Types of pet adoptions

Millions of dogs and cats, and sometimes other pets, are available for adoption at local animal shelters or through rescue groups. These animals are typically surrendered by pet owners who can no longer care for them, or recovered by local animal control officers as strays.

A public animal shelter is usually government-owned, obligated to receive all animals, and often operates as a kill facility when medical, behavioral or space needs require it. Shelters might also be operated by private, nonprofit groups that do not euthanize. In addition, pets can be adopted through rescue groups, which may or may not have a building.

Private animal shelters and rescue groups may place animals in foster care to expand their capacity or nurture animals, especially in cases where the animal may be recovering from a medical procedure. Rescue groups often arrange for animals to be transported to new foster families or forever homes via volunteer drivers.

Highly rated animal shelters and rescue groups often ensure that the rescued animals are vaccinated, spayed or neutered and treated for medical conditions before placing the animals up for adoption.

Whichever facility you choose for your animal companion, you’re helping to save a life by not adding to the nation’s pet overpopulation problem. According to the Humane Society of the United States, an estimated 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized at animal shelters every year — many because they could not find families to adopt them.

Take time finding your perfect pet

It’s important to take time to find the right pet for your family and avoid adopting an animal on impulse. To find the best pet that fits with your family and lifestyle, look for a pet shelter or rescue group that has an extensive matchmaking process — a sign that the organization strives to find forever homes instead of simply making room for more animals.

For example, ask whether the shelter or group conducts behavior assessments on the animals. These will identify something as common as a dog growling at people who come near its food or cats that show signs of aggression or shyness.

Adopters often can get a good feel for an animal shelter by walking through it. Make sure the animals don’t look lethargic, and report animal health concerns to the government or nonprofit group that oversees the shelter. Foster-based groups can be more difficult to assess, but the group’s screening policies and documented vet care speaks volumes.

Before adopting, ask to see the pet’s health records. A state-issued health certification will tell you whether the pet is up to date on vaccines, deworming and has had a negative fecal exam. You may think you're getting a deal if the shelter or group doesn’t provide these documents, but in the long run, you’ll pay more. Puppies get sick and vet bills add up quickly.

You can find highly rated animal shelters and rescue groups under the Animal Rescues/Shelters category on Angie's List. Want to see how many animal shelters or rescue groups service your area, and find other related info? Search for your city here and look under Animal Rescues/Shelters.

How to fit a pet into your lifestyle

Many animal shelters and rescue groups require prospective adopters to complete an extensive interview process, including questions about their lifestyle, before approving a pet adoption.

Caring for a new pet requires more than just providing food, water and shelter. You need to make sure your lifestyle is the right one for your pet. Consider these questions, posed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

1. Why do you want to adopt a pet? Are you looking for a loyal companion for yourself, or maybe your child? Understanding why will help determine the species and breed that best fits your lifestyle.

2. Are you ready to make a long-term commitment? Adopting a pet requires a commitment to care for an animal for the rest of its life — that could mean 10 to 15 years for dogs and up to 20 years for cats.

3. Do you know what kind of pet is right for you? Your personality and lifestyle, along with space restrictions and amount of time spent at home, should be explored before adopting a pet. Ask shelter staffers what animals they recommend.

4. Can you afford to care for your pet's health and safety? Owning a dog or cat costs more than the initial adoption fee. Food, veterinary care, spaying or neutering and microchipping for proper identification can add up.

5. Will you be able to spend quality time together? Both dogs and cats require daily attention. If your work demands that you travel often, or if you're out of the house most days and evenings, this may not be the right time to adopt.

6. Are you prepared to deal with a pet’s health challenges? Fleas, allergies, and sudden medical issues —often requiring a large financial investment — are just a few of the health-related problems that potential pet owners may face.

7. Are you willing to train your animal companion? Lack of training is one of the most common reasons that adopters return pets to shelters.

8. Are you prepared to pet-proof your home? Whether it's tightly sealing your garbage cans or avoiding dangerous holiday decorations, you’ll need to make your home safe before adopting.

