So you want to adopt. Great idea—for you and an animal in need of love. Here’s what you should know.

By June DeMelo
September 23, 2019

The decision to adopt a pet is a big one (and a happy one—congrats!). There’s a lot that goes into planning, prepping, and following through on this exciting commitment. Where should you go to find your new addition? Is your living situation the optimal home for them? Should you try fostering a pet first before adopting full-time? Are you sure you can afford the annual costs required to keep a pet happy and healthy? These are all questions to think about before welcoming a new (furry) family member. Read through these expert-approved pet adoption steps to make sure you’re ready for the responsibility of a pet and to ensure your home’s their best one ever.

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Do a Self-Assessment

Adoption is less expensive than buying from a breeder, and not just because the price is lower: Many shelters invest in training, medical care, and spaying and neutering. But owning a pet can still cost $1,000 or more per year, so budget accordingly. And be realistic about your schedule, the length of the commitment (dogs and cats can live for 15 years or more), and how calm—or chaotic—your home is. A timid cat could do well in a quiet apartment, while a large, active dog may be better suited to a busy household with a yard.

Shop Around

There are a few ways to find adoptable pets. You can visit a city-run or nonprofit shelter, reach out to a breed-specific rescue group, or search a pet-finding site. Adoption fairs and pet cafés are also options—just make sure they’re affiliated with a rescue group and not a puppy or kitten mill. Fostering to adopt is a good way to test the waters. You can also ask about home trials or “return” policies; some groups will rehome pets who turn out not to be a fit.

Get Acquainted

Many pets are put up for adoption because their owners moved or had landlord difficulties, but others may have issues that require a little extra TLC. Ask about health and behavior (such as aggression or separation anxiety), energy level, and whether the animal has lived with kids or other pets. Spend as much time as you can together in the familiarization area. And keep in mind that shelters can be stressful. In fact, it can take pets up to three months after adoption to fully come out of their shell.

Our Experts

  • Mikkel Becker, lead animal trainer at Fear Free Pets in Spokane, Washington
  • Angelica Dimock, DVM, managing shelter veterinarian at the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, Minnesota
  • Diane Levitan, VMD, executive director of Helping Paw in Commack, New York, and advisory board member at Wag, a dog-walking service
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