Adding a pet to your family is big decision. There are many important factors to consider including the breed, age, and activity level of the pet, as well as your lifestyle, family, home space, and finances. We urge you to consider these factors carefully, learn about the type of animal you are interested in, and to contact one of our adoption centers to meet available pets and discuss which one might be a good fit for your family.
We also recognize that years of low cost spay and neuter efforts, as well as targeted community outreach programs to help people keep their pets, have decreased the number of homeless animals in New England shelters. While this says positive things about the state of animal welfare in our region, we also understand this can be frustrating to families looking to adopt. Due to the lower number of animals in our local shelters, some adoption agencies are sourcing their animals from other parts of the country, or even internationally, where pet overpopulation is still a pressing problem. This website will provide information on how to make an informed decision about the integrity of the organization from which you choose to adopt, whether the pet was transported from a different region, or surrendered locally. If you plan to adopt an animal, consider the following:
(Please note that this page has a focus on topics that may be unique to Massachusetts and the New England area. For more information about local laws surrounding animal sheltering and transport, visit your state’s Department of Agriculture website.)
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has a list of adoption organizations that are approved, though we encourage you to also keep the following guidelines in mind when working with an adoption organization.
Medical History and Information
A reputable adoption organization will ensure that the medical needs of the animals in their care are accounted for. This should include a plan for spay and neuter surgery, age and breed appropriate vaccinations and testing. All medical records and information should be communicated clearly and made available to you to review prior to committing to adoption. Any animals transported from out of state require a valid health certificate.
Behavior and Personality Information
Meeting the animal
The best case scenario for adoption match making is the ability to meet the animal in person. Ideally the animal would already be in a foster home or adoption center nearby where you can meet them, observe their behavior and have questions about their likes and dislikes answered by someone who has spent time with the animal. If the pet is still in a foster home outside of driving distance, a virtual meeting over video where you can see them interacting with their foster family and ask questions is a reasonable alternative. We would strongly urge you to avoid committing to an animal you have never met or interacted with. It is very easy to fall in love with a photograph, but your pet’s personality plays an important role in their compatibility in your home. A reputable adoption organization will understand, and likely prefer that you make a personal connection with a pet before deciding to adopt.
Ask the organization for all information on this pet’s background history and for their behavior information and recommendations. Even for pets with little history that were found as strays, some information should be known about their preferences in their foster home or during a previous shelter stay. If the dog was surrendered by an owner, a personality profile should have been filled out to get the most information possible to place them with a new family. Most organizations will perform a formal behavior evaluation on dogs to help information determine where they may need additional training resources, or a specific type of home (not suited to young children, resource guarding, reactivity to other animals, etc.) The MSPCA feels that match making based on full disclosure of the animal’s history and a formal behavior evaluation is an extremely important part of a transparent adoption process.
The MSPCA strongly encourages you to choose an organization that uses only positive reinforcement training methods with the animals in their care. Read more about the MSPCA’s position on training.
How to pick a puppy
You may think all puppies are a blank slate, but genetics and early socialization play a large role in determining what kind of dog a puppy will turn into. The MSPCA has tips on picking a puppy with a strong foundation of socialization.
Post Adoption Support
Available for questions
A reputable adoption organization will want to have a life long relationship with their adopters. They should be available to you for questions and concerns about the animal’s health and behavior, with the understanding that any financial undertakings for future care is the responsibility of the adopter.
If things don’t work out
Pet adoption agencies understand that even with the best of intentions from both sides, sometimes a match does not work out. The organization should have a clear policy in place that states they will take the animal back into their care if the match does not work out for any reason. They should not guilt or shame the adopter for a match that turned out to be a poor fit. An upstanding organization sees an adoption return not as a failure, but as an opportunity to have more information about what kind of home that animal is looking for.
Other Things to Consider
How are animals sourced and transported if not locally
While transportation of animals from areas of overpopulation to regions with high demand for adoption can be a life-saving tool, serious considerations regarding disease transmission and stress reduction must be taken.
Ask the adoption organization questions about their transport protocols and best practices. They should be able to easily describe the systems they have in place for safely and humanely transporting animals into their care. Both the importing and exporting organizations should be registered 501C3 agencies or municipal organizations. They should abide by all local, state, and federal regulations to ensure humane standards of care for every animal.
- Vehicles must be loaded to ensure adequate airflow and temperature regulation for every kennel and allow for a visual check on animals without moving kennels.
- Temperatures are to be regulated between 60-85 degrees F and a carbon monoxide detector be in place.
- Kennels need to be large enough for the animal to stand up, lie down, and turn around and consideration should be given to noise level and creating visual barriers between species.
- For transports longer than two hours, cats must have access to a space to go to the bathroom.
- At minimum stops must be taken very 4-6 hours to perform a visual check on the animals, and to provide fresh water.
- Dogs must be walked and exercised on trips that require an overnight stay or a change in vehicles.
- If land transport will last more than 8 hours, flying is generally preferable if available.
For more detailed information about transport best practices check out The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement website.
Parking lot meetings
Arrangements that include a group of people meeting a vehicle in a parking lot to directly receive their animals may be an indicator that this is not a reputable group. Massachusetts has animal welfare regulations that require a 48 hour quarantine for all animals being imported from out of state. This holding time is important for detection of disease transmission. Local adoption agencies that use locations in neighboring states, and, or transfer animals directly from transport vehicles to adopters may be skirting these laws that were put in place to protect both adopters and the health of the animals.
Source community partnerships
Is the adoption agency building a relationship with the communities where the animals originate? Transport collaborations should have a positive impact on each community, both short term for the animals being transported into an area of high adoption demand, and long term to address the source of overpopulation in the community of origin.
Websites with lots of puppies
Unfortunately there is such a thing as “too good to be true.” Some breeders are using the internet to pose as rescue organizations, and websites with many puppies of different breeds available are often puppy mills and should be met with suspicion. Most reputable breeders or adoption organizations will not ship puppies directly to out of state adopters, so proceed with caution. A shelter or rescue group will have 501C3 status as a nonprofit organization, and that information should be available on their website, or by searching on Guidestar.
For information about how to choose a responsible breeder visit our webpage – Finding a Responsible Breeder.