The Adoption Application

An adoption application gathers the data the rescue uses as criteria for screening potential adopters.

Expect 1–2 pages of basic questions, most of which focus on your home, lifestyle and beliefs on how to properly care for a pet.

They’ll also try to match you with a pet who will thrive in your environment.

For example:

  • If you live in an apartment and work long hours, a rescue will probably balk at giving you a young, active dog but might recommend an older dog or a pair of dogs who won’t mind lazing around all day, provided they have a place to potty.
  • If you live in the city or the suburbs and allow your cats to roam outside, a rescue will probably reject you — it has grown increasingly dangerous to allow cats to live outdoors, and the rescue won’t want to take any chances.
  • If you have infants or toddlers living with you, a rescue will not let you adopt a dog or cat who responds poorly to roughhousing.
  • If you live in a house, the rescue will want to know about the security and height of your fence.
  • If you plan to or have a history of performing “cosmetic” surgery on your animals — cropping ears, docking tails, declawing cats — the rescue will reject you outright, just as they will if you have intact animals (except those who are too old or ill to have surgery). If you want a declawed cat, discuss the decision with the rescue or shelter staff. Be open and honest. There may be an already-declawed cat available for adoption.

The application shouldn’t be too long.

You also shouldn’t be required to provide your annual income, information about your employer or your Social Security number.

Here’s one example of a thorough but fair online application for adopting a pet from a rescue.

Be as honest as possible. Rescues and shelters have many resources to verify all the information you provide. They aren’t looking for a reason to reject you. They’re just looking out for the animals’ well-being.

Phone Interviews for Adopting a Pet From a Rescue

The next step is a chat on the phone, which any potential adopter should have no problem doing.

The rescue will want to get to know you a little better before the adoption proceeds further.

Just be yourself — and be honest! If you make up stuff because you think it’s what the rescue wants to hear, they won’t be able to match you accurately with a pet.

Reference Checks for Adopting a Pet From a Rescue

Although not every rescue checks references, most ask for at least 2, usually from a friend, neighbor, co-worker or veterinarian.

Simply providing the information is often enough.

But if they call the vet clinic you wrote down as a reference, and the tech answering the phone says, “Who?” — it’s not good.

Home Visits Before You Adopt a Pet From a Rescue

The next step — the one that naysayers usually find so intrusive — is the home check.

However, it is the most important step in the screening process, so it’s usually mandatory. The exception would be if you are adopting from a remote area, in which case the rescue might request you email them photos of your home and yard.

Here's what to expect with a home visit before you adopt a pet from a rescue:

  • A good rescue won’t care if you live in a house or apartment, as long as the pet you want to adopt is suited to your lifestyle.
  • Most home visits take 10–15 minutes and include a brief tour of your home and yard.
  • The rescue representative won’t open your drawers or run a white-gloved finger over your baseboards.
  • They’ll want to meet your other pets and the other family members to make sure the pet’s new home is safe and secure.
  • The rescue isn’t there to judge your decorating style or housekeeping skills. It simply wants to make sure you are who you say you are and not a hoarder, lab, reseller or someone who has lied on their application about their home, family and lifestyle.
  • The rescue probably won’t bring the pet with them for the home visit, just in case it doesn’t work out.

Meeting Your New Pet in Person

Unless you’ve already met the pet at an adoption event, you probably won’t meet them in person until the day you plan to adopt them.

The rescue should bring the pet to your home to allow you to get to know them and decide whether or not you’re ready to adopt:

  • If it’s love at first sight, you can probably conclude the adoption that day.
  • If you don’t think the pet is a good match, or if you need time to think it over, you can conclude the adoption another day if the animal is still available.

Adoption Contract

Every good pet rescue will require you to sign an adoption contract before you complete the adoption.

If a rescue doesn’t do this, then they aren’t careful enough with their animals, and you shouldn’t work with them.

Although contracts vary widely among organizations, you’ll probably see these required provisions:

  • You must provide basic care. In addition to food, shelter and water, you must commit to providing the animal with veterinary care, exercise and, of course, love.
  • You are adopting the animal for the rest of their life. If you cannot keep the animal at any point in the future, you must notify the rescue and allow them to help rehome the pet, whether it’s just signing off on a friend or family member taking in the pet or finding a new home altogether. Rescues are responsible for the health and security of their animals, even after they are adopted.
  • You must keep the rescue tag on the animal. Although not every rescue requires this provision, it’s a good idea. If someone finds your pet and can’t reach you, the rescue can serve as a backup.
  • You must spay or neuter the animal and complete scheduled rounds of vaccination. If your pet is too young to spay, neuter or vaccinate before the adoption, you will be required to give the rescue an additional deposit (around $100) that they will refund when you send them a copy of the medical records.

You’ll probably be asked to initial several more conditions, but these are the basics.

Adoption Fees for Pet Rescues

The source of much argument with anti-rescue people, the adoption fee is the donation you give the rescue in exchange for adopting the animal.

It is not a sale price.

Rescues are nonprofit, and I’ve yet to encounter one that wasn’t operating deeply in the red. They need every bit of funding they can get their hands on, and most of it comes from adoption fees.

Very few rescues charge adopters the same amount of money that they have spent on vetting costs. If they did, a 10-year-old dog would cost at least $500, sometimes much more, and people simply won’t pay that much for an older animal.

Unfortunately, the majority of fosters come into rescues sick, old or needing major vet care. Most rescues skew fees for these pets, charging as little as $50.

Occasionally a rescue will get puppies. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s an excellent opportunity for the rescue to make back some of the money they’ve spent vetting the needy animals.

If you see a purebred puppy, especially a highly desirable breed, like a Maltese or Yorkie, expect to pay $300–500. All those funds will go straight to paying expenses, but, sadly, probably won’t make much of a dent.

If you are working with a registered nonprofit, the adoption fee will be 100% tax-deductible.