So You're Having Trouble Adopting a Shelter Pet—Here's What To Do

June 24th, 2021

By Arin Greenwood and

We all know someone who's tried to adopt a pet, and been rejected.

They're turned down for not having a fenced yard, or for working outside the home, or for being too old or too young. Perhaps they don't even bother applying, having been put off by long and invasive adoption applications that ask for detailed personal information, even references.

One shocking recent story involves Paralympic medalist Cheryl Angelelli, who says she was denied adopting a pair of dogs because she uses a wheelchair.

Human Animal Support Services is working to save more shelter pets and make it easier for families to adopt by sweeping away these barriers to adoption.

But what if you're on the receiving end, and finding it hard to adopt? Don't worry—we've got you covered, too! Here's what to do:

Go to a government shelter.

Most cities or counties have government-run, taxpayer-funded animal shelters. These shelters are generally "open admission"—meaning they take in all cats, dogs, and other animals brought in from the community.

Government shelters are usually very busy; we use the term "high volume" to mean there are a LOT of animals coming in, which means a LOT have to be going out to homes as well.

In almost all cases, government shelters will do same-day adoptions. You can walk in, chat with an adoption counselor, meet the available dogs and cats (and other animals), find a great match, fall in love, and go right home with your new furry family members. Often, government shelters offer free adoptions or low-cost adoption specials, to encourage you to do just that.

Bonus tip: You can visit government shelters outside your city or county!

Let's say you've gone to your city shelter and your heart hasn't found the pet it's looking for. Are you out of luck? No! Guess what—five, or 10, or 25, or 250 miles away there's another government shelter with a whole lot of other animals for you to meet. And 10 miles from there, another one!

Get in your car! Get on a plane! You don't need to adopt from your closest animal shelter. We even know of one couple who drove hundreds of miles to Texas, to adopt from a government shelter there.

Speaking of, we do strongly recommend coming to Texas to adopt. Texas's shelters are overflowing with wonderful, highly adoptable pets who would love to go home with you.

Lady Longhorn, Bastrop County Animal Shelter

Read adoption policies online to find out what the process will be like.

Most animal shelters and rescue groups put their adoption procedures and policies online. Take a look before entering into the adoption process, so you'll set your expectations about what'll be involved and how long the process may take.

There is nothing wrong—and in fact a lot right—with deciding to forego cumbersome, barrier-filled adoption procedures in favor of adopting from a shelter that does same-day adoptions.

Milky Way, Guilford County Animal Services

Email for help.

The pet adoption website has a full time staff person to help folks looking to adopt. They can guide you through the process, set expectations about how long it might take to adopt, and adjust the search to make sure you are seeing good matches. Get them at [email protected].

Seriously, we all want to help find you a pet to adopt. Reach out. All we ask is that you post lots of adopted pictures for us to admire, in return.

Bailey, El Paso Animal Services

Communication expectations.

Animal shelters and rescue groups are, as a rule, extremely busy—and then even busier than what you are picturing. Plus many rescue groups are staffed primarily with volunteers.

That means when a potential adopter calls or emails, there can be a delay in receiving a response. Build that into your expectations.

If a shelter has an address with hours, head there without waiting for a written response or returned phone call about a pet you're interested in. Otherwise the pet may be adopted before you hear back—but even if that pet has been spoken for by the time you get to the shelter, there's likely another one to fill your home (and your heart) once you're there to meet them in person.

Gordon, Palm Valley Animal Society

Scout out pets being rehomed online.

Check out and—two sites on which owners who need to find new homes for their pets, can match up with potential adopters. Nextdoor, Craigslist, community Facebook pages, and local mutual aid websites will often have posts, as well, about pets in search of new families. Your local animal shelter may also host a pet rehoming website.

Using these platforms helps make connections between animals who need homes, and homes that need animals—they also, critically, keep pets out of busy animal shelters.

Spunky, San Diego Humane Society

Come fly with me (or drive).

So you've found the perfect pup online—but they live 1,000 miles away, and your private plane is in the shop. Don't get discouraged, get transport.

All across the country, there are people who will drive or fly pets from where they face a risk of euthanasia, to where they can be adopted into a loving home. Some of these transporters volunteer their services; others will do it for a fee.

Pilots N Paws is one excellent nonprofit that flies shelter pets around. You can ask the shelter or rescue group you're adopting from, for the names of transporters working in their area. In many cases, you'll be connected with volunteers who take on individual legs of a pet's journey to you.

Beryl, Austin Pets Alive!

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