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There are lots of fantastic reasons to bring a canine companion into your family. If you have decided that you are ready to take on the responsibility, then you have a couple of options: you could buy from a breeder, or you could choose to adopt from a shelter or rescue.
We often recommend that you look to adopt first for the simple reason that there are thousands of dogs out there of all ages and breeds in desperate need of a home. You can make a big difference to their quality of life if you choose to adopt them just as they can change yours.
If you are lucky enough to live near a good shelter, you can get into contact with them directly and meet the pups that are already waiting for a home. If you don’t connect with any of the dogs, you can also let the shelter know what you are looking for, and they can get in touch if a likely canine companion comes along.
However, if you don’t live near a shelter, you still have plenty of options, as there are many online adoption services dedicated to connecting you with your ideal dog.
Keep in mind, though, that not all online adoption services are created equal, and some do a better job than others when it comes to vetting both you and the pups that are in their care to make sure you are a good match for one another.
Read on for our recommendations for the 8 best dog adoption websites as well as our top tips if you choose to adopt a dog online.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- 8 Best Dog Adoption Websites
- How To Evaluate Pets Online
- What To Expect From The Adoption Process
- The Verdict On Adopting A Dog
- Save To Pinterest
- Top Picks For Our Dogs
8 Best Dog Adoption Websites
While a quick search will find scores of reputable (and not-so-reputable!) websites that allow you to meet animals in need of adoption and search multiple shelters and rescues at the same time, we’ve found that the ones below are an excellent place to start.
PetFinder is an online adoption service for all kinds of animals, not just dogs. Rather than having the pets in their own care, they act as a central listing service for a variety of shelters, rescues, and individuals around the country.
You can limit your search by location, breed, type of organization, and a variety of other factors to find your perfect pooch.
The structure of the website does mean that the information provided about each animal is a bit different, and the process for adopting will also vary, as it will depend on the individual agency or shelter.
However, as long as you do your due diligence and research on the different shelters before adopting, this is one of the most comprehensive resources for finding the perfect pup.
2. Adopt A Pet
Adopt A Pet works in a similar way to PetFinder in that it lists dogs and cats from more than 17,000 different shelters on one central database. Again, you’ll be able to filter results by your location as well as the characteristics of the dog that you are looking for to quickly discover the canine companions available in your area.
Keep in mind that Adopt A Pet is an intermediary between you and the shelters and rescues that are caring for the animals, so your experience can vary when it comes to actually going through the adoption process with the shelter or rescue you’ve selected.
The ASPCA also provides a central database of dogs in rescues and shelters nationwide, and it doesn’t just include those available in their specific adoption centers. But if you live in New York or Los Angeles where there are many dogs in need of a home, you can also adopt directly from the organization.
When you adopt directly from the ASPCA, you can feel confident about your decision, as they are one of the world’s leaders when it comes to pet welfare. The organization goes above and beyond to make sure the dog you’ve chosen is the right match for your home to guarantee the best chances of a happy connection.
4. Rescue Me
Rescue Me is another charitable organization working hard to find homes for dogs that need them. This is a good site if you are looking for a specific dog breed, though you can also search based on other characteristics that are important to you.
Again, they act as an intermediary between you and a variety of organizations, but they do prioritize working with shelters and rescues that have similar goals and ways of working as they do. They have already connected almost one million dogs with their forever homes.
PetSmart Charities is another centralized database that connects you with a variety of rescues and shelters nationwide. They are one of the best choices if the organization that you will be adopting your pet from matters to you, as they are very transparent with this information from the start of the search process.
Rather than restricting you inside their portal, they push you through to an adoption agent early in the process. This means you’ll never be confused about who exactly you are adopting from.
The Best Friends Animal Society has shelters in Salt Lake City, Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles, and it has an intuitive website that lets you get to know their rescue dogs online. They also extend their service to a number of smaller rescues and shelters in their vicinity, making them an excellent resource if you live in one of these areas.
Notably, if you adopt from one of their rescues, they have a lifetime return policy. This means if the connection doesn’t work out, they will take the dog back into their care. They put a lot of resources into caring for the dogs that don’t yet have homes in their facility, which is reassuring for all the amazing pups waiting for their forever homes.
If you have your heart set on a particular breed when adopting, one of the most reliable ways to find what you are looking for is to use the AKC Rescue network. While you will meet some pups directly on the site, they are more of a database of rescues that specialize in certain breeds than a fully searchable database.
While this does mean you’ll need to do a little bit more legwork to find exactly what you are looking for, this is probably something you are already willing to do anyway if you are looking for a specific breed with specific characteristics.
The Shelter Project is a collaboration between the Human Society and Maddie’s Fund in an attempt to make shelters the first place potential adopters turn to when getting a pet. The organization does this by working with high-quality shelters that do the most to get their dogs ready for adoption and find good matches for them.
You can search by location, animal characteristics, and even by individual shelters if one has been recommended to you by a friend who has had a good experience in the past.
How To Evaluate Pets Online
While the sites we have listed above are very reliable, they are often intermediaries between you and another organization. Although they do their best to vet all their partners, it is not always possible to do this with 100% accuracy.
So, how do you assess the animal profile you are looking at? Consider the following factors.
- Do they list the vaccine status of the dog, whether it has been spayed or neutered, and any other health concerns? The fact that this information is available suggests that the dog has been seen by a vet and given appropriate medical care to ensure that they are healthy and ready for adoption.
- Is the agency easily contactable? While most shelters and rescues are volunteer-run and have limited resources, good shelters should be responding to you within a timely manner. It is reasonable to expect a response within 24-48 hours on a workday. If things take longer than that, it could be a red flag.
