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.

Things To Consider

Why do you want a pet?

Make a list of the reasons you’re considering a pet: companionship, workout partner, friend for another pet, etc.
  1. Are you prepared for the responsibility and problems that a pet may cause?
    • Examples: shedding, cleaning up after the pet’s accidents and messes, damaged furniture, training, bathing, feeding, exercising, medical problems, etc.

Lifestyle

  1. Do you live alone or with others?
  2. Do you have or want children?
  3. Do you currently have pets?
  4. Do you have enough space at home to accommodate your pet?
  5. Can you have a pet where you live? If so, what types are allowed? ( Click here for a good Renting with Pets article from the Humane Society).

    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.
  6. Who will care for the pet? (Parents: ask this questions a few times, who will care for the pet?)
  7. Do you travel extensively? Would you like to take your pet with you when you travel?
  8. Who will (or how will you) care for the pet when you’re away, at work, or unavailable?
  9. What activities do you enjoy? What activities would you like to do with your pet?

Cost

Be sure you can afford the pet you’re considering. Costs can run from a few hundred to a thousand dollars each year.
  1. Evaluate your current household budget and estimate how much you are willing to spend each month on your pet.
    • Click here for a breakdown of average yearly pet costs from the ASPCA. (NOTE: You must have Macromedia Flash player in order to see the Pet Care Cost list).
  2. What amount do you have to spend on a pet?

Pet/Breed Characteristics

  1. Decide if you want a cat, dog, bird, reptile, rodent, fish - here are some considerations:
    • Are you or other family members allergic to a certain type of animal?
    • Would you prefer a small, medium or large pet?
    • Would you prefer a male or female pet?
    • Would you prefer a young pet or adult pet?
    • Would you like a people or child-friendly pet?
    • Do you mind if the animal sheds (loses its hair regularly)?
    • Would you like the pet to be trained?
    • Also, consider your answers to the Lifestyle questions above – they can also help you narrow down your breed choices
  2. Do research to find an animal and a breed that matches your habits, lifestyle, activities and budget.
    • A “breed” is a special variety of animal in a domesticated species. For instance, a “retriever” is a breed of dog and “Siamese” is a breed of cat. Certain breeds have a reputation as being good with people and children.

    WHN TIP: Purebred

    There are “purebred” animals: an animal with both parents from the same breed, and “mixed breed” animals: an animal with one or both parents from mixed or different breeds. The difference? Purebreds tend to follow a general “breed standard” for physical and behavioral characteristics. Learn more about purebred dogs from the American Kennel Club (AKC) or about purebred cats from The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA).
  3. Talk to other people who have an animal or breed you are interested in.
    • Don’t know any? Go to a local park, 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. Be sure to talk to several people with this breed in order to make comparisons and note trends.

    WHN TIP: Is There a Vet Nearby?

    Begin looking for a vet. Not only can a vet help you with your pet’s first vaccinations and your pet’s health needs, they can also help you choose a pet and breed that might best match your lifestyle.

Adopting a Pet

  1. Consider where you would like to purchase your pet. Some options include:
    • Your local humane society or shelter:
    • Local purebred rescue groups (for a list of dog associations go here.)
    • Breeders (Choosing a good breeder (PDF): Humane Society article
    • Pet shops
    • Newspaper classifieds
    • Search the Net
  2. After deciding on where, call the location to arrange a visit. Consider asking a few questions over the phone to save time in your search:
    • Do they have animals of the breed or species you’re looking for?

      WHN TIP: You’ll Find One!

      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
    • Do you have an adoption counselor? May I make an appointment to meet with a counselor?

      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.
    • When can I visit the animal?
    • May I bring my children to see how well the animal interacts with them?
  3. At the Shelter, Breeder or Pet Store

    1. Allow plenty of time for your visit, especially if visiting a breeder or a shelter.

      “Many people think …they can just pick any pet they choose and take the pet home,” says Betty Bilton, Northeast Animal Shelter. “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.”

    2. Be sure to bring all of your family members along to help make the decision.

      WHN Expert TIP: Bring Current Pets

      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
    3. Bring a pen and paper to take notes and a camera to take a picture of the animal you are considering. You may also need to bring:
      • Bring a tax bill or mortgage statement as proof of home ownership OR a lease stating that you are allowed to have a pet. Bring along your landlord's phone number in case the shelter or breeder needs to contact him or her.
      • An ID with current address.
    4. Look at the facility.
      • Is it clean?
      • Is it free of odors and mess?
      • Does it appear to be a safe and happy environment for the animals?
    5. Evaluate the owners or operators of the facility.
      • Are the they friendly with the animals?
      • Do the animals like the owners/operators?
      • Are the owners/operators friendly with you?
      • Do the owners/operators ask questions? Provide answers?

      WHN Expert TIP: Keep This In Mind

      Remember the owner, breeder or shelter worker is evaluating you as well to see if you’d be a good owner for the animal.
    6. Get to know the animal. Ask questions.
      • 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?
      • 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: 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

      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
    7. As you spend time with the animal, be observant.
      • Is it friendly?
      • Is it an active animal or more reserved?
      • How good is the animal with children?
      • Is it well-trained?
      • Does the animals mother or father seem to be good-natured and well-behaved?
    8. Proper care depends on whom you are getting the pet from. Breeders have a lot of information, while shelters may simply not have the background on the animal. In any case, ask questions about the proper care of the animal – your vet will also be able to answers these questions if the place you’re purchasing the pet from cannot:
      • What veterinarians do you recommend?
      • When should I take the animal to the vet?
      • What vaccinations are needed? When?
      • Are there any medications the animal needs? How often does it need the meds? What about refills?
      • 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?
    9. Making a decision
      • 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.

    Last Updated: 5/2009