You Have a Right to Ask: Questions for Prospective Pet Adopters

Shelters and adoption agencies have their own criteria that they want you to meet before sending you home with a new companion. But even if they say “yes” to your application, there are some questions you should ask:

1. What is the companion animal’s history? There’s a good chance that your prospective pet was surrendered to the shelter by its previous owner(s). If so, try to find out why. Were there behavioral problems? Were they moving and unable/unwilling to bring their companion along? Did they not have “enough time” to spend with their companion? Answers to these questions will help to guide future decisions (e.g. behavioral interventions to overcome separation anxiety). Was the companion a “one-person” pet or did he/she live with an extended family? What activity level was he/she used to? Please see the article Reasons for Pet Surrender: Laziness or Last Resort on this website.

2. How long has the companion been at the shelter? Has it been weeks or months? What are the living conditions? Do they appear physically cold or uncomfortable or do they have access to cuddly blankets? (Check out Operation Blankets of Love to learn more about the amazing work they do to make shelter animals more "adoptable.") Has the staff been readily available to exercise and play with the pet?  Does it appear that shelter/agency staff are trying to find a good match for you and have the companion’s best interests at heart? If the companion is on “death row” would you be willing to foster, tell a friend who was interested in fostering or take the pet yourself to a no-kill shelter? Some people scour the web for companions they can save in one way or another.

3. How old is the companion animal? A companion’s social experience with people and other animals depends on how old he/she is. Unfortunately, some kittens and puppies were removed from their litters too early which can stunt their development (this is a frequent occurrence at puppy mills where care is corrupt – and cash is king!). An elder pet may have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle over a prolonged period of time and may have a harder time adapting to change. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that an older companion will have had some training which may reduce the chances of behavioral or soiling issues. Remember that you will likely incur increased veterinary expenses during a companion’s elder years.

4. Is the companion animal healthy? Are medical records available? Has the pet had the proper inoculations and been spayed or neutered? “Fixed” companions tend to live longer, happier lives and are much calmer. Is the companion peppy and responsive? Is his/her coat and ears clean and free of parasites?

5. Has the companion been trained to eliminate outdoors, on pads or in a litter box? Puppies and kittens take longer to train for potty needs. You may save yourself time and frustration (and cleaning solution) by adopting an adult companion.

6. What are the observed needs and behaviors of the companion? If you’ve done some homework on breeds, you’ll have a rough idea of what to expect. However, surrender or abandonment will affect any breed adversely. Speak with shelter/agency staff about the particular behaviors the companion may be exhibiting. How does he/she get along with other people and animals? Remember, too, that behavior changes (likely for the better, but sometimes for worse) may occur over time as your new companion "settles in" with you.

7. As a last resort, will the agency/shelter take the companion back? Sometimes, this heartbreaking option is necessary. Regrettably, some companions do not respond to behavioral interventions, may have difficulty adjusting to certain environments, or prove to be an outright danger to you or your family. Refer to your signed agreement with the adoption agency, or, if the pet was adopted from a “kill-shelter,” please turn the companion in to a no-kill facility (refer to the partial listing of favorably-reviewed no-kill shelters on this website). Given the right circumstances and unflagging support, many "re-adoptees" find, loving, forever homes.