9. Is your living space adequate for a pet? Energetic, large-breed dogs need room to roam; some cats get anxious when exposed to loud noises. Also, some landlords restrict pets, so ask before you adopt one.

10. Is your family ready for a pet? Young children may not be ready to help care for a pet. And, if you have another pet in the household, they may not be ready to share their home and play nice.

What does it cost to adopt a pet?

According to the ASPCA, adoption prices from shelters or rescue groups can range from $50 to $300 for a dog or $30 to $150 for a cat. Be sure to ask what the adoption fee includes, such as vaccinations, a microchip and vet care for the first 30 days.

Once you have adopted a pet, be prepared to pay for veterinary care. The average cost for veterinary care varies greatly depending on your geographical location, the type and size of the animal, and the general health of your pet.

Here are some costs that your local animal shelter or rescue group may have included in their adoption fees:

• Spay or neuter — ASPCA says the average dog spay or neuter can range from $45 to $175 for an animal shelter, plus $10 to 30 for pain relief medication. If you have your adopted dog spayed or neutered on your own, it could cost anywhere from $200 to $500 or more.

• Shots — The cost of vaccinations for dogs to prevent distemper, parvo, kennel cough as well as rabies can cost approximately $40 for the animal shelter, if not more, the ASPCA says. If your adopted dog has been in the shelter for a few months, they’ve most likely received a monthly booster.  If you were to pay for these vaccinations, it could cost $20 to $150.

• Parasite Treatments and Preventives —De-wormer medications can cost approximately $10 to $30, assuming that no labs are need. Lyme disease treatment can cost anywhere from $20 to $100. Treating for heartworms costs at least $1,000 on average if you were to pay for it yourself.

• Microchips — A good shelter will not allow their animals to leave the premise without first being microchipped. The cost for an animal shelter to microchip their animals is approximately $20. However, the cost to microchip your dog on your own can range anywhere from $45 to $60. Keep in mind that once your pet is microchipped, you will have to pay to keep the microchip active. Most microchips cost about $15 to $20 per year to renew.

Common pet adoption problems

Common problems found with shelter pets and rescue group animals include skin and ear irritations, as well as diseases such as heartworm, parvo and distemper.

If the shelter or rescue group provides no health documentation, take the new pet to a vet for a physical exam, which ranges from $100 to $150. Older animals may cost more because they typically need additional lab work.

Most animal shelters and rescues include costs for spaying or neutering in their adoption fee. Some groups provide basic vaccinations and medical treatment, and will also microchip pets. Many groups partner with local veterinarians or pet supply stores to provide additional services or products at no cost or a low cost to adopters.

Ask about return policies before you adopt a pet. If the adoption doesn’t work out and you can no longer keep the animal, many shelters and groups require the animals be returned, albeit without a refund. Some groups will pay for dog training or vet visits for unidentified illnesses to make the animal more adoptable.

Some rescue groups offer "foster-to-adopt" programs for potential adopters to make sure the animal is a good fit. These programs allow you to essentially try out your new pet for a specified period of time — typically one to two weeks — before finalizing the adoption. It also allows the rescue group to follow up and make sure your pet is spayed or neutered and up to date on all of its shots.

You will typically be required to fill out an application, and the group may conduct a home visit or require a vet background check. Some rescue groups also require a contract and deposit, the latter of which may be applied toward your adoption fee.

Other options for pet ownership

You might also choose to buy a puppy instead of adopting one. It is important to be certain you are buying from a responsible breeder who breeds and sells only healthy well-socialized puppies.

Responsible breeders typically do not sell their puppies to pet stores. Most responsible breeders want to meet and screen prospective owners to ensure that their puppies are going to good homes.

A handful of cities have made it illegal for pet stores to sell dogs and cats in hopes of shutting down the puppy mills believed to supply many of them. Several others are considering a ban. The laws are intended to encourage pet stores to follow the lead of national chains like Petsmart, Petco and Pet Supermarket. None sells dogs; instead, they promote adoptions through shelters and rescue groups.

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