Thinking of a New Pet? Why Pet Adoption Should be Your First Option



I grew up with dogs at home and naturally, when I moved out to college, I wanted a dog of my own.  I wanted a perfect puppy and bought a Miniature Schnauzer at a pet store on Lexington Avenue in New York City, kind of on impulse.  Luckily, we were a good fit, and she was my best friend and companion for 14 wonderful years.

However, after learning about the practices of pet stores and puppy mills, I wished I had done a little research and checked out my local shelter or the Internet first. Today, my husband and I have two dogs, both rescues from  They fit our lifestyle perfectly, and our family wouldn’t be the same without them.

If you are thinking about getting a pet, there are several reasons to consider adoption before contacting a breeder or heading out to a pet store.

1.  Save a life.  Be a hero! By adopting a pet, you will be saving a life. estimates that six to eight million pets got to a shelter every year.  According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), three to four million pets are euthanized every year because shelters are overcrowded and not every pet can find a home.  By adopting a pet from a shelter, humane society, breed rescue group, or animal control agency, you will be saving the life of a very grateful animal.

2.  Avoid supporting puppy mills and pet stores.  By adopting a pet, you will not be supporting pet stores and puppy mills.  Pet stores, online sellers, and people who sell their animals through classified advertisements in the newspaper often get their animals from puppy mills and are willing to sell them to anyone willing to pay, no questions asked.  Puppy mills and pet stores are part of a very cruel industry where animals are kept in shockingly brutal conditions with little medical care.  Breeding dogs in puppy mills are locked in small cages for years without human companionship or attention.  After a heartbreaking life spent in a cage, these animals are then killed, abandoned, or sold at auction.

Pet stores will also sell an animal to anybody, without making sure that the animal will go to a good home, will be safe, and the new owners understand the responsibilities of pet ownership.  Many of these animals usually end up in shelters- if they are lucky.

3.  Find the right pet for you and your family.  Bringing a pet into your life is a serious decision that must not be taken lightly.  Before bringing a pet home, owners need to be aware that it is the beginning of a relationship that may last 10 to 20 years, and that a pet needs constant care, supervision, and companionship.

Even though pet stores are likely to have the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen, the cute factor is not everything.  Taking a pet home based solely on its appearance can be a recipe for disaster and yet another reason why so many pets end up in shelters.

Whether a pet fits your lifestyle is much more important than what it looks like.  A pet carefully chosen to fit your lifestyle is more likely to result in a lasting home for the pet and a happy life for the owner.  “Some people think yellow labs are adorable as puppies and beautiful dogs. But a person who lives a sedentary lifestyle and does not like to go running or exercising should not have a lab,” Gail Buchwald, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), told

You are more likely to find a greater variety of animals and a better fit for any lifestyle at a shelter or through adoption websites like  Unlike pet stores, which are only interested in making a profit and moving their “merchandise,” shelters are more concerned with matching a person or family with a pet of the right breed and temperament for their lifestyle.   Shelters have also spent time caring for the animals, know their disposition, and what type of owner they would be a good fit for.  With so many pets entering shelters every day, you are very likely to find exactly the right pet for you.

Emma, half gremlin, half hyena

Adoption is the way to go if you want a purebred animal or a one-of-a-kind.  According to HSUS, about 25% of dogs and cats in shelters are purebreds.  There are also a number of breed-specific rescue groups that have purebred adults and puppies for adoption.

Other people see the attraction in a unique mix.  Some mixes have the positive characteristics of several breeds.  Our dog Paco is a lab-collie mix, and he has the great qualities of both.  He has a sweet disposition, is very calm, fantastic with kids, and can be trusted all the time.  Our little one, Emma, is more of a mystery.  When we adopted her at 9 months old, we were told she was a Chihuahua- Jack Russell mix, but I think she has some Cairn Terrier in her.  My husband says that she is more like half gremlin and half hyena.  To us, she is beautiful.  She is lively and energetic, always getting into trouble.  Both are unique, and we love them for it.

4.  Shelter pets may have “baggage,” but this is not necessarily a bad thing!  Many people think that a pet that is in a shelter is there because of some kind of behavioral problem.  The truth is that there are many reasons that people have to give up their pets, most having nothing to do with the pet.  These include moving to a place that does not allow pets, not having time for the pet, not being able to afford the pet, allergies, etc. has a sheet on the reasons pets are surrendered to shelters, which explains that most of the time the reason for surrender comes from the owner and not the pet.

On the other hand, adopting a pet, which has had a previous owner, may already be toilet trained and have other positive characteristics.  (See # 9, the case for adopting an older pet)

5.  Shelter pets are healthy.  Even though some pets may enter a shelter without being neutered or having proper medical care, most if not all shelters give the pet a thorough medical screening and will not clear the pet for adoption until it has a clean bill of health.  Most shelters also spay or neuter the pet before adoption.

6.  Adopting is much less expensive.  While adopting a pet is usually not free, the adoption fee will usually cover spaying or neutering, distemper vaccination, rabies vaccination, heartworm test, and flea/tick treatment.  These services can cost up to $2000 at a regular vet, but adoption fees usually range from $100 to $300.   On the other hand, a puppy at a pet store can cost over $700 and these services are usually not included.

7.  Time.  Adoption usually focuses on whether the pet will be a good match for a potential owner.  Shelters are more likely to help you find your ideal buddy because shelters don’t expect and don’t want you to walk out with a new pet in 20 minutes or less, the way pet stores do.  Shelters understand that finding the right fit takes time and a few visits.  Shelters also allow you to interact with a pet and spend some time together before you take them home. Moreover, most shelters will allow you to take the animal home on a trail basis and take the animal back if things do not work out.

8.  Set a good example. lists “setting a good example” as one of the reasons to adopt a pet.  I don’t have children, so I can’t really speak to this point from personal experience, but I agree that adopting a pet can teach a child “how to care about those that others may view as castoffs.”  Adopting a pet can also teach children that they can make a difference by saving an animal’s life.

9.  The case for adopting an older pet.  For certain people and families, adopting an older pet may be the best choice.  There are several benefits to adopting an older pet.  For one thing, there are fewer surprises when you adopt an older pet.  From the outset, you will know its full-grown size; temperament; and food, grooming, and exercise requirements.  Older pets are also easier to train because they are calmer and have more experience interacting with people.  An older pet also requires less attention, is usually toilet trained, and settles into new environments more quickly than a younger pet.

Another wonderful thing about adopting an older animal it that it has experienced living in a home as well as being surrendered, and is ready to forge an instant bond with its new owner.  Finally, as mentioned above, adopting an animal may represent a 10 to 20-year commitment that many people are not ready to undertake.  People with certain plans for their long-term future as well as very elderly people would be good candidates to adopt an older pet.  According to the ASPCA, even though the commitment level is the same, it is for a shorter period of time.

10.  Not all breeders are bad.  If you have looked into adoption and cannot find the right pet, the American Humane Society has a very informative page on how to identify a responsible breeder.

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