Adopt a Pet: Essential Tips from 200 Rescues and Shelters

Suzie Cyrenne
Authored by Suzie Cyrenne
Suzie is a Certified Homeopath and Co-Founder of Zumalka
, specializing in natural and holistic remedies for pets.
- Jun 17, 2024

We've reached out to more than 200 rescue groups and shelters across America to share with you their best advice and tips on adoptable pets, as well as their location.

Have you ever wondered about adopting a furry family member? Unlike what a lot people mistakenly think, it is not that complicated at all! In this 'Adopt a Pet - The Ultimate Guide', I will walk you through everything you need to know about adopting a pet from local animal shelters and rescue organizations.

Adopt a pet: A woman in her mid-30s walking through a rescue shelter, with various animals in their enclosures looking at her. The photo, taken with an iPhone, captures the essence of the shelter environment and the connection between the woman and the animals.


Why you should consider pet adoption today

According to Forbes Advisor, there are about 6.3 million animals that enter local shelters and rescues each year. This number consists of not just dogs and cats, but also other pets. The sad thing is only around two-thirds—or approximately 4.1 million—of these animals are given the long-term commitment of a loving home annually.

Those rescue or shelter dogs and cats that don't get adopted tend to be euthanized. As reported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), roughly 920,000 animals suffer this fate every year.

As a pet parent myself, knowing this breaks my heart. This is why I've put together this blog post to help aspiring pet parents looking to adopt a new family member get on the right track. If you're reading this right now, this is your sign to get in on the pet adoption process!

Have you considered adopting a new furry friend?

This 'Adopt a Pet - The Ultimate Guide' will help you get in on the essential details to not just give your new companion a loving home, but also improve his overall quality of life.

Anne Fifield, the founder of Basset Rescue Across Texas has this to share: “Opt to adopt. Yes, puppies are cute and cuddly. However, there are thousands of animals in rescues and shelters who need a home or they could be euthanized. You would be saving a life by adopting."

So without further ado, let's start things off by tackling the most frequently asked but very important questions to consider when it comes to adopting a furry friend.



How Do I Use This 'Adopt a Pet - The Ultimate Guide'?

It's not uncommon that the pet adoption process can sound rather tricky—especially if it's the first time that you're looking to have a new family member of the animal kind via a local shelter or rescue.

Adopt a Pet Guide: Middle-aged woman volunteering at a rescue shelter, kneeling beside a kennel with a cat inside. She is smiling warmly while feeding the cat, wearing a red volunteer shirt and gloves.

This is why we've reached out to more than 200 rescue groups and shelters across America to share with you their best advice and tips on adoptable pets, as well as their location.

We take the opportunity to thank all the rescues and shelters that have collaborated with this guide to send an important message to all families and persons who wish to adopt a pet. This would not have been possible without your valuable support!

This guide is divided into easy-to-read sections that will teach you everything you need to know about pet adoption wherever you may be in the country as well as useful bits and pieces in between. Keep an eye out for great tips that will help you in your search for the ideal furry companion as we go along, too.


What are the Benefits of Adopting a Dog?

What's really interesting about adopting a dog is there are a lot of benefits that you can get from it. In my experience, the following are the most significant benefits that I've encountered when we've welcomed Westin in our home:

  1. You are saving a life.

    Whether you are adopting from a shelter or a rescue, always remember that you are giving a dog the care and love that he truly deserves once you make this life-changing decision. In turn, you're also going to have some pretty surprising health benefits coming your way, too.

  2. It is much more cost-effective.

    While the adoption fees may range from $50 to $400 depending on the breed and other relevant factors, choosing to adopt from a rescue or shelter is still significantly cheaper than buying from a breeder or a puppy mill. Some breeders can charge $2,500 as a minimum price for a puppy.

  3. You are helping reduce overcrowding in shelters and rescues.

    The number of animals taken in by rescue groups and shelters get bigger and bigger each day. You are helping ease their burden and make their operations more efficient should you decide to adopt. And the more they can function efficiently, the more animals they can save.


