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How to Adopt a Dog: All You Need to Know

Congratulations, you’re already one step closer to understanding pet adoption by clicking on this article. 

The best place to find a furry new family member is at your local shelter or the appropriate rescue organization. But the second-best place is online, where there is a plethora of resources and databases at your disposal. 

We’ll try to walk you through some of the reasons and ways to adopt, point you in the right direction, and get you prepared to actually adopt and not just shop. 

Why You Should Adopt a Pet

1. It’s Important Not to Support the Puppy Mill Industry Whenever Possible. 

Buying a dog or cat isn’t the end of the world, and it’s OK that you’ve had a pet shop animal at some point that you’ve loved and cherished. But — without getting into the nitty-gritty of it — the system that produces those pets is flawed and inhumane. And, ultimately, unnecessary considering how many pets already exist in the world in need of a home. 

The SPCA, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has more information on the for-profit breeding that underpins pet store puppy sales if you’d like to take a closer look. 

2. Adoption is a Compassionate Act.

When you adopt, you’re not just getting a new pet — you’re giving that pet a new lease on life. Some might have a troubled history and need extra care and support, while others could already be a model pet, simply given up due to reasons outside the former owner’s control. 

Each one of them is waiting to find love, go home, and never see a shelter again.

3. Honestly, You Can’t Beat the Variety.

Shopping for a pet, you’re confined to looking at young animals who’ve still got developing to do. Raising a puppy is unpredictable and challenging, while adoption can offer dogs who have established personalities and have already displayed their quirks or issues. You’ll be able to choose and understand who it is you’re bringing into your home. 

And if you use a professional breeder, you’re obviously only looking at one type of dog, but could be missing out on an individual animal that’d be a better fit. Shelters and rescues house all sorts from puppies and kittens to senior citizens and every age group in between, mutts and purebreds alike. Plus, specialty rescue organizations focus in on certain breeds, so you don’t have to settle if you were dead set on a specific breed. 

4. It’s Cheaper, Too.

And speaking of buying from a breeder, adoption is comparatively a steal! How much does it cost to adopt a dog exactly? Expect prices in the realm of $50 and up, depending on the organization, but not more than a couple of hundred dollars.

However, adoption fees cover a range of additional expenses you’d otherwise have to pay for yourself. For, let’s say, $65, your new pet will come: 

    • Spayed or neutered
    • Treated for fleas/ticks and/or worms
    • Potentially microchipped
    • With their vaccinations, testing, and veterinary checkup already taken care of

How to Adopt and What to Expect

What Do You Expect When Adopt a Dog

It’s easy to become enamored with adoption. What’s not to like? Once you’re a believer, there’s truly no going back on it. 

But if you aren’t quite sure yet, the process can seem a little daunting. How does adoption work in a practical sense? Let’s take a look.

Methods of Adoption


If you’ve ever heard an adoption “horror story” that gave you pause, it may have been from a person who didn’t know how serious pet adoptions can be. Some organizations have an intensive process that involves a background check and home visit.

This makes the adoption process a bit lengthier, but it shows a thorough and deeply caring org who will send you off with a well-tended animal. Frequently, such animals are looked after in foster homes rather than kept in a communal kennel.

If these steps would make you uncomfortable, make sure you ask about an organization’s adoption process before seriously browsing the pets there.


There isn’t really a hands-off approach, as it were. We’re referring to an adoption process without the additional steps mentioned above. Any adoption still involves filling out a questionnaire and having a small interview with a staff member of the organization. At some places, you’ll have to do these things before being able to meet with dogs — if they’re placed in a foster home, for example. At others, you would only deal with it after meeting a pup, falling in love, and putting a possible adoption in motion.

The questionnaire is for record-keeping as well as inquiring after living situation details. Since a pet joins a household, a family, it’s important they know what that entails for you. The interview will allow you to elaborate on any points of interest, and the staff member can help determine what kind of animals would fit your situation.

Here are a few examples of questions that could be posed, and for what reason:

  1. “Children in the household? How many and how old?” Some dogs just won’t work well with small children, large families, or as whole-family pets.
  2. “Does your home have stairs? Is your household normally quiet or raucous?” This determines if mobility is a concern, such as in an older dog, or sensitivity to commotions, such as in an anxious dog.
  3. “Are you active? Do you tend to spend most free time at home or away?” Some dogs require hours of stimulation or exercise and cause mischief if they’re cooped up on their own, while others are more independent plus content to snooze and occupy themselves.

How long does adoption take, considering all this? For a basic adoption process, definitely clear a few hours, but you’ll probably walk out the door with your new friend that day. If you’d be unable to, a staff member would let you know before the end of the process. An involved adoption process would likely take several days, at least, and also depend upon everyone’s schedule.

Hands Really Off

Sometimes it’s the case that you don’t go through an organization at all to adopt. You may end up with the former pet of a friend or family member for whatever reason, or rescue a stray off the street.

This is also a tried and true method and no less valid. Make sure you’re taking in the pet on your own terms, though, with a clear idea of the responsibilities. Sure, the animal could otherwise go to a shelter, but if the situation isn’t working, finding them a proper forever home with someone else would be a better alternative.

Just don’t accidentally steal anyone’s pet this way! A seemingly stray dog could be lost, so ask around and have their microchip checked if you can as a last resort.

Where to Adopt

Where to Adopt Dog

Database websites like the Shelter Pet Project or Adopt-a-Pet.com allow you to easily search adoptable pets in your area. Or let them help you locate shelters you’d like to visit, to see all the currently adoptable dogs in person. 

Local organizations should be your first choice, if possible because these potential pets are like part of your community. You can pick them up and zip right at home. These includes:

  • Municipal shelters (the county pound) 
  • Local branches of non-profits (the Humane Society)
  • Private rescues in the area

If you don’t have it in you to wander through a shelter past all the dogs that pull on your heartstrings, there’s another alternative. National pet store chains partner with shelters around the country to hold Adopt a Shelter Pet Days. They tend to be social and fun, and an excellent opportunity to see the pets in the open, at their best. 

Adopt these days without fear. This isn’t some roundabout way of getting people to buy pet shop dogs — you’re still facilitating an adoption and not a purchase. 

If you show up and pay a Petco adoption fee, for example, you’re actually just paying the partner shelter’s adoption fee. The original org gets all of the proceeds as usual. That’s because Petco has a non-profit sector called Petco Foundation, and PetSmart has PetSmart Charities, that handles these events and other animal welfare initiatives. 


Bringing a pet into your life is a fulfilling experience. Adopting is by and large the best way to do it. Millions of animals move through shelters every year — and keep in mind not every establishment follows a no-kill policy.

Pet adoption saves lives. 

The right pet is already out there and waiting for you to find them. Let them into your heart. What are you waiting for? 

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