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How to Adopt a Pet from an Animal Shelter

Considering a new family pet? Look no further than your local animal rescue society. We guide you through the process, including what you can expect and why it's a good idea to take in a needy cat or dog.

By Megan Bingham

People connecting with animals
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Gilbert Ford

The recession is tough—even for pets. In 2010, 91 percent of shelters reported an increase in animals as cash-strapped owners gave up their four-legged companions. To make matters worse, adoption rates have declined. "Many pets across the country are in need of homes," says Arthur Hazlewood, director of the ASPCA's New York City Adoption Center. "We strongly encourage people to make adoption their first option, particularly during these challenging economic times." Shelters are typically run and funded by local government and house pets on-site; rescue groups are staffed by volunteers, supported through donations, and usually rely on foster homes. If you're considering adding a furry friend to your family, adopting a pet is a great choice, for three reasons:

Right Price

A nominal fee is charged upon adoption, usually ranging from $75 for adult cats to $200 for purebred dogs. (Or the rescue group may request a donation.) This cost typically includes the animal's spaying or neutering, vaccinations, micro-chipping, and follow-up veterinary care—a bargain compared with the $1,500 and up a breeder will charge you for a purebred.

Well Trained

Before being placed, animals have completed behavior lessons, ensuring they are properly socialized and house-trained. Of course, a new pet will still need help adjusting to your rules and lifestyle, but most everyday issues should not be a problem.

Good Karma

The benefits of adopting are reciprocal, says Robert Rodi, author of Dogged Pursuit: How a Rescue Dog Rescued Me (Plume). "I like giving animals who have been abandoned a happy home," says Rodi, "but these dogs turn out to be heroes to me as well—their resilience inspires me to be a better human being."

Rescue Group Adoption Process

1. Find a reputable organization.

Since cat and dog rescue groups are almost always regional, Google your state, the breed you're interested in, and the word "rescue." Look for groups with no-kill policies and access to veterinary staff and behavioral counselors. You should also visit Petfinder.com, AdoptaPet.com, and Rescueme.org.

2. Evaluate your family's lifestyle.

Once you choose an organization, you'll be asked to complete a survey. Some groups will even require an in-home assessment. These evaluations will be referred to when matching your family with an animal.

3. Meet your match.

After the organization finds a compatible pet, it will arrange a get-together. All family members, including any other animals in your home, should socialize with the prospective pet. This is also an opportunity to discuss any behavior problems and the animal's medical history.

4. Be committed.

When you're ready to adopt, come prepared. Rescue groups will need at least two forms of ID, personal references, and a promise to return the animal should you find yourself unable to care for him at any point. Read the fine print of the contract—breaking the rules may give the organization the right to reclaim your pet.

Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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