Courtney Rheuban Ax of Star Paw Rescue Foundation shares: “There's something about bringing home a pet for the first time, either from the shelter or the rescue and watching them realize that they are home and spending the rest of their life happy and warm and loved and safe. The unconditional love you get back from that dog or cat is one of the greatest things you can experience.


What to Do Before Adopting a Dog or Cat?

Taking in a dog or cat is a huge decision. It's more than just dropping by a local shelter or rescue group and deciding which puppy, kitten, juvenile dog or senior cat to foster in your household.

Being the best pet parent for an adopted animal does not just mean getting on top of the important essentials for his well-being. A lot of people mistakenly think that simply having the right pet supplies (such as food and water bowls, litter boxes, as well as grooming tools, to name a few) and an ample living space is already enough.

It also involves providing the appropriate veterinary care, preparing a safe environment for new pet, ensuring his dietary needs will be met, and being fully prepared to deal with emergency situations.

When asked about the difference between adopting and buying a pet, Keyria Lockheart, a volunteer at the Last Hope Cat Kingdom, has this to share: “I've had many tell me they love shelter animals more than non-shelter because they seem to appreciate being out of the environment and into a loving home.


What is the Process of Adopting a Dog or Cat?

Just to make things very clear, the cat or dog adoption process is not just about dropping by a local rescue or shelter, signing some papers, paying an adoption fee, and then coming home with a new pet. It actually involves a step-by-step process concerning both the pet and aspiring pet owner to make a perfect match.

This process generally involves procedures like filling out an adoption questionnaire, having an interview with a shelter or rescue representative, as well as home checks or inspections, among others. We will go through each of these things as we go along.


Step-By-Step Process of Pet Adoption

Here's a quick guide that will cover everything you need to go through before you can get to come home with a dog or cat (or some other kind of pet) from local shelters or rescue organizations:

 

  1. Assess yourself.

    Before anything else, you need to keep in mind that pet adoption is a very big commitment. It should not be done on impulse since pet ownership can mean spending your life with a furry companion for the next 10 years or more. If you feel that you're not up to this kind of commitment, then you better rethink your decision to adopt a pet.

    Chris Bedell of For Pet’s Sake Animal Rescue says: “We try to help people realize that adopting a pet like kittens and puppies, is much like adopting a child. It's a LONG-TERM commitment that's not to be done on a whim.

    Other key questions to consider include:

    • Do you already have other pets at home?
    • Are there any children or other family members in your household?
    • Is your lifestyle favorable in terms of having a pet?
    • Are you financially able to take in a new dog or cat?
    • Is your living space sufficient and safe for a pet?
    • Are you ready to deal with emergency pet care situations?



    Including these questions in your checklist can significantly enhance the success of your pet adoption process. They help you determine if you’re truly ready to welcome a furry friend into your home and assist in planning how to provide the best possible quality of life. By thoroughly considering these questions, you can ensure a smoother transition and a happier experience for both you and your new pet.


  2. Know which type of pet that you're going to adopt.

    Choosing a new pet requires a lot of thought. There are numerous cat and dog breeds—not to mention ages, personalities and behaviors—that you will encounter when adopting a pet.

    Part of the experience is facing many animals that require different exercise and grooming needs.

    Before you can choose your "perfect match," you have to consider factors like energy levels, long walks, establishing routines, as well as the appropriate pet proofing, among others.

    "If you’re a loner and don’t have time for walks, dogs are not ideal pets unless you choose very low-energy pedigrees," as pointed out by Catherine Naber of Cats Canine Academy.


  3. Be ready to spend money.

    While it's important to point out that getting a new companion from rescue groups and shelters considerably costs less than buying from a breeder, you'd still have to dish out cash when you go for pet adoption.

    Besides paying an adoption fee, which can be around $50 to $400, you will also need to spend money on pet home necessities like food and water bowls, beddings, toys, dog or cat food, poo bags, food storage containers, and grooming supplies, just to name a few.

