In today’s virtual world, you can access almost anything you want online — from clothes to groceries to cars — even pets. Though many people use online adoption resources in their search for a new family member, it’s still only one step in the adoption process. Here’s what to expect along the way when using a website to find your new best bud.
Where to Begin
You may be familiar with some of the larger adoption sites, such as petfinder.com and adopt-a-pet.com, but there are many more, even some that have taken technology created for other uses and put it to work for pet adoption. For example:
- Petsdating.com, geared toward bringing pet-loving singles together for friendship, romance or puppy play dates, now offers an adoption component on the site.
- E-commerce giant Overstock.com may surprise you with its robust pet adoption offering. Chairman and CEO Patrick Byrne says he came up with the idea while doing yoga, realizing, “We could use our really good search technology to help with pet adoptions.”
- To make things easier on the shelters and rescues, many pet adoption databases are fed by back-end aggregators like Rescuegroups.org, which enables organizations to upload their adoptable pets once for distribution to multiple sites of their choosing.
What to Look For
Each adoption site has basic search functionality based on location, species and breed. Most have a more expanded search that allows you to dive deep into behavior, health, lifestyle, compatibility with other animals, children and more. This is particularly helpful if you’re seeking a specific type of pet.
“We knew we wanted to give a nice retirement to a senior dog; we loved beagles and we already had three cats in our family,” says Heather Ronayne of Warren, New Jersey. Searching online helped Ronayne and her family narrow their options, leading to their dog, Hugo. “[It’s] made our dream of helping a dog like Hugo possible and has made all the difference in Hugo’s world.”
Most of the sites offer their own unique features aimed at making pet adoption and ownership easier and more rewarding. For instance:
- Some sites, such as Petfinder.com, provide extensive pet care information and articles.
- Sites like Adopt-a-Pet.com and Allpaws.com have an “alert” function, which lets you sign up to get an email when a pet matching your preferences becomes available in your area.
- Allpaws.com has also taken pet adoption to a new level, offering points you can redeem for prizes when you browse the adoptable pet database. The more engaged you become in the process, the more points you earn.
- Other sites allow you to create favorites in order to make searching and saving easier.
Regardless of which site or combination of sites you use, the online search is just the first step on the road to adoption. Keep reading for advice to prepare you for the rest of the journey, until your new pet is happily by your side.
Each rescue and shelter does things a bit differently, so be prepared to work through the logistics with each organization. Sometimes the pet you like is at a shelter, and sometimes the pet is in a foster home. You’ll need to be flexible about when and where you can meet the pet, depending on where he’s located.
Don’t Limit Yourself
Would-be adopters visiting a shelter are often drawn to pets they never thought they’d consider. But when using online sites, it’s easy to limit your search to a certain breed, age or sex. This may help narrow your search but may also keep you from finding the perfect pet! Don’t be afraid to expand your search to include other options.
“Breed-specific traits are not as important as personality,” says Nicole Peterson, a professional dog trainer in Orange County, California, who uses online adoption sites frequently to find dogs for her clients.
Be a Detective
Depending on the site, you may have a lot of information about the pet or just a little, in which case you’ll have search for the info you need yourself.
- The adoption site will typically refer you to the shelter or rescue for more information.
- Then you’ll need to contact the shelter or rescue or visit its website to learn more about the pet.
- Have a list of questions ready to ask.
- When possible, talk to a staff member who works directly with the pet you’re interested in or ask to speak with a member of the foster family.
Be prepared to put your bloodhound skills to work.
Pay Attention to Descriptions
It’s in the adopting organization’s best interest to find perfect matches for the pets in its care. Reading descriptions and taking them to heart will save you time and potential heartache.
No matter how much your kids have fallen in love with the picture of a dog, if the description says the pup isn’t good with children, believe it. “Definitely don’t discount what you are reading,” says Mara Stefan, a Boston-based pet lover who adopted her two dogs using Petfinder.com. “If they are offering you information, you should take it.”
You may not be able to find your new family member in one weekend. Sometimes you do, and that’s great! But other times — particularly if you are looking for a specific breed, age or sex — you may need to practice patience.
Each organization’s process is different. When you reach out to a shelter or rescue, you may have to wait for a response. Many organizations are busy or have a lot of people interested in adopting pets. Also be prepared to fill out a lot of forms. And although the organizations update as frequently as they can, listings can become quickly outdated.
Lisa Scarbrough of Coastal Pet Rescuein Savannah, Georgia, says her group tries to stay on top of updates, but it’s impossible to update in real time. “We ask adopters to give us a first and second choice when they apply,” she says.
If the shelter has limited operating hours or the pet is in foster care, you’ll also probably have to wait before you can meet the pet.
Use All the Online Tools Available to You
Remember, adoption websites aren’t the only places to find adoptable pets. These tools may introduce you to a rescue or shelter you like, and you may ultimately find a pet via your favorite rescue or shelter’s social media channels. Also, spread the word to your own social media networks, and let people know you’re looking to add to your furry or feathered family. You never know when the perfect pet will become available.
Although the pet adoption process may have some ups and downs, in the end, you’ll have a wonderful new family member in return for your effort.