Rescue Me: Tips for Adopting a Pet

Learn what makes a good match and other questions to ask.

Medically Reviewed by Will Draper, DVM on June 01, 2015
3 min read

Is adopting a rescue animal really as simple as driving to your local shelter, perusing a parade of cute pups and kittens, and bringing one home?

Nope. Much more thought and research should go into it than that, says Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations at North Shore Animal League America.

First, don’t be discouraged if it’s not puppy love at first sight for you. "Many people expect to find the perfect match in a single visit to a shelter," says Yohannan, whose organization places roughly 18,000 animals each year. "Expect to make multiple visits, and at more than one animal shelter. The right match is key."

So what makes for a good match?

No matter where you find your rescue pet, give serious thought to the type of animal you want to adopt, Yohannan says.

Ask yourself about your commitment level, she says. "Are you looking for a family companion? A dog to run with? Are you older, or a couch potato who might not be able to handle a dog that needs a lot of exercise or has issues? It’s important to be honest with yourself."

While many rescue animals take to their new homes and owners immediately, others struggle at first and have a range of behavior problems, from wetting carpets to anxiously hiding beneath beds. Or they may not be fully socialized with other pets or kids. Adopters need to be prepared for this tricky phase, which can take days, weeks or, in some cases, months or years, Yohannan says.

“Have patience," she says. "Your animal might be overwhelmed by the changes and the shelter experience. If after time you find the animal is simply not coming out of its shell, contact your shelter and ask to work with their counselors and trainers, who will have tips to help you help your dog or cat. Almost all animals will eventually relax and bond with their new families."

Feel hesitant about adopting? If so, Yohannan urges you to "consider fostering a shelter animal in your home first." This allows for a test run and lets you figure out whether a new animal will click with your kids or another pet.

Ask these questions before you seal an adoption deal, Yohannan says.

Where did the animal come from? "Dogs from puppy mills often live in bad conditions and have a lot of medical issues, so they wind up in shelters," she says. "Also, it’s often not the fault of the animal [that it needs a new home]. Did the previous owners move away? Divorce? Was there a death in the family? Could the animal not be housebroken? Asking why the animal was relinquished provides you with important clues."

What have you noticed about this animal? "Ask: Is the dog easy to walk on a leash?" Yohannan suggests. "Does the cat get along with dogs? Is this animal good with kids? Is it shy or outgoing?"

What is the animal’s schedule? Adopters "should try to keep a new dog or cat on its regular feeding and walking routine as much as possible" to help the transition go smoothly, she says.

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