    I'd just like to emphasize that the $50 to $400 fee will be used by a local rescue or shelter for the housing, food, medical attention, and other incidental costs for the many animals under their care. Many shelters and rescues already include microchipping, vaccinations, as well as spaying and neutering in their adoption fees.

    San Diego Humane Society and SPCA’s Public Relations Program Manager Kelli Schry shares: “There are many advantages to adopting a shelter animal. Adoption is a much more affordable option, and you know you’re getting an animal that has been assessed behaviorally and medically.


  4. You need to comply with a shelter's or rescue's requirements.

    Before you go through the pet adoption process itself, you will need to fill out an application form that also doubles as an adoption questionnaire.

    It usually asks for your basic information, such as contact details, address, occupation, work schedule, the other family members (both human and animal) you live with, as well as personal references.

    Based on my experience, these are the key things to have in your checklist when you're adopting a pet: a photo ID (preferably government-issued), proof of address, accomplished application for adoption, references, as well as the appropriate adoption fee.

    I also recommend bringing a pen and a notepad to jot down important information that you may encounter during the adoption process.

    Once you got that taken care of, you will then need to have an interview with a rescue or shelter representative.

    He or she will ask questions regarding the information you provided in your application form/questionnaire.

    Certain details will also be verified like your living situation and your experience in the proper care of pets.

    It's also not uncommon for local rescues and shelters to make you undergo a background check to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of the animal you're planning to adopt.

    If the interview goes well, you will be then asked to schedule a supervised "meet and greet" with your potential adoptee pet.

    This will be the time when both you and the animal will be assessed for compatibility, especially if you're going for a specific breed or an older dog or cat.


  5. Home visits are next in line.


    Adopting a pet from legitimate rescue groups and shelters typically involve a home visit or a "home check."

    It is a part of the adoption process where they will assess a potential adopter if he or she can really provide a suitable living environment for a dog or cat.

    Besides being a way of examining if a potential adopter's home is sufficiently spacious and safe for a pet, a home check can also give an overview of his or her lifestyle, living conditions, as well as the presence of other family members and animals.

    One very important thing to remember! Make it a point to establish a friendly relationship with shelter or rescue representatives.

    Being friends with the staff in animal shelters and rescues is crucial because they have access to the information you do not.

    Dorothea Boughdadly of Hoofs and Woofs Animal Rescue advises that "these people know the animals really well and will share a lot of insight to find loving homes for dogs and cats wherever your location may be in the country."

    To describe it briefly, it is a key part of the adoption process where a representative from a shelter or rescue will gauge if a dog or cat will have a healthy and happy life with a potential adoptive pet parent.

    If you have more questions about sufficient living space, you can reach out to Eugenia from the Animal Defense League of Texas and a few other animal care volunteers on this topic.


  6. You will need to take care of the necessary paperwork.

    A very important part of pet adoption is signing the necessary documents so you can properly (and legally) take an animal home with you. This is usually the time when you will be asked to pay the adoption fee.

    It is important to remember that your local rescues and shelters may have different requirements with respect to pet adoption.

    Make sure you ask for a complete list of these requirements before you start the adoption process to avoid any problems.

    It is also important to jot down notes as you go along.

    Anne Fifield of Basset Rescue Texas shares: “If you're applying to more than one rescue to adopt a dog or cat, keep concise notes.

    For example, you may ask us about Fluffy. Our answer is, “We don’t have a Fluffy.”

    This will really delay your search for a kitten or dog to adopt.

 

Important Questions to Ask When Adopting a Pet From a Shelter or Rescue

As discussed earlier, an interview is an integral part of the pet adoption process.
But the thing is it's not going to be a one-sided discussion since you can also ask questions during the same.

When you reach this part of your journey in finding the right dog or cat to adopt, it is crucial that you ask the following questions:

  • Should the adoption not work out, will the rescue or shelter still take the dog or cat back?

  • Is the animal already house-trained?

  • Does the cat or dog have present medical issues or underlying health conditions?

  • Was the animal already previously adopted? If so, how many times?

