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What to Expect During the Pet Adoption Inquiry Process

woman in mustard color sweater on a laptop with a small dog in her lap

You’ve been searching on Petfinder and you’ve just found a pet whose longing eyes are saying “Adopt ME!” How do you reach the shelter or rescue group to begin the process of bringing a new dog, cat or other pet into your life?

Here’s what shelters and rescues would like you to know about the online pet adoption inquiry process, so they can handle your questions as quickly and smoothly as possible.

I’ve REALLY fallen in love! How can I show the adoption group I’m the best home?

Showing that you have read the pet’s personal info closely goes a long way to reassure the pet adoption group that you are a cream-of-the-crop adopter. There is usually a lot of information in the pet’s bio and on the shelter or rescue group’s home page. Here’s some of what you may find:

  • The pet’s personality and any special needs. The pet adoption group will be looking for the best fit for their pet–and for you. Does the bio indicate the pet has a certain energy level or special likes or dislikes? On Petfinder, a group can note if a pet doesn’t really enjoy the company of small children or other pets, for example. A puppy or a very senior pet will need a new guardian who is available for potty breaks during the day. A high-energy pet will need lots of play time. If a pet really doesn’t sound like they are a match for your home–no matter how cute they are–it’s best to keep searching for your furred-or-feathered soul mate.
  • The pet’s location. Some pet adoption groups will clearly specify that they only adopt to people who live in their local area. Others will mention that they are able to support long-distance adoptions. Be sure you are close enough to visit if the group requires it, or that you are comfortable with a long-distance adoption if the pet is far away and the group allows it.
  • Contact information. Follow the contact instructions the shelter or rescue has provided. Petfinder provides an easy “Ask About Me” button that sends an email message to adoption groups who have a public email address, but you should also check for any special instructions the group has added. Some groups may specifically ask you to call by phone, email them additional info straight to a foster home, or fill out their application. Others may need you to visit the shelter in person.

If it sounds like your home is a great match for your chosen pet, your next step is to let the shelter or rescue know you want to adopt using the contact info they’ve provided!

What information does the adoption group need from me when I inquire?

A shelter or rescue group can receive multiple inquiries on one pet, and they can have LOTS of adoptable pets. Answering all those phone calls and email can be quite a job. Staff and volunteers can easily get overwhelmed. You can make this easier by avoiding the temptation to fire off an “Is this pet still available” message and instead send of all the basic info the adoption group will need to start the adoption process.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep your initial email inquiry short but complete. Provide your name, your location, pets you currently have, and why you are looking for a new pet right now. Be sure to explain that you are prepared to provide for the pet’s special needs if any are posted. You may be tempted to send a very, very long email, but resist! Keep things quick, complete, and clear, so all of your info gets the best attention. If the adoption group has posted that they want you to call by phone, be sure to read the pet’s bio and write down questions you plan to ask so you don’t forget anything.
  • The group may have provided a link to an online adoption application. Even if you are not sure you are ready to complete an application, be sure to read it over before contacting the group with questions. Often you will find some of your answers there.
  • Visiting in person?Favorite” pets you are interested in on Petfinder by clicking the heart on each pet’s photo in the search results. You can quickly find your list of favorites by touching the matching heart at the top of Petfinder on your smartphone. This will help shelter staff connect you with the right pet at the shelter or adoption event. Be sure to arrive a few hours before the shelter closes to have plenty of time to visit pets, complete an application, and speak with an adoption counselor.
  • Remember that other people will also be asking about the pet. If you are told that the pet has just been adopted, this doesn’t reflect on your quality as an adopter. It can mean there were two or more great adopters and your inquiry happened to arrive after someone else’s. Keep looking—your pet is out there!

With clear and complete info, you’ll give the adoption group the best chance to agree that, yes, you are a match!

Why doesn’t the pet I want have a personal story in their bio?

A shelter may take profile photographs as a pet is brought in the shelter door, but the story may not be added until the adoption group learns more about the pet’s personality. The adoption group might also be short on time and volunteers. Maybe they could use some help! This is a perfect opportunity to volunteer if you have the time.

