Where to find animals you can take home
You probably know by now that buying a pet is a bad idea; you can never know for sure whether or not your pet comes from someplace like a puppy farm. That means you'll need to find a rescue group, local humane society, or an animal shelter. Of course, that means you'll also have a lot of options, especially since adoptions are often much less expensive than purchases and include a number of medical services as a part of the fee.
We can suggest local shelters or organizations, and we may even be able to let you know about any special adoption events in the area. Or, if you aren't local, simply do a Google search for your city and state with the terms "animal shelter." Municipal shelters and local welfare societies will be in your search results.
Another great way to connect with local rescue groups is to head to — believe it or not — Petco or PetSmart. While both of these companies are national corporations, both have made a promise to partner with rescue organizations in order to save adoptable pets from being euthanized. You can find organization information and even meet adoptable animals in store.
If you're too impatient to head to a shelter or store, are a little more remote, or are just looking for more options, there are online services that can help you connect with pets locally and across the country. Some rescue groups are even willing to fly animals from one location to another if it means the animal will have a loving home! Here are just a few of your online options:
How to choose your new pet
You might already know exactly what you're looking for in a pet, and that's great! Be sure to chat with adoption staff to make sure that your expectations for what you'll need to do, how much it will cost, and how your pet will behave are realistic. After all, just because a dog is tiny enough to live in an apartment doesn't mean the dog will be quiet enough.
This is especially important if you already have pets, have children, or are adopting an older animal. Some animals are too rough to be around children, or react poorly to other animals. It isn't fair to you or your pet to put them in a situation that's going to make them uncomfortable or afraid and which may cause them to lash out.
Some sites, like the ASPCA, have suggestions on how to pick the right animal for you. That's not just about breed, it's also for helping to decide between a dog and a guinea pig. Other sites offer experts that will suggest matches based on your needs, including AdoptAPet.com. And of course, visiting pets at the local shelter or talking directly with foster-pet parents will help you know exactly what the animal needs. Some shelters or organizations may even offer home visits with the animal before adoption to make sure it's a good fit.
Actually adopting your new pet
Before adopting your pet, you'll want to make sure you're already ready to bring an animal home. You don't want to bring a cat home without a litter box, or bring back a bird with no cage for it to nest in. If you need to pet-proof your home, that should be done beforehand as well. You should also be sure you've got some free time to help your pet adjust to its new surroundings, especially if you have kids or already have pets. Once you're ready, you can contact the shelter or rescue group.
Every organization is going to have a slightly different process and price for adoption, but there is a general process that you should be prepared for.
1. Filling out an adoption application. (This may be a general form for eligibility, or may pertain to an animal in particular.)
2. Choosing your animal.
3. Filing an adoption agreement formalizing fees and declaring the health status and current vaccinations for your animal.
4. Paying adoption fees.
5. Finalized medical care for services not already rendered (e.g., spaying).
6. Transporting your animal home.