  • What activities does a dog or cat like?

  • Does the animal have special dietary needs or similar health requirements?

  • Is the cat or dog sociable? Or does it have trouble getting along with humans and other pets?

  • Does the animal have a medical history available?

  • Did a cat's or dog's parents have health issues?


It is very important that you ask these questions since transforming an adopted pet into a loving companion can be rather tricky if you don't have these details.
This is the reason why we also have what you call the 3-3-3 rules, which I am going to discuss next.


What is the 3-3-3 Rule in Pet Adoption?

There is what we call "the 3-3-3 rule" when it comes to adopting a pet.

These rules basically refer to the approximate amount of time that you should allow to make your new dog or cat properly adjust to his environment and living situation. Moreover, these are crucial in building trust when adopting a pet.

The 3-3-3 rules can be summarized as follows:

The first 3 days.

During this time, a pooch or kitty may still be very overwhelmed with the new sounds, smells, sights, and sensations that he is experiencing.

It is not uncommon to see your new pet being aloof, confused, or even scared. I recommend temporarily confining your furry pal within a certain space and limit his interaction with other family members—whether human or animal.

Here are some cool tips from Jessica Martin, the Director of Healthy Pets of NYC Incorporated on the proper introductions when it comes to introducing new pets:
"When you have a baby at home: Let the dog hear and smell the baby from a safe distance first. Introduce the baby to him in a safe environment after a few days (if possible, both mom and dad are present). A quick sniff and you are done. Slowly add more time."

When you have other dogs: Let them smell each other from afar. It's a good idea to keep them in separate rooms or areas for a couple of days.

The most straightforward way to help them get used to each other is by taking them out for a walk together. Allow them to have supervised bonding times that get progressively longer as you go along.

Additionally, this strategy also works for cats. They are highly territorial so any new home is a major change from a kitty’s perspective.

The first 3 days are also the best time to give your adopted dog the necessary identification.

As Sandra Dollar of Save the Strays Animal Rescue says, “we always recommend a visible ID tag be kept on the dog's collar as the best/first line of defense against loss.

"As for the microchip, it is a valuable piece of identification if you lost a puppy (the puppy is not going to stay a puppy forever). It can also help you reunite with your pet in cases of pet kidnapping or theft because it contains information to prove you’re the rightful pet parent. Just don’t forget to have the microchip registered though or else it would be useless," a friendly reminder from Anne Fifield of Basset Rescue Across Texas.

The first 3 weeks.

This is the ideal time when it comes to establishing routines, such as potty breaks, grooming needs, meal schedules, play, and even long walks, among others.

If you're adopting an older dog, proper care also involves reinforcing positive behavior with verbal cues during this time. It is important to keep in mind that this period may take shorter or longer if you've adopted a specific breed.

Raquel Hartzell of Rocky Mountain Feline Rescue shares that "besides helping you set your expectations to a reasonable level, respecting an animal also motivates you to find out more about how to best care for it and address its needs."

The first 3 months.

By this time, your adopted furry companion may have already become rather familiar with his new pet home. However, you should continue to build trust and encourage confidence with your new dog or cat.

This is also the time to make sure that you've done the proper pet proofing (especially loose wires, toxic plants, and sharp edges) to give your pooch or kitty the happy life he deserves.

Moreover, the right way of training and disciplining a pet is by being respectful of its limitations and being consistent with rules.

Just remember that compassion and patience go a long way, just the same as what K9 Jack of LongShot Farms, Christa McElroy of Tri Country Collie Rescue, and Bonney Williams of Etosha Rescue and Adoption Center plus several other animal experts have shared with us.


How Long Does Adopting a Dog Take?

The short answer is there's no fixed period when it comes to adopting a dog. However, due to the varying protocols observed by local shelters and rescue groups, this may take several weeks up to a couple of months.

Some key considerations include the time to research for the particular dog that matches your lifestyle and living space, visiting shelters and rescues, scheduling and attending meet and greet sessions, home checks or inspections, adoption processing and approval, as well as other requirements that you may be asked to comply.

