Pet Adoption: How to Find a Dog, Cat, or Other Pet to Adopt

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 also truly a feel-good experience. Every day, dogs and cats are killed in America’s shelters simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. But with pet adoption, you have the benefit of knowing you truly did save a life.

Reasons to adopt a pet

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

Plus, you have choices among a wide variety of pets when you adopt — young to old, small to large, couch potato to high energy. Instead of searching online for, say, "small dogs for sale," instead search for "small dogs for adoption." 

At Best Friends Animal Society, 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 a dog online or from a pet store, but a quick search on or will show that there are adorable dogs (as well as puppies, cats, kittens, and other animals) waiting for homes in shelters and rescue groups.

Meanwhile, backyard breeders and pet mills are notorious for overbreeding animals. Adult animals are bred over and over for the sole purpose of churning out pets for sale. 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 it often results in sick pets for sale.

Take Action to Stop Puppy Mills

Woman sitting outside a doorway with her adopted dog

How to find pets for adoption near you

Pet adoption has become more and more popular and accessible, and there are now many different ways to find the right adoptable pet for your lifestyle. City and county animal shelters, nonprofit shelters, and rescue groups are full of pets who have lost their homes for any number of reasons. The most common reasons pets end up homeless are:

  • Moving
  • Divorce
  • Loss of a home or job
  • Unplanned litters due to pets not being spayed or neutered
  • No longer having the time or desire to properly care for a pet

Because of these and other reasons, right now there are lots 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.

See How Animal Shelters in Your Community Are Doing

Every community has pets who need homes, and finding an animal shelter isn't difficult. To begin, search for the websites for your city and county government because most municipalities have facilities for housing homeless pets. Beyond municipal animal shelters, most areas also have nonprofit organizations (some large and some small) that have pets for adoption. And because most shelters and rescue groups showcase their pets online, this makes it easy to get an idea of which homeless pets are there. 

One caution though: Because pet adoption is becoming more and more popular, some pet stores or online pet sellers have changed their language to use the word “adopt” instead of “buy.” So be sure to look for red flags that the pet is really from a breeder or mill — e.g., there are lots of purebred or designer dogs and cats available (with more coming all the time) or the fee to acquire the pet is more than a few hundred dollars. That is not adoption. Make sure the website belongs to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or municipal shelter or rescue group that’s adopting out pets.

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Find a Pet to Adopt Near You

Tabby cat being held in a person's arm

How to choose the right pet for you

Once you're ready to adopt a pet, the next step is finding just the right pet for you and your lifestyle. 

If you have time and patience and are willing to dedicate yourself to training a dog, then adopting a puppy might be a good fit. Puppy adoption also means being prepared for messes, potty training, and possibly things in your house getting chewed up. If you decide a puppy is the right choice for you, remember that rescued puppies are just as adorable as puppies for sale online or at pet stores.

If you decide to adopt a cat, consider whether you want a kitten or an adult cat. Do you love the idea of a feisty kitten who will entertain you with their antics? Or would you prefer a mellower cat who likes curling up on your lap? Either way, shelters and rescue groups have lots of cats and kittens to choose from.

The staff and volunteers at shelters and rescue groups are a great help in matching pets with families. They truly care about the animals and can help prospective adopters pick out pets whose personalities are a good fit with their lifestyle.

Person petting the head of a white dog

The pet adoption process

The pet adoption process will vary depending on whether you head to your local shelter or a rescue group. To ensure the best possible match for both the pet and the adopter, most shelters and rescue groups ask potential adopters to fill out an application or questionnaire. 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 from a breeder or pet store. Each organization sets its own fees, and the adoption fee often includes spay/neuter, vaccinations, and microchipping.

Part of the higher cost of buying puppies or kittens online or from pet stores is due to the registration papers that the pets often come with. But those registration papers are just written records of a pet’s name and the name of the pet’s parents (going a few generations back). In no way do registration papers indicate that the dog or cat is high quality, healthy, or well socialized. In fact, the animals (who often come from kitten or puppy mills) might be sick and unsocialized, resulting in heartache and substantial expense for the people who purchase them.

No-kill shelters and rescue groups

At no-kill organizations, pets are not killed as a means of making room for more animals. In these shelters and rescue groups, pets' lives are ended only in cases of irremediable illness, injury, or behavior problems when compassion demands euthanasia because there is no reasonable alternative. 

No-kill organizations 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 into the shelter and to increase the number of pets leaving alive.

This mindset has brought down the number of dogs and cats being killed annually in the U.S. from an estimated 17 million in the 1980s to 415,000 in 2023. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do.

Every day, dogs and cats are killed in America’s shelters simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. These animals could have made wonderful pets. But we’re working to change that.

Adopt From a Shelter or Rescue Group Near You

Person sitting on a couch with an orange tabby kitten in his lap

No-kill communities

Best Friends Animal Society advocates for no-kill not just for organizations but for entire communities. A community is considered no-kill when all of its shelters are saving at least 90% of the animals they take in.

Building a no-kill community typically involves a range of community members and groups working together to save the lives of homeless pets. To achieve no-kill, communities implement lifesaving strategies, such as encouraging adoption and making it accessible to all, offering low-cost or free spay/neuter, and helping families keep their pets when they are struggling.

During the annual Best Friends National Conference, we share information and resources with participants from around the country, so they can go home and work toward achieving no-kill in their own communities. And through the Best Friends Network, we share resources and give grants to shelters and rescue groups across the country. A Best Friends Network Partner is a good place to find a pet to adopt.

Find a Best Friends Network Partner Near You

The bottom line on pet adoption

Pets bring joy, love, and laughter to millions of people every day. Whether you head to a local shelter or search online for a rescue group, the right pet for you is out there. After all, the best kind of pet is one who is adopted.

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Be our Best Friend

Best Friends Animal Society is working with you to save the lives of cats and dogs all across the country, giving pets second chances and happy homes.

Just a few short years ago, cats and dogs were killed in staggering numbers in this country simply because shelters didn't have the community support or the resources to save their lives. That number is now less that half a million per year, but there's still work to do to ensure a bright future for every dog and cat in America.

Best Friends operates the nation's largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals and is committed to saving the lives of homeless pets by working with shelters and passionate people like you. Together, we will bring the whole country to no-kill in 2025. Together, we will Save Them All.