No matter what animal you wish to adopt – a dog or cat, a rabbit or Guinea pig, a horse or goat -you want to choose a healthy animal that you feel is a good match for you. You also need to trust the agency you are dealing with.
Some rescues/shelters have more funding and are more committed to keeping their animals physically and emotionally healthy while awaiting adoption. How they use their funds and resources is important. Ask questions from your vet, groomers, former adopters, etc. What have they heard about this particular group?
Is the facility as clean as possible? Are the animals (cats, dogs, rabbits, small furry creatures) kept apart as much as possible to prevent the spread of airborne and direct contact diseases? Are the bowls and food dishes clean? Are there any strong, noxious odors from the animal areas? Does the rescue have broad adoption hours? You need to show animals and advertise them to get them adopted. Agencies that are often closed may not be actively engaged in the business end of getting animals adopted in a timely way.
Is the rescue known for putting down loads of animals they don’t have the time, staffers, or money for? Those are often run on shoestring budgets, and they may not have healthy animals if they can’t afford quality food and normal vetting expenses.
Don’t fall for pitiful (unwashed, un-groomed, unclean) animals that have been exposed to all kinds of illnesses or appear weak, sad, aggressive, un-socialized or sickly. A good rescue will use its resources fully. Many have dozens of volunteers to help with cleaning, socializing, and walking pets. They should do active fundraisers on behalf of their animals. You should hear about the agency from several sources if they are actively advertising and asking for volunteers, foster homes, greeters, and kennel helpers.
The old 70’s and 80’s style of caged shelters without proper ventilation, quality food, blankets, toys, clean bowls or separation of animals for health and safety reasons is a thing of the past if the rescue/shelter is on the ball.
Modern facilities should have separate areas for the different kinds of animals – like cats, dogs, and small furry creatures or snakes. Solid, clean walls should separate the pens. They should not have openings through which animals transfer germs and can attack one another. Floors may be heated. There should be separate rooms for potential adopters to visit with the pet of choice.
Rooms with filtered air are high on the list of keeping animals and people healthy in crowded conditions. Sickly animals and animals recovering from surgery (like spay/neutering) or injuries should be separate from others. Found animals should be in separate areas away from the public since they are not adoptable for a few days, giving owners a chance to reclaim them. All pens with adoptable animals should be clearly marked with the animal’s history.
Volunteers should appear alert and friendly. They are the PR team on behalf of the agency, and you are the potential owner of the animals they are caring for. Knowledgeable people should be available to answer questions about the agency or retrieve an animal you want to visit. More volunteers/staff should be available to show you where different visiting areas are or to sign you in for visitation or adoption. A volunteer/staffer should be able to give you some basic information about any animal you wish to see.
All agencies should have a complete medical and background history on a pet ready to present to you. Was the dog housetrained or does it have separation anxiety? Is a cat declawed or unusually shy? Is the animal good with other pets (cats/dogs)? Was the animal found as a stray or did it come from a previous home?
Is the animal spayed/neutered before adoption? All legitimate rescues do this before transferring an animal to a new home. The whole point of rescue is to prevent future unwanted animals. Do they have foster homes? Sometimes special care from trained fosters help with behavioral problems and the families will know even more about the animal you want to adopt.
Do they have staffers who do behavioral testing for aggression and interaction with children, other dogs or cats, or who try to find out if the animal has problems like submissive urination or a fear of storms? The more information you’re given, the better the chance of an adoption working out.
What is the range of adoption fees? Will they take back an animal (a 30-day trial type of policy) that simply does not work out for your family? Do they do home checks, vet’s and friends’ references, and look into past vet records on previously owned animals? Do they require fencing for an adopted dog?
Although some people find personal questions annoying or feel like they are being given the third degree when they are asked questions or filling out a couple pages of forms, the length of the process may correlate well with the success of the adoption.
Good rescues are being cautious because they want this adoption to succeed as badly as you do. These creatures are in their care and they are fully responsible for their outcomes. They do not want hit-and-miss adoptions where people return mismatches and they must try again – with an older, possibly more-frightened or people-shy animal than before.
Do your homework before choosing an animal. Check out dog or cat breeds ahead of time. Know what you’re getting into and be prepared for the general cost of the animal you are about to adopt. Dogs run into hundreds of dollars a year – if they’re healthy. Cats are cheaper but kitty litter starts to add up. A parrot can live 75 years or more. Horses can live to be 30 years or more.
Some rescues will take their adopted animals back if the owner becomes seriously ill and unable to take care of the animal any more. Some will also take them back if the owners come into hard times and can no longer afford the animal. This may be especially true for the elderly, people who have their homes in foreclosure, or who are out of work for extended periods. (Our County Humane Society actually helps low-income families keep their pets by offering sliding-scale vet costs and free pet food and kitty litter for those who are eligible for Meals on Wheels.)
Some agencies will take back their animals for life.
Read your contract carefully and make sure you can abide by the rescue’s terms. Some cat rescues will not allow their cats to be declawed. Some dog rescues–depending on the breed-require fencing. Some require owners to follow through with certain preventive programs like giving heartworm medications and K-9 influenza vaccines to dogs in certain geographic areas.
The rescues usually hold on to the right to check up on their pets through phone calls, vet calls, and/or home checks. Again, don’t begrudge them their use of caution in following up on animals they have invested much time, effort, and money in.
Some rescues may charge extra fees for additional surgeries or medical care of animals that were under their care for prolonged periods. One group we dealt with warns that their dogs’ adoption fees range from $175-$350 and suggest if that gives you pause, perhaps you can’t afford to adopt. They break down the numbers to show their average investment in each animal and warn that vet fees, food, general care, and other expected fees can only increase the first year’s cost.
You need to consider a lot before adopting. Checking out the rescue/shelter ahead of time and finding a clean, trustworthy, reliable adoption source is only half of your homework; finding the animal that is a match meant for you is the other half.
Source: Self as former head of dog rescue and recent adopter who went through the adoption process with a rescue.