HomeFurEver shares: “Every rescue is different. We all have different systems of operation, adoption processes, and requirements. Approval through one rescue does not guarantee that you will be approved through another rescue."

I'd also like to emphasize including the 3-3-3 rules that we've just talked about since preparing your home and allowing your new dog to settle in may take time as well. Just remember that all the time and effort will be worth it!


How Soon After Adopting a Dog Should You Go to the Vet?

The most reasonable time to drop by the vet's clinic to have your new pet checked is within the first week of bringing him home.

Although a shelter or rescue usually conducts regular medical checkups on their animal residents, it is smart to have you new canine best friend examined for you to have a baseline of his overall health and wellness.

This is true whether you've adopted an older pooch or a juvenile high energy dog.


What to Buy When Adopting a Dog?

Having an idea of the supplies to get your hands on when adopting a dog significantly helps in the transition of your new pet to settle in his forever home.

The following are the basic things to include in your checklist when shopping for your new furry friend:

  • Dog bed
  • Water and food bowls
  • Leash and collar
  • The appropriate dog food
  • Kennel or crate
  • Grooming supplies
  • Toys
  • Poop bags
  • Storage containers


Depending on the size, breed, and other special needs of your pooch, it's possible that you may have to buy a few more things here and there. But you're going to ensure his comfort and ease so long as you prioritize the items I've listed.

A 40-year-old woman shopping in a pet store, pushing a cart full of items including a dog bed, bowls, leash, collar, dog food, kennel, grooming supplies, and toys.


What are Red Flags When Adopting a Dog?

It is crucial to remember that there are fraudulent groups and associations that only pretend to be a rescue or shelter. They are actually puppy mills or unscrupulous breeders in disguise. I've listed down five (5) red flags that you should absolutely keep clear of when adopting a canine companion below:

 

  1. You cannot meet a dog in person.

    Personally meeting a dog is the best way to get to know the animal better. Not having the chance to do so can possibly lead to a lot of problems sooner or later.

    This could involve issues with a dog's health, behavior, or some other factor that can make you regret your decision to adopt in the first place.

    Although there may be valid reasons that a rescue or shelter can provide why you can't get to meet a dog in person, like a pooch may be undergoing rehabilitation training or a medical procedure, it's a big red flag if you're not given a single justifiable reason why.


  2. You are required to pay before you get access to a dog's basic information.

    As a general rule, shelters and rescues do not withhold a dog's information.

    This is often kept available for potential pet parents to determine if they are really a perfect match for their household.

    If a "shelter" or "rescue" tells you to pay a certain amount of money before you can access the same, chances are it is a puppy mill that you're dealing with.


  3. You feel forced to adopt.

    Animal adoption is primarily about choosing a pet that fits your home and lifestyle.

    For example, you can't go for a high-energy dog if you're not able to keep up with its exercise and attention needs.

    Similarly, you should not adopt a dog that sheds a lot if you're prone to allergies and respiratory issues.

    Should you feel that you're being manipulated into adopting a dog that does not fit your home and lifestyle with an overly dramatic backstory, chances are you're being forced to do so.


  4. You don't undergo a proper assessment.

    Rescue groups and shelters tend to be very careful about who they allow to adopt.

    This is the reason why you are required to fill out a questionnaire, undergo an interview, and even asked to schedule home visits before you get to come home with a dog.

    If it's the other way around, there is a possibility that you're dealing with a puppy mill.


  5. You feel that the shelter or rescue is a bit shady.

    Rescue groups and shelters are very visible and vocal when it comes to their mission of improving the lives of animals.

    Besides easily getting access to information about their organization when you search for it online, there will be also a lot of other platforms you can use to get to know more about them.

    If they seem to have a lot of missing details, chances are they might be only masquerading as a shelter or rescue.

 

Animal Shelter vs. Rescue: What is the Difference?

While these two may have the same mission of saving the lives of animals, what's really interesting is that they are not one and the same.

We will go over the difference between rescue and shelter for this part of our discussion.