- Are there sensible meetup procedures in place? Good agencies will want you to have a general meet-up with the dog you would like to adopt before you get too far down the line of paperwork. This is to ensure the two of you are a good match and that the adoption process can move forward. If an agency doesn’t require you to meet up or wants payment before a meetup, avoid them, as these are serious red flags.
- Are their fees reasonable? While you are adopting a dog in need of a home, the process is not free. The adoption fee you are asked to pay is meant to cover things like the medical care your dog received before you adopted it and also the general work of the organization. A reasonable fee also helps agencies ensure that people are serious about adopting and willing to make a commitment rather than just impulsively taking a pup home only to change their mind later.
- Do they have a returns policy? While a dog isn’t like a pair of shoes that don’t fit, good shelters will have a return policy. Sometimes people aren’t as ready to cope with a dog as they imagined, or perhaps the dog isn’t a good fit for the family due to children, other pets, or unforeseen issues. Good shelters will have a policy for taking the dog back so they can continue to search for a suitable home for it. A good return policy will put your mind at ease and assure you of the quality of the agency that you are working with.
If you assess all of these factors when considering an animal and the agency that is offering it for adoption, you should be able to find good dogs that have been treated well and are ready to become a member of your family.
What To Expect From The Adoption Process
Locating dogs that might be a good fit for you online is often the fun part of the adoption process. You get to learn about hundreds of adorable pups and imagine them as part of your family. So, what can you expect when you are actually ready to start the process of adopting?
1. Prepare For Disappointment.
While there are thousands of dogs out there looking for homes, there is actually a lot of competition for the “best” dogs. Healthy puppies and purebred dogs are in demand, and there may be dozens of other people in contact with the shelter or rescue about the same dog.
Unless you are very lucky, be prepared to be told on more than one occasion that the dog you are interested in has already found a home. While that might be sad news for you, at least it is good news for the dog!
Check websites regularly, make applications quickly, and respond to correspondence as soon as you can to optimize your chances of getting the pooch you have set your heart on.
2. Be Prepared To Answer Questions About Your Living Situation.
Rescues and shelters know better than most that even people with the best of intentions can find themselves unable to care for a dog or inadvertently create a living situation that is detrimental to the health and happiness of a dog.
Many of the dogs they are trying to find homes for have come from those kinds of situations, and these shelters don’t want to see history repeating itself.
This is why adoption agents will actually want to know quite a bit about you! While their questions might seem invasive, they are all part of ensuring that you will be a good match for the dog.
Also, keep in mind that you do need to be quite thorough on your adoption applications and throughout the process in general. The dog is in the rescue because they have been removed from an inappropriate situation. The last thing that the rescue wants is to send them into another inappropriate situation.
This is why they have a vetting process in place to make sure you are capable of looking after the dog.
Naturally, they will ask you for personal information in order to manage the application process, and some shelters may also use this to conduct a background check to rule out people with animal cruelty or other issues in their background.
You can also expect them to ask you about the size of your home, who lives with you, your working hours, your experience with animals, and so forth. These questions are all designed to match you up with the right pup.
Active people who have flexible work schedules make better matches for energetic and friendly breeds like Labradors, while an older more sedentary person who is out at work for several hours a day will be a better match for a smaller, more independent dog.
None of these questions are about judging you; they are all about finding a good match.
3. There Will Be An Adoption Fee.
As we have already said, adopting a dog isn’t free! The fee you will be asked to pay helps to cover the costs of the rescue and can also be a sign of your seriousness. Families that are willing to make a financial commitment tend to look after their dogs for longer.
Fortunately, the shelter’s fee is much cheaper than what you would expect to pay when buying a pup from a breeder, so you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.
Your rescue pup will have had a thorough health check at the vet and will probably also have already received their essential vaccinations and have been spayed or neutered. They may also have received training or other remedial care.
Learn more about adopting from a shelter vs. buying from a breeder here.
4. Expect Some Contact With The Shelter Post-Adoption.
Most shelters don’t simply place their dogs and then wash their hands of the pup and move on to other dogs in need. Good shelters will follow up with you to make sure you and your pup are getting on well, and they can offer you support and advice if you have any questions about the health or care of your new dog.
You can read our complete guide to adopting a Labrador Retriever here.
The Verdict On Adopting A Dog
When you are looking to adopt a dog, online adoption websites can be a great way to meet lots of dogs in search of homes and find one that might be a good fit for you.
But when you are working through websites, you do need to be careful to ensure that you are engaging with reputable agencies and that the information that they are giving you about the dogs is accurate.
The eight websites we recommend above are all a great place to start if you are looking to adopt a pup. They can help you search hundreds of rescues and shelters to find a dog that is likely to make a successful and permanent addition to your family.
Remember, be prepared to do the following when adopting a dog from a reputable shelter:
- Pay an adoption fee for the dog
- Answer detailed questions about your home situation and experience with dogs
- Be aware that you’re likely competing with lots of other people hoping to adopt the same dog you’re interested in
Do you have any experience dealing with online dog adoption websites? Which websites would you recommend, and what’s your top advice? Share your experience with the community in the comments section below.
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Top Picks For Our Dogs
- BEST PUPPY TOY
We Like: Calmeroos Puppy Toy w/ Heartbeat and Heat Packs - Perfect for new puppies. Helps ease anxiety in their new home.
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We Like: KONG Classic - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
- BEST DOG TREATS
We Like: Zukes Mini Naturals - One of our favorite treats for training our service dog puppies.
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We Like: The Farmer's Dog - A couple months ago we started feeding Raven fresh dog food and she loves it! Get 50% off your first order of The Farmer's Dog.
For a list of all the supplies we get for our new service dog puppies check out our New Puppy Checklist on the PuppyInTraining.com blog.