There are several different venues to find a shelter or rescue dog or cat including:
1. Animal Shelters
2. Non profit rescue groups
3. Breed specific rescue groups
4. Direct individuals- for instance Craig’s list, random people rehoming their pets.
When it comes to getting a pet directly from an individual, it is important to realize that acquiring an animal from a total stranger entails risk. As much as is possible, I suggest getting information in writing – and do this even if you know the person you are getting the pet from. For instance, make sure that the dog/cat really did belong to the seller. Get copies of veterinary records, require a receipt or some type of written proof that ownership is being transferred to you. If the person is offering to take the dog/cat back should the placement not work out, get this information in writing up front.
Animal shelters and rescue groups/organizations vary tremendously in their procedures. Animal shelters may have qualified animal behavior professionals on their staff who assess the animal’s temperaments and behavior prior to adopting them out. The more you know about the animals’ behavior and temperament the more likely you are to find the right match.
Before adopting the pet, look into the shelter/rescue organization itself:
1. Does the shelter/rescue group conduct some type of temperament or behavioral assessment? Ask to see a copy of the assessment.
Please keep in mind that a statement like: “Dog is friendly, loves to play” is not sufficient information. A behavioral assessment that is merely based upon the information given by the foster is also not sufficent (unless by chance the foster happens to be a qualified animal behavior professional too). People who foster animals are often highly experienced animal owners. Therefore what may be a major problem to a pet owner, may be “no big deal” and “not even worth mentioning” to a foster. Additionally, it takes anywhere from 4-6 months for a dog to show its true temperament and behavior in a new setting. One of the most common calls I get is the new adopter who was told that the dog loved other dogs in the foster home but, surprise, surprise, the dog is showing some dog aggression now after a few weeks in the new home.
While behavior can change and there are no guarantees when it comes to an animals’ behavior, a formal behavioral assessment by an experienced, qualified professional can help in matching the right dog with the right owner. Ask about the qualifications of the individual conducting the assessments (what is their experience/formal training in the field, what industry credentials do they have, are they a CPDT or a CDBC/CABC)? A behavioral assessment can help provide adopters with as much information as possible and help organizations make the best possible matches.
That said, not all organizations have the resources to conduct assessments like this. If they do not and you would like to adopt a pet from them, I suggest hiring a qualified professional trainer or behavior consultant to conduct an assessment of the pet for you.
2. What is the organization’s policy regarding animals that have a history of behavioral problems? Does the organization adopt out animals that have bitten/injured people or other animals?
Some rescue groups simply do not accept animals that have a history of aggressive behavior. Other organizations may try to train or modify the animal’s behavior prior to placement and/or place the animal in a highly qualified home with some stipulations (i.e. no children in the home, adopter is informed of the animal’s behavioral history and is required to follow up with a behavior professional). Some organizations may disregard the animal’s aggressive behavior history when placing the animal. Be prepared to ask direct questions, you should be aware of the organization’s policies so you can make an informed decision.
3. What does the organization require/expect from adopters? Ask to read the adoption contract and review their policies very carefully. If the organization has many requirements or has a wait period prior to adoption, that is not necessarily a “bad” thing.
4. Research the organization itself, and make sure that it is a legitimate organization. Non-profit organizations can often be verified by researching the State department of commerce (online). Look to see evidence of non-profit status.
A pet is often a decade (or longer) commitment. Taking your time to learn as much as possible about not just the pet but the organization that you will be adopting from can help stack the odds in your favor for finding just the right match for you.