What is a shelter?

A shelter is typically your government-owned local pound. However, not all are funded by taxpayer money.

It is a community where strays like dogs and cats are either surrendered or brought in when their previous owners cannot take care of them anymore.

These places generally "adopt" or save all sorts of animals (not just the usual "furry friend" depending on local restrictions) and are almost always full. Sadly, they have to euthanize pets rather than set them loose to fend on their own and live miserable lives.


What is a rescue?

An animal rescue is usually a private organization or initiative that saves dogs and cats, among others, from abusive homes or homeless situations.

Some of the more popular examples include PetSmart Charities and Petco Love.

A rescue provides temporary homes through a network of foster parents who agree to take in a cat or dog until it finds a forever home.

While a rescue can take in all sorts of animals, some of them can be age and breed-specific to be compatible with the location and lifestyle of their foster parents.

A rescue generally runs on pure donation and goodwill. It is very rare for it to receive any help or funding from the government.


Is there a difference between adopting from a shelter and a rescue?

The short answer is no.

It all boils down to who are the people running the same and how much they care for the animals.

But going for adoption is much better than buying from an unscrupulous breeder or puppy mill!

Some animal shelters have partnerships with local rescue groups to ensure that animals who may not have a chance of surviving or have special needs will still have a chance to be adopted.

Here's what Esther Lyon from Wayward Paws has to say: “I think that the most useful information that potential adopters can know is that by adopting from a shelter or rescue group, you are giving a home to a pet that has never had one of their own.


Are Animals in Rescues and Shelters "Damaged Goods?"

This has got to be the most widely believed of all pet adoption myths. The truth is most pets like dogs and cats in shelters are pretty much healthy and sociable.

They're often in the streets and become strays due to no fault of their own, too!
According to Jennifer Galloway, executive director of Gulf Coast Humane Society, most dogs or cats end up in an animal shelter because of "a death, divorce, birth, lifestyle change, moving or perhaps the family did not train."


This is Your Sign to Adopt a Pet

A touching moment at an animal shelter with a volunteer in a red shirt smiling warmly at a hopeful dog standing on its hind legs in a kennel. The clean, organized setting conveys compassion and dedication.

I hope that I was able to answer the questions that you've had when it comes to the ins and outs of pet adoption in this comprehensive guide.

If you're still on the search for the perfect pet, maybe now's the time that you've tried adopting through your local shelter or rescue.

We made this article with the help of pet adoption veterans and gurus Carrie of Phoenix Rising Rescue, Linda of K9BFF Rescue, Dorothea Boughdadly of Hoofs and Woofs Animal Rescue, Suzanne Kleinberg of Team Cat Rescue, Larry of Blue Moon Cat Sanctuary, Robin Crowley of Rover Rescue, and Keyria Lockheart of Last Hope Cat Kingdom.

I'd also like to mention Basset Rescue Across Texas, Healthy Pets of NYC, Animal Rescue, Midwest Animal Rescue Service, and many more.

My heartfelt gratitude goes to you!

We sure couldn’t have done it as well as we did without the help of various shelters and rescues.

 


About the author

Suzie Cyrenne
Suzie Cyrenne

HOMEOPATH & CO-FOUNDER OF ZUMALKA

Suzie Cyrenne has dedicated more than 20 years of her life in making and improving natural animal health solutions in the global setting.

Being the co-founder of Zumalka, Suzie is a forerunner in enhancing the lives of pets through natural and homeopathic options using the knowledge she has gained from the Classical Homeopathy School in Quebec.

Through the guidance of her mother-in-law and fellow natural health expert, Denyse Lessard, Suzie constantly devotes herself to create premium pet products that are aimed at dealing with the root causes of wellness problems and not just their symptoms.

Besides immersing herself in books, personal development and visiting new places, Suzie also enjoys keeping herself in tiptop shape by snowboarding and taking daily hikes with her husband and Zumalka co-founder, Matt Lessard, and their Golden-Doodle, Westin.

Find out more about Suzie when you click HERE.


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