It’s likely that if you’re reading this, you’ve begun the preparation process to add a furry friend to your family. Get rabies shots, check. Find grooming tools, check. There are enough fluffy toys for your pet to tear apart, that’s a check. Research on dog walkers, also a check.

You may not realize, however, that some of the most important decisions are made before you sign any paperwork or visit your local pet shop to pick up the best treats. It all begins with where you find your pet.

When it comes to getting a pet ethically, where you get it is an important factor, but there are more considerations out there. To learn how you can adopt an animal with its best interests at heart, we spoke with animal advocacy organizations. Follow our guide below for step-by-step instructions.

Questions to ask yourself

It’s important to consider a few factors before visiting a shelter or contacting an animal rescue group, such as:

· When it comes to caring for a pet, how much time do you have?

The first question you must ask yourself is: What kind of animal would you like? While both cats and dogs require playtime, dogs also require daily walks. No matter how long or how short an animal’s lifespan may be, you should prepare yourself for it. In general, smaller dogs live longer than larger ones, and if you buy a bird, it may live for two decades or more.

Additionally, you should consider:

· What does your pet need to be healthy and happy?

· How much can you afford to spend on pets food, toys, veterinary care, and what are your options?

· Who will look after your pet if you go on vacation and can’t bring it?

· What kind of pet do you want? One that’s energetic or one that’s a bit more low-key?

By answering these questions, you can start narrowing down whether or not you are ready to become a pet parent and what type of animal is best for you.

How To Adopt a Pet Ethically

Shelters vs. rescues

For those who are interested in adopting pets from shelters and rescues, you are likely to find a facility that treats animals well and serves a higher purpose.

Many rescue organizations are run by private, non-profit organizations. Some of them have a facility or a network of foster homes. Shelters may be run by government agencies or by municipalities.

Shelters and rescue organizations sometimes work together to make the most of each other’s resources.

Ultimately, each shelter and rescue is its own independent organization with its own policies. It’s best to adopt from a shelter that offers foster options in addition to adoption policies you can cosign.

Breeders

In the event that you haven’t been able to find your ideal animal at a shelter or a rescue, you could turn to a breeder.

While we do not recommend using breeders as your first choice, there are ways to tell the difference between a breeder who focuses only on profits and one who puts animals’ well-being first.

When a breeder won’t let you see an animal before you buy it, that’s probably a red flag. There is a chance they won’t let you see your potential pet because they keep it in an unsanitary environment (like a puppy mill). Unfortunately, there have been tales of unscrupulous breeders showing a pet in good condition however down the street are small cages housing the breeder’s maltreated animals.

Puppy and kitty mills

Animal mills may present themselves as responsible breeders or rescue groups online.

Keeping an eye out for costs is one of the red flags to watch for.

Certainly, there are some reputable breeding businesses selling dogs at a high price.

Having said that, if a pet costs more than $500 online, it may be worth investigating if you’re talking to a reputable breeder.

It’s very telling if you’re barred from visiting the animal to see how it’s treated if you’re dealing with someone exploitative.

Cat mills are considerably less common than puppy mills, simply because there are more cats than dogs, so they are less profitable.

The best way to help cats is to adopt them from a shelter.

Furthermore, exotic animals often require costly, specialized care, like large enclosures that duplicate their natural habitats.

What to do after adopting (or fostering)

You can search local shelters and rescue groups to find a good match once you’ve done all your research (or fostering).

To begin acclimating your cat to your home or apartment, keep it in a separate room first. Once it gets comfortable in that space, you can introduce it to the rest of the house. You may want to consider crate training your new dog as he gets to know his new environment. Give your dog plenty of time to adjust to her new home and family, no matter how old she is.

Also, consider basic training sessions, no matter how comfortable you are with animals.

It is not an easy task to adopt and care for an animal that will be dependent on you for a long time (or extremely expensive). The joy of pet ownership includes a great deal of responsibility, and you should be sure you’re up for the challenge before getting a pet. Fortunately, organizations that rescue and shelter animals typically have the necessary resources, so you don’t have to do it alone.

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