Adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue group

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Smiling person hugging a shaggy dog

Bringing home a new pet is incredibly exciting. And adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group is not only exciting, it’s truly a feel-good experience. Every day, dogs and cats are killed in America’s shelters simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. This is a great benefit of adopting a pet, feeling good knowing that you truly did save a life.

Adopting pets has become more and more popular and accessible, and there are now many different ways to find the right adoptable pet for your family. City and county animal shelters, nonprofit shelters and rescue groups are full of pets who have lost their homes for any number of reasons. The most common reasons pets end up homeless are:

  • Moving
  • Divorce
  • Loss of a home or job
  • Unplanned litters due to pets not being spayed or neutered
  • No longer having the time or desire to properly care for a pet

Because of these and other reasons, right now there are lots of great pets at shelters and with rescue groups waiting for someone to choose them. That’s why adopting an animal is the best way to add a new pet to your family.

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Animal shelters near me: How to find them

Finding an animal shelter isn’t difficult. Every community has pets who need homes. To begin, search for the websites for your city and county government, because most municipalities have facilities for housing homeless pets. Most shelters and rescue groups also showcase their pets online, which makes it easy to get an idea of what animals are there waiting for homes.

Beyond city and county animal shelters, most areas also have nonprofit organizations (some large and some small) that have dogs and cats for adoption.

Tabby cat being held in a person's arm

Reasons to adopt a pet

One great reason for adopting a pet instead of buying one is that, typically, pets available for adoption from shelters and rescue groups are already spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped. Those services can cost hundreds of dollars, so when you adopt a pet, you not only save a life, you save a lot of money.

Instead of searching online for, say, small dogs for sale, search for small dogs for adoption. One caution, though: Because adoption is becoming more and more popular with the public, some pet stores or online pet sellers have changed their language to use the word “adopt” instead of “buy.” If there are lots of purebred or designer dogs and cats available (with more coming all the time), or if the pets all come from breeders, or if the fee to acquire the pet is more than a few hundred dollars, then that is not adoption. Make sure the website belongs to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or municipal shelter or a rescue group that’s adopting out pets.

Puppies for sale: What’s wrong with that?

Purebred dogs and designer dogs were once a popular choice for people interested in getting a new pet. But times have changed, and now more than ever people are heading to shelters or rescue groups in search of a puppy or adult dog to bring home. That’s because dog adoption is becoming more mainstream as people move away from spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on buying purebreds. For many people, dog pedigrees just don’t matter. What’s more important is a dog’s personality, and dogs in shelters have just as much of that as dogs purchased from breeders.

Puppies for sale might not seem all that different than puppies for adoption, but the truth is that when you choose to buy from a breeder, pet store or anywhere else, it has a lasting impact — and not necessarily in a good way.

Consumers are getting smarter about a lot of things they buy, including caring more about where their purchases come from and how they’re made. Well, it’s not all that different with pets. When you choose to adopt a pet instead of buy one, you’ll not only find adorable, unique, fun, sweet dogs and cats at local shelters and animal rescue groups, you’ll become part of the momentum to save homeless pets.

Woman sitting outside a doorway with her adopted dog

Pet stores that sell puppies

The public is learning the truth behind pet stores and puppy mills. It’s not pretty. Any store that has puppies for sale likely gets them from breeders, who are very different from what people imagine. Instead of coming from a cozy home where the breeding dogs live as pets, puppies for sale in pet stores and online come from commercial dog breeders, also known as puppy mills. Learn more about puppy mills.

Dog breeding takes a lot of time and effort, and when the goal is making money (which is the case with commercial breeders and pet stores), costs need to be kept low. The result is that making a profit takes priority over providing for the health and welfare of the animals.

Dog breeding and dogs for sale

At Best Friends we recommend that people choose adoption from a shelter or rescue group rather than buying from a breeder. Seeing cute dogs for sale might make it tempting to buy a dog online or from a pet store, but a quick search on or will show that there are adorable dogs (as well as cats, kittens and puppies) waiting for homes in shelters and rescue groups.

