coordinator at MaxFund Animal Adoption Center, there are big and small ways you can support beloved shelter dogs and the staff that keeps them safe, including:

Why should I adopt a shelter dog?

If you’re wondering if it’s time to adopt a shelter dog or not, we’ve got you covered. And if you already have a rescue pup at home, give your good boy or girl a scritch, and consider giving them a sibling —or at least share these reasons with a friend who may be considering bringing home a new family member.

1. You’re saving a life.

Every year, just under a million companion animals are euthanized. This number is down from 2.6 million in 2011, and that progress is thanks to an increase in pet adoptions and the successful return of stray animals to their owners. As Thompson reminds us, every pet adopted makes room for another animal in need.

2. There are so many breeds and mixes to choose from.

Shelters have dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes, so you’re sure to find the perfect dog for your lifestyle and family. For instance, Thompson says the San Diego Humane Society currently has 363 dogs and 26 puppies available for adoption. Among their adoptable pups, you’ll find young dogs, old dogs, active canines, couch potatoes, and big and small furry friends in every breed and breed mix, she says.

3. You can adopt an adult or senior dog with a known personality.

Adult and senior dogs have already developed their personalities, so you can feel more confident that they’ll be the right fit for your family and lifestyle. Thompson reminds those visiting the shelter to talk to staff and volunteers about a dog’s true personality.

“Dogs in shelters can be stressed and scared; the behavior of dogs in kennels and the shelter environment doesn’t often represent who they truly are and what they’ll be like in a home,” she says.

4. Shelter dogs are a fraction of the price of dogs from breeders.

Especially if you adopt a dog during October, when many shelters and rescues reduce adoption fees in honor of Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, you’ll certainly pay less at a shelter than you would if buying from a breeder. Did we mention that most shelter dogs are sent home microchipped, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated?

5. Shelters do their best to match you with the perfect pup

Staff and volunteers spend time getting to know each animal’s personality and needs, and they work with potential adopters to understand their lifestyles and preferences. If the dog you’re interested in is in foster care, you’ll get even better insights into what they’re like in a home environment.

In fact, some shelters offer an adoption guarantee, which means that if the adoption is not the right fit for you or the pet, you can bring them back to the shelter. “There is no shame in bringing them back. Just like when someone fosters a dog, we may learn information that will be beneficial in matching the pet with a new adopter,” Thompson says.

6. Many shelters offer ongoing support to their adopters.

Shelters know that some pups may need extra time to adjust to their new home, so many offer services to help. Resources that may be available to you and your newly adopted pup include:

  • Behavior helpline: Shelters may offer a behavior helpline where adopters can call to speak with an expert about any behavior or training concerns they notice as their pet settles in.
  • Training classes: Shelters may offer training classes for adopters and their new dogs, which can help dogs learn basic obedience cues and house rules.
  • Socialization events: Many shelters host socialization events where adopters and their dogs can meet other dogs and people in a safe and controlled environment.
  • Online resources: Shelters may have websites or social media pages with dog care and training resources.

7. Your bond will likely be especially strong.

“There is nothing stronger than the bond you create with a pet you rescued. They need you, and you quickly learn you need them,” Thompson shares.

Woman on skateboard holding recently adopted shelter mutt on leash

Aleksey Boyko / Shutterstock

What if I can’t adopt a shelter dog? How else can I support this cause?

Support goes far beyond adopting a shelter dog, and includes the following.


Shelters and rescues have always needed fosters, who give pets temporary homes where they can practice socialization and safely mend from any injuries or illnesses. But especially after so many people bought or adopted dogs to keep them company during COVID-19, then surrendered them when it was time to return to work, the current need for fosters is dire.

“We’ve been over capacity every single day, and we know our colleagues across the country are experiencing the same capacity issues,” Thompson shares.

Many shelters and rescues provide you with everything you need to foster and you may be able to write off any supplies you do need to buy for your foster pet on your taxes.


Even if you can’t adopt or foster a pet, you can still make a difference by volunteering at a shelter. Shelters are always in need of volunteers to help with tasks like:

  • Walking dogs
  • Grooming and socializing animals
  • Folding laundry
  • Preparing food
  • Cleaning kennels

Thompson says that many shelters offer flexible hours and schedules, so you can volunteer on a schedule that works for you.


Newcomer stresses that every donation, no matter how big or small, can make a difference in the lives of many animals. Whether you donate money, food, supplies, or your time, your support can help save lives and provide animals with the care they need.

If you’re hesitant to donate money to a rescue, Thompson says there are a few ways to check their legitimacy:

  • Look for a Charity Navigator rating. Charity Navigator is a nonprofit organization that evaluates and rates other nonprofits based on their financial health, accountability and transparency, and impact. A high rating from Charity Navigator is a good sign that the organization is well-run and that your donation will be used effectively.
  • Check the organization’s website. Most legitimate organizations will post information about their intake and adoption rates and financial data. You can look for information such as how many animals they serve each year, what percentage of their budget goes directly to programs, and how much money they spend on administrative costs.
  • Ask questions. If you have any questions about the organization or how your donation will be used, don’t hesitate to contact them. A reputable organization will be happy to answer your questions and provide you with more information.

Spread the word about adoptable dogs

Educate others about adopting dogs from shelters or rescues whenever you can. For example, if you see a cute picture of a pup you can’t personally adopt, share a link to their adoption profile to your social media feed. Thompson says this is especially important to prevent puppy mills from profiting.

Do your part to reduce the number of pets entering shelters

Whether you’re a pet parent or a member of a pet-friendly community, you can do your part:

  • Spay or neuter your pet. Prevent accidental or unwanted litters by spaying and neutering your pets.
  • Microchip your pet. The biggest benefit of microchipping your pet is that it increases the chances of your pet being returned to you if they’re lost. If you find a lost pet, take them to your nearest veterinary clinic. They can scan them for a microchip and safely return them to their family.
  • Try to locate the family of a stray pet before bringing them to a shelter. Post on social media and in local community message boards, such as Facebook and NextDoor, before taking stray pets to the shelter.

Where to adopt this Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

When you’re ready to adopt a shelter dog, you can visit Adopt A Pet to find available dogs in your area. You can also go directly to your local shelter or rescue organization’s website — most shelters and rescues share adoption profiles on their websites, so you can browse through the dogs available for adoption and learn more about their personalities and any special needs.

“There are also bigger sites that pull adoption profiles from multiple shelters and rescues based on your area,” Thompson explains.

You can also try a rehoming website, such as Rehome by Adopt a Pet. Adopting directly from a pet parent facing the decision to give up their pet means keeping more room open in shelters.

Janelle Leeson is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer. Her work has been featured in magazines such as Inside Your Dog’s Mind, Inside Your Cat’s Mind, and Paw Print, as well online at Insider Reviews, NBC Select, Shop Today, PetMD, and Daily Paws. She has two adventure cats, a flock of urban chickens, and a soon-to-be-husband who doesn’t mind housing the occasional foster cat — or five.