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The Adoption Process: What to Expect

How to get ready for your visit to the shelter or rescue

  • Now that you've fallen in love with your next pet, be ready to help the shelter or rescue make it official. Kristin Murphy/For The HSUS

Shelters and rescue groups ask a lot of questions of prospective adopters for two main reasons:
1. To ensure long-term homes for the animals in their care
2. To facilitate good matches between customers and their adopted companions.

What questions will I be asked before adopting?

Most shelters require adopters to complete an application. In addition to basic contact information, the application is likely to include questions about the following areas:

  • Your housing situation (renting vs. owning)
  • The number and ages of any children in your household
  • The number and type of other pets you may own
  • The name and contact information of your veterinarian
  • Your previous experience with pets
  • Your activity level, lifestyle, and expectations for a new animal

Shelters and rescue groups each have their own particular approach to re-homing animals, and organizations vary widely in the amount of detail they request in their adoption applications. Ideally, the adoption process is structured more like an open conversation than a series of yes-or-no, right-or-wrong questions. The goal is to balance the interests of two different sets of customers: the animals and the adopters.

Why do shelters and rescues ask adopters so many questions?

Consider why pets are surrendered in the first place. Among the top five reasons that people give up their pets, three are common to both dogs and cats: landlord issues, moving, and the cost of pet care. For dogs, the other most common reasons include lack of time and inadequate facilities. For cats, it's allergies and having too many cats to care for.

Many animals lose their homes because their owners weren't prepared to invest the necessary money and time to care for a pet. In other cases, families and pets are mismatched. Consider these all-too-common scenarios:

  • A high-energy dog is adopted by a family that doesn't have time for extensive daily exercise
  • A skittish kitten is chosen by rambunctious children whose parents aren't inclined to actively supervise their kids
  • A bunny with a predictable fondness for chewing catches the eye of someone who has no interest in rabbit-proofing her home.

To prevent such painful situations for both the pets and people involved, shelters and rescue groups carefully evaluate adopters in the hope of avoiding these mismatched relationships.

How can I prepare myself to adopt a pet?

Many shelters and rescue groups have information about their adoption process on their websites so you can know in advance what to expect. If possible, it's helpful to examine the adoption process thoroughly before going to the shelter.

You'll have a relationship with your pet for many years to come, so it's worth being patient and taking your time to carefully consider what kind of pet—big or small, energetic or relaxed, older or younger—is right for you. Before you head to the shelter, ask yourself some questions that will help you figure out exactly what kind of critter will best fit your lifestyle and personality.

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