15 Reasons to Adopt a Pet

If you're thinking of getting a new dog or cat, here's why you should visit your local animal shelter first.

1. Choices

little girl with dog in front of playhouse

Greg Kwolek found the perfect present for his girlfriend's birthday when he noticed an adorable puppy at a pet store. He swiped his credit card, signed the receipt for $700, and brought home a very special gift. Two years later, the couple, in Sayreville, New Jersey, couldn't be more pleased with their dog, Madison.

But Kwolek regrets his impulse purchase, and wishes he had done more research and perhaps explored other options, such as an animal shelter. He explains his decision that day at the mall: "It's like you are in the mood for a candy bar, and you browse the rack, and just pick one. But I could have saved a dog's life by adopting one from a shelter."

Gail Buchwald, vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Cares (ASPCA), has encountered many prospective pet owners like Kwolek. She says finding the right pet requires patience and the right connection between owners and pets, and shelters are the best place to find that mix. "Shelters are wonderful place for animals," she says. "People say they're too scared to adopt from a shelter. But the animals are being fed and loved and cared for."

Buchwald says even if you end up finding the right pet at a breeder, your first visit should still be a shelter. Here are 15 reasons why.

1. Choices

Step into a pet store, and you're likely to be bombarded with puppies with multiple folds in their skin and kittens with enormous drooping eyes. Such sights are more than enough to convince anyone to rush the cage to the checkout stand. However, there are several important factors to consider first.

A new pet is not like a new car or computer. The dog or cat you purchase can be with you for 15 or even 20 years, which makes it a decision that's right up there with other life cycle decisions like choosing a mate or buying a house, says Buchwald.

The most precious kitten or puppy found at a pet store might not be right for someone who doesn't have time to give the young animal the constant attention and care it needs. Pets, especially puppies, need house training, obedience training, and regular medical attention. An older animal found at a shelter, on the other hand, can be a lot calmer and may not need as much training or attention.

In addition, you are more likely to find a wider variety of animals large and small, energetic and kid-friendly, among other characteristics, at a shelter than anywhere else. On Petfinder.com, the pet adoption Web site operated by the ASPCA, you can search for the exact attributes you are looking for. And with rescue shelters across the country taking in so many dogs and cats every day, sooner or later you'll find a pet that will fit well with you and your family.

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