Adopt a Pet from a Shelter or Rescue

Forget about buying: Why adopting a dog or cat is the best thing ever

Pet adoption and pet rescue

Bringing home a new pet is incredibly exciting. And adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group is not only exciting, but it’s truly a feel-good experience as well. Every day, nearly 5,500 dogs and cats are killed in America’s shelters simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. By adopting, it means that each time you look into your pet’s eyes, you can feel good knowing that you truly did save a life.

Adopting pets has become more and more popular and accessible, and there are now many different ways to find the right adoptable pet for your family. City and county animal shelters, nonprofit shelters and rescue groups are full of pets who lost their homes for any number of reasons.

The most common reasons pets end up homeless are:

  • Moving
  • Divorce
  • People losing a home or job
  • Unplanned litters due to pets not being spayed or neutered
  • People feeling they no longer have enough time or desire to properly care for a pet

Because of these reasons, right now there are hundreds of great pets at shelters and with rescue groups waiting for someone to choose them. That’s why adopting an animal is the best way to add a new pet to your family.

Animal shelters near me: How to find them

Finding an animal shelter isn’t difficult. Every community has pets who need homes and are just waiting for someone to come and take them home. Check your city and county websites to begin, because most municipalities have provisions for housing homeless pets. Most shelters and rescue groups also showcase their pets online, which makes it easy to get an idea of what animals are there waiting for homes.

Beyond city and county animal shelters, most areas also have nonprofit organizations (some large and some small) that have dogs for adoption and cats for adoption.

Adopted tortoiseshell cat

Reasons to adopt a pet

One great reason for adopting a pet instead of buying one is that, typically, pets for adoption from shelters and rescue groups are already spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Those services can cost hundreds of dollars, and when you adopt a pet, you not only save a life but you save a lot of money as well.

Instead of looking for say, small dogs for sale, think about looking for small dogs for adoption. Beware of pet stores or online pet sellers who just use the word “adopt” instead of buy. If there are lots of purebred or designer dogs and cats available (with more coming all the time), or if the pets all come from breeders, then that is not adoption. Some sellers have just changed their language to use the word “adopt” instead of “buy,” but the dangers are the same. The animals could be from mills, as are most all animals from pet stores and online pet sellers.

Puppies for sale: What’s wrong with that?

Purebred dogs and designer dogs were once a popular choice for people interested in getting a new pet. But times have changed, and now more than ever people are heading to shelters or rescue groups in search of a puppy or adult dog to bring home. That’s because dog adoption is becoming more mainstream as people move away from spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on purebreds.

Part of the shift is because for the average person in the market for a great pet, dog pedigrees just don’t matter. What’s more important is a dog’s personality, and “preloved” dogs have just as much of that.

To many people, a puppy for sale might not seem all that different than puppies for adoption, but the truth is that when you choose to buy from a dog breeder, pet store or anywhere else, it has a lasting impact— and not in a good way.

Consumers are getting smarter about a lot of things they buy, including caring more about where their purchases come from and how they’re made. Well, it’s not all that different with pets.

When you choose to adopt a pet instead of buy one, you can not only find adorable, unique, fun, sweet dogs and cats at local shelters and animal rescue groups, but you also become part of the solution to the homeless pet problem.

When people choose to buy a pet instead of adopt, they are part of the problem. And it can be even worse if someday those purchased pets (who are almost never spayed or neutered at purchase) have litters of puppies or kittens. It’s easy to see how one decision to buy instead of adopt has a snowball effect that leads to pets dying unnecessarily in shelters.

Adopted corgi dog

Pet stores that sell puppies

Now more than ever before, people have learned the truth behind pet stores and puppy mills. It’s not pretty. Any store that has pups for sale likely gets them from puppy breeders that are very different from what people imagine. Instead of a cozy home where the breeding dogs live as pets, puppies for sale in pet stores come from commercial dog breeders, also known as puppy mills. Learn more about puppy mills here.

Dog breeding takes a lot of time and effort, and when a person or company’s goal is profit (which is the case with pet stores) they need to keep costs low and profits high, just like any other business.

Dog breeding and dogs for sale

At Best Friends we recommend that people choose adoption from a shelter or rescue group rather than buying from a breeder.

Seeing cute dogs for sale might make it tempting to buy dogs online or from a pet store, but a quick search on one of many pet finder sites will show that there are adorable dogs (as well as cats, kittens and puppies) waiting for homes in shelters and rescue groups.

Meanwhile, backyard breeders and pet mills are notorious for overbreeding dogs. And some cat breeders have also been found to have mill-like conditions, where adult animals are bred over and over for the sole purpose of churning out puppies or kittens. The animals are kept in small cages 24/7 with little human interaction and no love. It’s a horrible life for the breeding animals, and unfortunately, it results in sick puppies and kittens.

Have you ever wondered why puppy mills are bad? Visit this website for more information.