Meanwhile, backyard breeders and pet mills are notorious for overbreeding dogs. And some cat breeders have also been found to have mill-like conditions, where adult animals are bred over and over for the sole purpose of churning out puppies or kittens for sale. The animals are kept in small cages 24/7 with little human interaction and no love. It’s a horrible life for the breeding animals, and it often results in sick puppies and kittens.

Take Action to Stop Puppy Mills

Find a pet

Once you’ve decided that you want to adopt a pet, the next step is finding just the right one to fit in with your family — even if your family is just you and your future pet. Whether you head to your local shelter or start with an online search, the best approach is to think about the kind of pet who will be the best match for you.

If you have a lot of time and patience and are willing to dedicate yourself to training a dog, then adopting a puppy might be a good fit. Puppy adoption also means being prepared for messes, potty training and, possibly, things in your house getting chewed up. If you decide a puppy is the right choice for you, remember that rescued puppies are just as adorable as puppies for sale online or at pet stores.

If you decide to adopt a cat, consider whether you want a kitten or an adult cat. Do you love the idea of a feisty kitten who will entertain you with her antics? Or would you prefer a mellower cat who likes curling up on your lap? Either way, shelters and rescue groups have lots of cats and kittens to choose from.

Shelter staff or rescue group volunteers are a great help in matching up pets with families. They truly care about the animals and can help prospective adopters pick out pets whose personalities are a good fit with their lifestyle.

Find a Pet to Adopt

Person petting the head of a white dog

Adoption process

The adoption process will vary depending on whether you head to your local shelter or a rescue group. To ensure the best possible match for both the pet and the adopter, most shelters and rescue groups ask potential adopters to fill out an application or questionnaire. Each organization has its own process based on its needs and the animals’ needs.

There is typically a fee to adopt a pet, and it is almost always less than the cost of buying a pet from a breeder or pet store. Each organization sets its own fees. It’s important to note that pets for adoption are usually spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped by the rescuing organization.

Part of the higher cost of buying puppies or kittens online or from pet stores is due to the registration papers that the pets often come with. But those registration papers are just written records of a pet’s name and the name of the pet’s parents (going a few generations back). In no way do registration papers indicate that the dog or cat is high quality, healthy or well socialized. In fact, the animals (who likely come from kitten or puppy mills) may be sick and unsocialized, resulting in heartache and substantial expense for the people who purchase them.

No-kill shelters and rescue groups

At no-kill organizations, pets are not killed as a means of making room for more animals. In these shelters and rescue groups, pets' lives are ended only in cases of irremediable illness, injury or behavior problems, when compassion demands euthanasia because there is no reasonable alternative. No-kill organizations have rejected the idea that it’s necessary to kill pets when the shelter fills up. Instead, proven programs are in place to reduce the number of pets coming into the shelter and to increase the number of pets leaving alive.

This mindset has brought down the number of dogs and cats being killed annually in the U.S. from about 17 million in the 1980s to around 378,000 in 2022. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do.

Every day, dogs and cats are killed in America’s shelters, simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. Hundreds of cats and dogs are killed daily, even though they could have made wonderful pets. But we’re working to change that.

Adopt from a Shelter or Rescue Group Near You

Person sitting on a couch with an orange tabby kitten in his lap

No-kill communities

Best Friends advocates for no-kill not just for organizations, but for entire communities. A community is considered no-kill when all of its shelters are saving at least 90% of the animals they take in. Learn more about no-kill communities.

Building a no-kill community typically involves a range of community members and groups working together to save the lives of homeless pets. To achieve no-kill, communities implement lifesaving strategies such as encouraging adoption and making it accessible to all, offering low-cost or free spay/neuter, and helping families keep their pets when they are struggling.

During the annual Best Friends National Conference, we share information and resources with participants from around the country so they can go home and work toward achieving no-kill in their own communities. And through the Best Friends Network, we share resources and give grants to shelters and rescue groups across the country. A Best Friends Network Partner is a good place to find a pet to adopt.

Find a Best Friends Network Partner Near You

The bottom line on pet adoption

Pets bring joy, love and laughter to millions of people every day. Whether you head to a local shelter or search online for a rescue group, the right pet for you is out there. After all, the best kind of pet is one who is adopted.