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What to Expect When You’re Adopting

So you’ve decided to adopt a pet – congratulations! For many people, this journey starts online, with a search on a website such as There, you can see pets available for adoption near you, and narrow your results by species, breed, age, sex, and other criteria.

While the search might feel a bit online shopping, the similarities end there. Once you find a pet you’re interested in, adopting isn’t a one-click process. Here’s how to be prepared when you’ve found a pet you want to bring home.

Understand Where You’re Adopting From

The pet you find online will either be at a shelter or in a private foster home, often through a volunteer-run rescue group (although some shelters also provide foster homes for certain pets). Where you’re adopting from will determine much about your adoption experience.


If the organization has a name that contains “Humane Society,” “SPCA,” or “Animal Shelter,” or if it has a street address rather than a P.O. box, it’s a shelter. That means it has a physical location where you can meet the adoptable pets in person. 

Be sure to check its hours, and note that in the age of covid, you may need to make an appointment. Either way, it will save you time if you submit an application in advance of your visit. The shelter’s website will tell you what documentation you should bring to adopt.


  • Shelters often have less arduous application processes than rescue groups
  • You can generally meet the pets any time during visitor hours
  • If a pet is spayed or neutered, you might be able to take him home the day of your visit
  • You can meet many pets at one time


  • Shelter staff might not have much background on the pet
  • A pet’s behavior in a shelter won’t necessarily reflect his behavior in a home

Rescue Groups

If a pet is in the care of a volunteer-run rescue organization and living in a foster home, you probably won’t be able to meet him until your application has been approved. Then you’ll need to coordinate with the foster caregiver on when and where to meet.

Rescue groups may take a long time to respond to your application, or you might not hear back at all. This is certainly frustrating. Try to understand that the volunteers running the organization are busy and doing their best; also, some pets might get hundreds of applications and volunteers might not be able to respond to all of them. It’s nothing personal.


  • The pet’s foster can give you a lot of information about how the pet behaves in a home
  • The pet will be less stressed and you’ll get a better sense of his true personality
  • Rescue groups often work hard to resolve pets’ health and behavior issues
  • Many rescue groups will be available to provide advice long after you adopt 


  • Rescue groups are often more selective about adopters than shelters
  • The application process is usually more in-depth
  • Adoption fees can be higher

Applications, Applications, Applications!

You’ll need to fill out an application for any pet you want to adopt, and every adoption group has its own application. Some are pretty long! Since you might end up applying for several pets, it helps to keep a Word document with answers to the most common questions (such as vet and personal references) to copy and paste.

If you live in an apartment, chances are, you’ll be asked to prove you’re allowed to have the pet you’re interested in, whether by providing a copy of your lease or your landlord’s contact information.  

You may also be asked to agree to a home visit, especially if you’re adopting from a rescue group. While this might seem invasive, it’s just to ensure the pet will be safe in your home – and it can be a good source of information! Many a hole in a fence has been discovered during a home visit.

Adoption Fees

Adopting isn’t free, but no adoption group is turning a profit on their pets. The pet you adopt will be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and often microchipped, and your fee will be much less than what you’d spend on those services if you were to purchase a pet.

Your pet will also most likely have received additional health care. “Typically, adoption fees reflect the level of investment that groups make into animals in their care,” says Jessica Arnold, member success manager at “Spay/neuter surgeries can range from $200 to well over $1,000 depending on the species, size, age and overall health of the animal.”

Tips for Getting Approved

First of all, be courteous in your communications with the adoption group, and provide lots of detail in your application. Many people think adoption groups are desperate to get pets into homes as quickly as possible, when in fact they’re looking for the best fit for each pet.

If you’re turned down for a pet, don’t take it personally. Ask the adoption group if there’s another pet they think might be a better match for you. Remember, they know the pets’ personalities best.

Finally, cast a wide net and apply for lots of pets, keeping in mind that young ones, small breeds, and purebred animals get a lot of applications. Don’t give up – the perfect match is out there for you! –Emily Fromm, Chief Development Officer, The Petfinder Foundation

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