Find a pet

Once you’ve decided you want to adopt a pet, the next step is finding just the right one to fit in with your family — even if your family is just you and your future pet. Whether you head to your local shelter or start with a pet search online, the best approach is to think about the kind of personality that will be the best match for you.

If you have a lot of time, patience and are willing to dedicate yourself to training classes, then it might be a good fit for you to adopt a puppy. Puppy adoption also means being prepared for messes, potty training and the danger of things getting chewed up.

If you decide a puppy is the right choice for you, rescued puppies are just as adorable as puppies for sale online or anywhere else.

More importantly, buying dogs online or going to a pet store with puppies is the worst option for finding a new pet. Why? Because puppy mill statistics prove that just about all puppies for sale online and in pet stores come from puppy mills.

Cat adoption, whether you’re looking for rescued kittens or full-grown cats, also means matching up your lifestyle with the individual cat. Do you love the idea of a feisty kitten who will want to play with everything he can get his paws into, or a mellower, older lap cat? Either way, rescue shelters are a great place from which to adopt.

Shelter staff or rescue group volunteers are a great help in matching up pets with the right families. They truly care about the animals and can help people pick out pets whose personalities are a good fit with their lifestyle.

Adopt from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Adopted terrier mix dog

Adoption process

People who want to adopt a rescued dog or cat should come to the shelter or rescue group prepared to answer some questions about what sort of personality they’re looking for in a pet.

Depending on whether you head to your local shelter or pet pound, or if you’re working with a no-kill pet rescue group, the adoption process will vary. Some city or county shelters only require that adopters bring a photo ID. Other shelters and most rescue groups ask potential adopters to fill out an application to adopt their pet of choice. Some organizations prefer to visit people’s homes before agreeing to send home a pet with a new family. Each organization has its own process based on its needs and the animals’ needs.

There is typically a fee to adopt a pet, and it is almost always less than the cost of buying a pet. Each organization sets its own fees as well. It’s important to note that rescued pets for adoption are usually spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped by the rescuing organization.

Part of the higher cost to buy puppies online or from a local breeder, as well as to buy kittens, is usually because they come with registration papers. But dog registration papers are just written records of a dog’s name and the name of the dog’s parents (going a few generations back). In no way do registration papers indicate that the dog or cat is “high quality,” came from a good place or is healthy or well-behaved.

In fact, animals in cat and dog mills are almost always registered. While the fancy papers are filed away, the animals may be dirty, sick, and unsocialized, with no hope of ever getting out of the mill as long as people continue to buy their babies.

No-kill shelters and rescue groups

At no-kill organizations, pets are not killed as a means of population control. In these shelters and rescue groups, pets are only humanely euthanized in cases of terminal and painful illness when compassion demands euthanasia because there is no reasonable alternative. These shelters and rescue groups have rejected the idea that it’s necessary to kill pets when the shelter fills up. Instead, proven programs are in place to reduce the number of pets coming in, and to increase the number of pets leaving shelters alive.

This mindset has brought down the number of dogs and cats being killed annually in the U.S. from about 17 million in the 1980s to approximately 2 million today. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do.

Every day, nearly 5,500 dogs and cats are killed in America's shelters, simply because they don't have safe places to call home. That number doesn't include the 2,000 euthanized each day for incurable sickness or insurmountable behavior problems. Nearly 5,500 are killed, even though they could have made wonderful pets. But we’re working to change that.

Adopt from a shelter or rescue near you

Adopted black and white cat

No-kill communities

Best Friends advocates not just for no-kill organizations, but for entire communities working together to end the unnecessary killing of pets. The accepted benchmark of a no-kill community is when its pet shelters are able to save at least 90 percent of the animals they take in. There are successful no-kill models in communities such as Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; and Brown County, Indiana. Learn about those communities and more here.

Building a no-kill community typically involves many groups, the public and municipalities coming together to solve homeless pet problems. Tactics include high volume adoptions, economically targeted spay/neuter, helping families keep their pets, making adoption the first choice for community residents, and many other programs that reduce the number of pets entering shelters, and increase the number who leave alive.

Through our annual Best Friends National Conference, we share information and tools for people around the country to go home and work toward achieving no-kill in their own communities. And through the No More Homeless Pets Network, Best Friends shares resources and gives grants to shelters and rescue groups across the country. There are hundreds of network partners: Click here for a list of participating organizations.

Meanwhile, Best Friends has two initiatives to bring Los Angeles, California, and the entire state of Utah to no-kill status. Learn more about those initiatives at nkla.org and nkut.org.

The bottom line on pet adoption

Pets bring joy to millions of people every day. Whether you head to a local shelter or search online for a group that rescues dogs of your favorite breed, the right pet is out there for you. After all, the best kind of pet is one that is adopted.

Adopt a pet from Best Friends or one of our partners

  • Learn more about how to adopt, and start the search for your next pet on our website.
  • Learn more about animal care, adoption, training and more.

Buy pets? No way, opt to adopt!