Adopting a Pet
There are many different types of pets for many different people. Below is a "starter" list to help you select a pet for you and your family.
Friend for another pet
Companion for other family member
Care and feeding
Exercising and training
WHN Tip: Pets can be great companions but they can come with potential downsides such as shedding, furniture damage, allergies.
Do you live alone or with others?
Do you have or want children?
Do you currently have pets?
Do you have enough space at home to accommodate your pet?
Can you have a pet where you live? If so, what types are allowed? (Click here for the Humane Society's Renting with Pets article.)
WHN Tip: What laws?!
Check with your local city hall to see if there are any laws that may limit the ownership of certain types or number of animals in a single household.
Who will care for the pet? (If your child, evaluate his/her level of responsibility)
If you travel extensively, will you take the pet with you or have to hire someone (extra expense) to care for it while you're gone?
If you work, who will care for the pet — feed it, let it out, exercise it?
What activities do you enjoy? What activities would you like to do with your pet?
Be sure you can afford the pet you're considering. Costs can run from a few hundred to a thousand dollars each year.
Evaluate your current household budget and estimate how much you have available for pet-related expenses. (Click here for a breakdown of average yearly pet costs from the ASPCA.)
Your Pet Preferences
WHN Tip: Not sure if a family member has pet allergies? Have them spend some time with the type of pet you're considering before you make the commitment.
Type: cat, dog, bird, reptile, rodent, fish
Breed: A "breed" is a special variety of animal in a domesticated species with certain breeds have specific characteristics or behaviors. A purebred has parents from the same breed; mixed breed has one or both parents from mixed or different breeds. Purebreds tend to follow a general "breed standard" for physical and behavioral characteristics.
Size: small, medium or large
Sex: male or female pet
Age: young or full-grown
Behavior: trained or in need of training
WHN Tip: Go to ASPCA®’s Meet Your Match® to pick the right pet personality.
Other: a "shedder," a "climber" or a "clawer"
WHN Tip: Still unsure? Talk to other people who have an animal or breed you are interested in. Don't know any? Try local parks, pet events or other places where animal owners gather. Ask them where and when they got their animal. Ask about any behavioral or medical problems they've noticed. Or check with a local vet for advice and recommendations.
Medical care: Availability and fees for vet care, including after-hours care.
Pet Adoption Process
Researching Pet Adoption Sources
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
- Local shelter (Check Animal Shelter.org)
- Local purebred rescue groups (for a list of dog associations go here.)
- Breeders (Read HSUS article on How to Find a Responsible Dog Breeder.
- Pet shops
- Newspaper classifieds
- The Internet
Asking Preliminary Questions
- Do you have the breed or species I want?
WHN Tip: Don't be discouraged if there are initially no animals of the breed or type you want. Shelters receive new animals every day. Your shelter may have a waiting list and can call you when an animal matching your preference becomes available.
- How old is the animal?
- Is the animal spayed or neutered (cats/dogs)?
- What vaccinations has the animal had?
- How much is the adoption fee?
WHN Expert Tip: Fees and Costs
"Shelter adoption fees are usually less than a pet store or breeder's prices. This ranges depending on the animal's breed type, medical procedures required, and their age." Betty Bilton, Northeast Animal Shelter, Salem, MA
- When can I visit the animal?
- May I bring my children to see how well the animal interacts with them?
- Do you have an adoption counselor? (If yes, schedule an appointment.)
WHN Tip: More Than a Shelter
Many shelters provide adoption counseling and follow-up assistance, pet-training classes, medical services, and behavior counseling. If not, they may be able to refer you to providers of these services.
Making an Onsite Visit
What to do
- Allow plenty of time for your visit, especially if visiting a breeder or a shelter.
WHN Expert Tip: "Many people think …they can just pick any pet they choose and take the pet home. They don't understand that will take at least a half-hour and that they will try to match the right pet to the right owner." Betty Bilton, Northeast Animal Shelter, Salem, MA
- Be sure to bring all of your family members (including any current pets) to help make the decision.