I’m really not comfortable giving out my personal information right away

We get that! There are lots of shelters on Petfinder with public hours and rescue groups who hold adoption events where you can meet pets in person instead. Search for them by clicking on “Shelters and Rescues” at the top of the Petfinder home screen and bookmark the home page of adoption groups you like so you can check in on their pet list. You can also click on “Save Search” in your shelter’s zip code on Petfinder to be alerted when new pets are added online.

Why do adoption groups seem to have so many different adoption procedures?

It certainly can be confusing! Here are four reasons why adoption procedures will vary from group to group:

1. Different types of groups have different resources and policies. Here’s a quick summary, but keep in mind these are generalizations because each organization is different.

  • Municipal Shelters and private Humane Societies usually have a physical shelter and they will likely expect you to visit in person during public hours or at adoption events
  • Rescues (and some Humane Societies) are managed by many, few, or just even just ONE volunteer, often working out of private homes. They have differing philosophies and resources, and their adoption procedures will vary. One group may have an application and/or require a home visit, while another may just have a long comfortable conversation with you while you meet the pet.
  • Veterinary clinics often find themselves with pets in need of homes. You’ll probably have to make an appointment to visit the clinic at a time when they have someone to help you, since they also are running their business.

2. Different pets also have different needs. Adopting a healthy happy young dog or cat can be straightforward. However, you’ll probably be asked a lot of specific questions if you are interested in a pet with special care requirements.

For example, a senior dog rescue might ask about the layout of your home to make sure there aren’t too many barriers to the dog’s mobility. Parrots and tortoises can live as long as a human, so a parrot rescue might want you to have a back-up caretaker. If a group knows the pet is an enthusiastic barker or a squawker, they might prefer to adopt into a house rather than an apartment.

3. Adoption fees can vary, too. That parrot might come with a large sturdy expensive cage so his adoption fee might be higher than a dog’s. A horse will likely have a higher fee than a pup. Some shelters and rescues can get every pet spay/neutered, fully vaccinated, fully tested, and microchipped, so their fees might be higher than a group who doesn’t have access to testing and microchipping. Surprisingly, sometimes the adoption fee of a fully vetted pet can be lower—not higher–if the shelter is in a community with lots of affordable veterinary services.

Lots of things influence adoption fees, however, fees should always reflect the spirit of adoption rather than sale.

4. Local and long-distance adoptions will be very different experiences as well. A local adoption might be completed in a single day while a long-distance adoption could take a week or more.

  • Many shelters and rescues prefer to adopt locally so the adopter can meet the pet in person for the best possible match. Some groups just don’t have the people to staff a safe long-distance adoption program. They may want to be close to adopters to easily accept their pets back if needed. These groups know their limits and just want the best experience for their pets and their adopters.
  • Some shelters and rescues are open to long-distance adoptions. In fact, Petfinder’s launch in 1998 made online long-distance shelter adoption possible! Long-distance adoptions require added communication and responsibility from both the adoption group and the adopter.When setting up a long-distance adoption, be sure to ask a LOT of questions about your chosen pet. If you have other pets and children, you may want to ask for video of the adoptable pet interacting with pets and kids. Verify what support is available if you need behavioral or health advice after adoption. Even the transport method varies. The adoption group might bring the pet to you with volunteer drivers, could ask you to travel to pick the pet up, or a third pet-transport company may be hired. Be sure you are completely briefed on timing, have a written contract, and are comfortable with the experience.

Wow–this is a lot, isn’t it? Who knew that there were so many different types of shelters and rescues and different ways to adopt?

Even if you are waiting on a reply from an adoption group about a pet who has caught your heart, continue your search on Petfinder in case your first choice has just found another home. By clicking “Save Search” you’ll receive an automated email when new pets are added with your search criteria.

With hundreds of thousands of pets and thousands of adoption groups on Petfinder, you are sure to find your perfect match!


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