Ready to add a four-legged or winged friend to your home? Pet adoption is a great way to go: Not only does adopting a pet—whether it’s a cat, dog, pig, or parakeet—from an animal rescue organization save a life, it can save you money, too. Purchasing an animal from a pet store or breeder can cost thousands of dollars, while adopting—with fees averaging in the low hundreds—is a bargain by comparison. “Most of the time the pet will be up-to-date on vaccinations, checked out by a veterinarian, and sometimes neutered and spayed [and microchipped]—and all of this is built into the adoption fee,” says Katya L. Friedman of Adopt-a-Pet.com.
The pet adoption approval process typically involves an application and interview; some organizations also require a home visit and a veterinary referral. If you think you’re ready to find the perfect companion, check out these online and in-person sources.
2 of 9petfinder.com
What it is: Petfinder.com provides a searchable list of pets from thousands of shelters and adoption groups around North America. Started as a New Year’s resolution by its two co-founders, it enables shelter animals to have exposure to potential adopters 24 hours a day, seven days a week—and it was the first of its kind.
How it works: Go to Petfinder.com and plug in your search criteria, including your location. Petfinder doesn’t advocate sight-unseen adoptions, but with over 350,000 pets at any given time, chances are you’ll find one in your own area.
Why it’s unique: “Petfinder allows people to take their time when searching for the pet that’s right for them—without having to stand in a shelter and feel pressure or guilt,” explains Kim Saunders, vice president of shelter outreach and public relations. “You can go through [the list of homeless animals] on Petfinder with both your head and your heart.” Most of Petfinder’s animals are cats and dogs, but rabbits are close behind—and you can even find less conventional pets, like pigs, tarantulas, sheep, frogs, horses, snakes, and alpacas.
3 of 9adoptapet.com
What it is: Adopt-a-Pet.com is North America's largest non-profit homeless pet adoption Web site. It began in 2000 as "1-800-Save-a-Pet.com," a program to help end the overpopulation of animal shelters in Los Angeles; today, over 12,000 animal shelters, rescue groups, SPCAs, and humane societies use its free service to advertise their adoptable animals.
How it works: Go to adoptapet.com, enter your zip code, and search its database for the perfect pet or for a shelter or rescue near you.
Why it’s unique: In addition to dogs and cats, Adopt-a-Pet.com lists rabbits, gerbils, ferrets, hamsters, farm animals, amphibians, and birds. Don’t see the animal you want? Check out the “Search Saver” feature, which sends you alerts when an animal that matches your criteria is entered into its system.
4 of 9bestfriends.org
Best Friends Animal Society
What it is: Best Friends Animal Society was founded in 1984 by a group of animal lovers who refused to accept that humane societies and shelters "had no choice" but to kill unadoptable animals. Its headquarters in Kanab, Utah now runs the largest no-kill sanctuary in the United States. There’s also a branch in Los Angeles.
How it works: Go to bestfriends.org and browse through the available animals. Not located near Kanab or L.A.? That’s okay: Best Friends transports animals to adopters all across the United States and Canada.
Why it’s unique: Want to get up-close and personal with the thousand-plus animals—from dogs and cats to horses, pigs, ferrets, parakeets and beyond—at the Kanab sanctuary? Reserve a guided tour or sign up to volunteer. You can even spend the night in one of the on-site guest cottages or cabins, or on an RV site.
5 of 9hua.org
Hearts United for Animals
What it is: Hearts United for Animals is a national no-kill animal shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization situated on a 65-acre farm in Auburn, Nebraska. It seeks to comfort homeless animals by providing warm beds, good food, medical care, and love.
How it works: Go to hua.org and browse through available cats and dogs. If you don’t live near the shelter, the organization will handle transportation for your new best friend if appropriate. “We will fly the dog out in cargo if the flight is safe, the weather conditions are right, and the dog has the right health status to fly,” says adoption coordinator Tera Bruegger.
Why it’s unique: Hearts United for Animals focuses primarily on dogs, especially those rescued from puppy mills and natural disasters, as well as long-distance adoptions.
6 of 9petco.com/petsmart.com
Petco and PetSmart
What it is: Many pet supply stores, including large chains such as Petco and PetSmart, refuse to sell dogs and cats. Instead, they team up with government or local rescue groups to focus on adoptions. The stores allow those organizations to use their space—and their animal-lover foot traffic—for events or more permanent “adoption centers.”
How it works: Stop by your local Petco or PetSmart to find out about upcoming adoption events or see adoptable animals in person. At Petco in New York City’s Union Square, for example, you’ll find home-seeking cats and kittens from KittyKind, a local cat rescue and adoption organization. All PetSmart adoptions are through PetSmart Charities, a separate non-profit organization that teams up with more than 2,000 adoption partners; they operate adoption centers in all PetSmart stores in North America.
Why they’re unique: PetSmart Charities facilitates 10 percent of all pet adoptions on the continent; a pet is adopted every minute that a PetSmart Charities Adoption Center is open. And Petco, along with its Petco Foundation, helps find homes for more than 250,000 pets each year.
7 of 9aspca.org
What it is: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was the first humane society established in North America; it’s still one of the largest in the world. “Our organization was founded in 1866 on the belief that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law,” says Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA adoption center.
How it works: Visit its NYC adoption center or browse through its available animals at aspca.org. The ASPCA doesn’t ship dogs and cats, however, so if you can’t travel to NYC to pick up your new pet, try your own local animal shelter.
Why it’s unique: The ASPCA focuses on compatibility between pets and their owners in order to create a lasting relationship. “We utilize the ‘Meet your Match’ program, which works like a dating service,” says Buchwald. “An adopter will fill out a Canine-ality or Feline-ality assessment to make a match based on personality, what the adopter is looking for in a pet, and what the animal needs in an owner.”
8 of 9akc.org
Purebred Dog Rescue Organizations
What it is: Many dog lovers think that rescue organizations only offer mixed-breed pooches. Not so! You’ll find many purebreds, including those that have been abandoned by their owners. There are also rescue organizations dedicated to a specific breed.
Why it’s unique: From Airedale Terriers to Cocker Spaniels and beyond, you’re bound to find a rescue organization for your favorite breed on the AKC’s list.
9 of 9helenkrause.org/animalfriendsrescue.org
Sponsor a Pet…Virtually
What it is: In addition to volunteering at your local animal shelter, consider “adopting” a pet without taking him or her home by sponsoring an animal with monetary donations.
How it works: Many rescue organizations offer some type of pet-sponsoring program, including Petfinder.com Foundation, the Helen O. Krause Animal Foundation, and Animal Friends Rescue Project. Simply send a donation to support an animal that’s tugging at your heart strings, or let the shelter choose the animal that needs your support the most. Your dollars typically go towards food, medicine, and other expenses for the animal you’ve virtually sponsored until he or she finds a permanent home. The organization may send you a photo, a letter of appreciation, or occasional health and adoption updates; some shelters even post a plaque above the pet’s cage to honor certain sponsors.
Why it’s unique: You can still help an animal in need, even if you’re not ready to add a pet to your family or have a full house already.