WHN Expert Tip: "Introduce your potential new pet to your older pet BEFORE you adopt them. It's important that they get along." Barbara Baugnon, Oregon Humane Society
What to bring
- A pen and paper for notes
- Camera for pet picture
- Pet carrier to transport the animal. (Read our Choosing and Using a Pet Crate for Travel for tips.)
- ID with current address
WHN Tip: You may also be asked to bring a tax bill or mortgage statement as proof of home ownership OR a lease stating that you are allowed to have a pet. Have your landlord's phone number in case the shelter or breeder needs to contact him or her.
What to ask
- Where was the animal found (if at a shelter)?
- Where did you buy the animal (if at a pet store)?
- What breed was the animal's parents? Do you know anything about the parents?
- Can I see the parents of the pet (good to do if the pet is a purebred)?
- Does the animal have any brothers or sisters? How are they?
- Do you know what kind of home the animal is coming from (good, abusive, etc.)
- Do you know its medical history? Is it on any medications? If so, how often, how is it administered and how expensive is it?
WHN Expert Tip: Health Concerns
"Ask about the common or possible health problems the animal might develop and ask if the animal's parents were also tested for these health problems." Michelle Barlak, AKC
- What veterinarians do you recommend? How soon does the animal need to see the vet?
- What vaccinations are needed? When?
- If purebred, what are the breed's strengths? Weaknesses?
- What is its behavioral history?
- How does he get along with other animals?
- Does the animal have any training?
- How big will the animal get or is it full grown?
WHN Expert Tip: Spayed or Neutered
"In some states, by law, shelters must spay and neuter all pets before they're given to an owner. Ask if the pet you're consider has already had this procedure and if so, when." Betty Bilton, Northeast Animal Shelter, Salem, MA
- What brand or type of food is best for the animal? When and how much should I feed the animal each day?
- How much exercise or activity do you recommend for the animal?
- How often will the animal need to be groomed?
- Is the animal housebroken (meaning the animal is trained to go to the bathroom outside or in a certain place)? If not, how do you recommend I train the animal?
- What trainers or training methods do you recommend?
- What pet sitters/walkers do you recommend?
WHN Tip: Breeders have a lot of information about the animals, while shelters may not have the background on the animal. Ask questions about the proper care of the animal and then follow up with your vet.
What to notice: about the facility
- Is the facility clean and free of odors and mess?
- Does it appear to be a safe and happy environment for the animals?
- Evaluate the owners or operators of the facility: Are they friendly with the animals?
- Do the animals like the owners/operators?
- Are the owners/operators friendly with you? Do they ask and answer questions?
WHN Expert Tip: Remember the owner, breeder or shelter worker is evaluating you as well to see if you'd be a good owner for the animal.
What to notice: about the pet
- How does the animal act: friendly, active, reserved, withdrawn, afraid?
- How good is the animal with children?
- Is it well-trained?
- Does the animal's mother or father seem to be good-natured and well-behaved?
Your Pet Selection
Still undecided? Ask if you can make an arrangement for a second visit.
If you know which one you want, ask to buy or adopt and discuss timing on taking the animal home. Ask for any registration or medical papers when you take the animal home.
WHN Expert Tip: AKC Registered Dogs
"If you are purchasing an AKC registered dog from a breeder, the dog's parents should both be registered with the AKC and the litter should have been registered also. The breeder must give you a registration application with the litter registration number and other completed information." Michelle Barlak, PR Coordinator, American Kennel Club
WHN Expert Tip: Be Patient
"People have expectations that the pet will be perfectly well behaved and not need training. There is a period of adjustment that will take time." Leslie Rocky, Colorado Animal Rescue Center
Read our other articles on Pets to learn more about grooming, training, choosing a vet and boarding your pet.
PetsAdopting a Pet