Pet Adoption: What to Expect from the Rescue

Lea Jaratz
Pet Adoption Process
You've found your next furry friend. What's next?

We’ve talked before about how to go about finding your next family member and what to do when you get them home. But what can you expect during the adoption process? That waiting game after you’ve found the next love of your life can be excruciating, but maybe I can walk you through the process to help you be a bit more prepared.

Do You Qualify to Adopt?

In days past, a family could stop in at the pound, point to a dog in kennel number 5, and walk out the door with a license and a leash. While that simplified process does still exist, it’s far less common. Most rescues, shelters, and animal control facilities do require some kind of screening process.

When we adopted our Rottweiler in 2006 from the county kennel, a place where dogs had a short hold time and adoption wasn’t the norm, we were surprised at resistance from the adoption counselors. The dog was emaciated and had a suspicious mass. Not a highly adoptable dog by most standards. Yet, the organization had us fill out several documents, making certain that we did not have children, had a 6 foot fence, and would get her the medical treatment she needed. (One worker asked me why I didn’t want to just adopt a healthy dog.) It took a lot of coaxing on my part to have them adopt her out. While I never really understood their policies about children or requiring fences, I can appreciate that they did not want to adopt a sickly dog out to a person that wouldn’t care for her.

What does this mean for you? While most shelters don’t have blanket clauses about not placing pets into certain situations, most do put adopters through a screening process that may include the following:

  • veterinarian references
  • home visit
  • screening interview/application
  • foster-to-adopt trial period

Why? Proper screening can prevent animal neglect and a good match can prevent an animal from being returned to the shelter. After all, the sheltering and adoption process is hard on both the animal and the rescue workers, and a return can be even harder.

How much are adoption fees?

Adoption rates vary widely by location, organization, and usually by the type of pet. Senior pets are typically less expensive than puppies and kittens. Purebreds are often priced higher, due to increased demand. (Yes, one in four shelter dogs appears to be a purebred.) Small, independent rescues are more likely to build the cost of prior medical care into the adoption fee, while large groups tend to price pets more uniformly. Other groups ask for a donation, plus the basic cost of things like transportation, ID tags, or a microchip. Overall, cat adoption prices usually range between $25 and $100, and dogs range between $50 and $400. It’s not uncommon to see “buy-one-get-one” and special pricing when a shelter is crowded or a pet has been available for a long time.

What is included?

I’ve known several people that found stray cats or dogs that they’d decided to keep (after no owner was located). They surrendered them to the local shelter and then adopted them back immediately. Why go through all that? Simple math: The perks of adoption from non-profits can help spare your wallet. Nearly all reputable rescues include spay or neuter in their adoption fee, as well as vaccines and a general checkup. But, as an added incentive to adopt, many groups throw in some of the following features:

  • microchip, ID tag
  • collar, leash
  • discounts on crates, bowls or other supplies
  • training advice or group classes at a discount
  • a complimentary follow-up exam with a participating vet
  • short-term or discounted pet insurance

A spay or neuter surgery and shots could easily run around $700 for the average dog, so receiving all of these benefits is a real cost savings.

Fine Print

Most adoption contracts have some language to outline the adopter’s duties and expectations. Typically, they include the obvious (I promise to feed, water, and care for my pet) but other clauses can extend the rights of the rescue. For example, Kayden’s rescue group retains his microchip contact info. If he becomes lost, a good Samaritan would have Kayden scanned for a chip, but the rescue group would be contacted, and then contact me. (This weirded me out at first, since he’s my dog after all, but this ensures that if anything were to happen to me or if I were out of communication, he’d have a large organization working to help him.) This is a huge life-saver for dogs that can end up as strays if the ID or microchip isn’t kept current by the owner.

Many rescues require you to return the animal to them directly instead of re-homing it yourself, or state that you cannot euthanize the animal without their consent, except in case of emergency. While all of this language can feel a bit “big-brother-ish,” it’s actually good peace of mind for the owner. If you ever become unable to care for or manage your pet, the rescue will respond to your call for help. Your adoption contract should feel like a safety net.

Where to go from there

Once you get your pet home, feel free to use the rescue or the foster parents as resources. They will help you get vet care and answer behavioral questions as best as they can. While they may not know much about that pet’s history, they have a history of helping a lot of pets. Before long, you’ll find that your e-mails to the group stop being so much about “help me figure him out” and turn in to “I don’t know what my life would be like without him.”

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