Are Dog Shelters FREE? What Your Adoption Fee Covers

If you have thought of adopting a cute puppy from the shelter, you may be wondering, ‘are dog shelters free?’

Many shelter visitors believe they can get a dog for nothing, but shelter dogs aren’t free. There are adoption fees involved, though the cost is much less than buying from a breeder.

In this post, we’re going to cover the importance of adoption fees, and why shelters are not free.

Are Dog Shelters Free?

Dog adoption is not free
If you plan to adopt a dog, you’ll have to pay an adoption fee and any other fees that may come along with it.

No. Dog shelters are not free.

The majority of animal rescues and shelters are staffed entirely by volunteers and operate on a shoestring budget.

This effectively translates to the fact that they cannot afford to provide you with a free adoption of one of the pets in their care.

Even though they are volunteering their time for free, the cost of providing for the dogs’ basic needs until they are adopted can add up quickly.

The adoption fee you will be asked to pay at most shelters does not cover everything that a shelter has spent on a specific dog.

However, the fee does go toward the shelter’s general operating costs and the care of the dog you’re adopting.

Let’s have a look at the actual cost of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group.

Usual Costs of Dog Adoption

How much does it cost to adopt a dog from a shelter?

Shelters and rescue groups often charge different amounts for adoption.

A shelter’s fees may increase, for instance, if it is located in a high-priced region with high costs associated with things like dog food and vet visits.

The agency’s efficiency may also affect the final price tag.

Some organizations may be able to put all of their dogs with foster parents at no cost to the public.

Others may have to spend money on facilities to house and care for some of the less adoptable dogs themselves.

However, while fees might vary widely from one location to the next, there are ballpark estimates for how much money you should expect to spend on an adoption.

  • Adopting a puppy between 8 weeks and 6 months old usually costs roughly $500.

Puppies are the most expensive to adopt due to the extensive care they require in their first few weeks of life and the high cost of their vaccines.

  • Over the age of 6, senior dogs typically drop in price to the $150 range. This is due to several factors other than just the fact that they have fewer years to live.

More often than not, older dogs have undergone sterilization, and any major health issues will have been recognized and treated if possible.

Read More: How Do Animal Shelters Euthanize Dogs? We discuss why shelters might put dogs down and walk through the euthanization process.

Coverage of Adoption Fees

Adoption Fees are a small price to pay for the work shelters put in.
Your adoption fee is a small price to pay for everything shelters do for your new pet.

The following is what your adoption fee will cover at a high-quality rescue or shelter:

  • The veterinary examination of the dog as a whole
  • Free shots rabies shot, a bordetella shot, and a shot for canine distemper.
  • Anti-worm drugs
  • Treatment for fleas and ticks, as well as medication
  • Testing for heartworms in dogs
  • Sterilization procedures like spaying and neutering
  • Insurance for your pet for at least 30 days
  • Free follow-up care from a licensed veterinarian
  • The initial 14 days of necessary medication are provided at no cost.
  • Evaluation of behavioral patterns and appropriate instruction
  • To ensure that the dogs are fed properly and that the rescue or shelter has access to the necessary food supplies
  • Additional items the dog will need at the shelter or rescue
  • Microchip tags or collars for identification

You get a great deal for your adoption price when considering all of these factors.

If you were to pay for all of the necessary immunizations and veterinary care yourself, you might easily spend thousands of dollars.

New Dog Expenses

Owning a dog isn't free.
Owning a dog can be costly, so be prepared to budget for your new family member.

Adoption fees are only one of many costs associated with adding a dog to the family, and they won’t stop coming.


Moving into a new home means that you and your dog will both require several new items.

For instance, crate training may require an additional crate, bed, toys, bowl, collar, leash, harness, and more.

You may be shocked by how much money you end up spending on necessities in the first few months after bringing your new dog home.

The exact sum you will spend may vary based on the quality and the stores from which you buy them, but it’s reasonable to budget between $300 and $500.


The cost of dog food is consistently the largest source of where your money will go.

When you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue organization, they should give you a bag of the dog food they were giving the dog before you adopted them.

You should keep feeding your new dog the food they were given at the shelter, and then transition them to the diet you plan to feed them permanently.

Over roughly 2 weeks, gradually increase the amount of the new food in their dish until they have fully adjusted without any stomach issues.

Pet Care Costs

When you adopt a dog from a rescue or shelter, it should have previously been checked out by a vet and given any required shots and medical care.

As a possible bonus, as part of the adoption fee, you may be eligible for one free visit to the vet for follow-up care.

However, you should always be prepared to rush your dog to the vet in case of an emergency.

Ways to Help Animal Shelters

Donating cash is the first option and often the easiest. Most have pages on their websites explaining how to do so.

Even $5 can make a difference if enough individuals who can give a little decide to help.

Alternatively, you can spend some free time working at a rescue organization.

We have a guide on How to Volunteer in a Dog Shelter so you can get started.

Fostering is an option for those who have a lot of space, are experienced dog owners, and can take in multiple dogs at once.

You may temporarily foster dogs as they wait to find a permanent family.

Once you decide to adopt a shelter dog, watch this video to get an idea of how to choose the right pup:

The Verdict

Even while taking in a dog in need of a home and caring for it would be highly satisfying, it will not come without cost.

Your adoption money will go toward the cost of vetting and socializing your new pet and fees typically pay for a variety of costs.

Costs such as spaying, neutering, vaccines, testing, and other preventative health care as well as everything a dog needs to live comfortably and play happily.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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