Passing Pet Adoption Screenings

New Pet Owners  •  Mary Shaughney  •  Tuesday, October 5, 2021

You’ve been scouring the internet for a new pet to bring into your life, but time and time again you see one you like, email the animal rescue and are told that he/she is no longer available. Or you submit an application, but then it’s denied with no explanation. Adopting a dog or cat from an animal rescue can be frustrating. Understanding what rescues are looking for in potential applicants can save you a lot of time and heartbreak. 

Shelters vs. Rescues

There is a difference between animal shelters and animal rescues. Shelters are usually government funded with a central building that houses most of their adoptable animals. The processing time for adoption is considerably shorter when working with a shelter- in some cases, you can meet an adoptable pet, put in an application and be approved all in the same day. Take time to speak with staff or volunteers who interact with the shelter animals on a daily basis to get a sense of their personality. Remember that shelter animals are not always on their best behavior as shelters can be a loud, scary place. You won’t be able to take a shelter pet to your home before adopting him/her to ensure it’s a good fit, however some shelters will allow potential adopters to organize a meeting between their pets and the dog they want to adopt. 

Rescues are often privately funded organizations run on donations and volunteers. Since rescue animals are generally fostered in a home environment by volunteers, you won’t be able to meet your potential new pet until after you’ve passed the application process. A benefit of adopting from a rescue is that you will have more opportunities to interact with the pet candidate in your home and with your own pets before signing adoption paperwork. While the thorough vetting of applicants may frustrate some potential pet owners, if you don’t mind waiting you may find a more perfect match for your family. 

Submitting an application

When you’ve found a rescue with an animal you’d like to adopt, the first step is to fill out the rescue’s application form. It’s important to take your time completing this form and give thorough answers. Some rescues don’t contact applicants to get clarification on information written on the form, so provide any details you would like them to take into account when reviewing your paperwork.

Applications will normally ask:

  • Do you own or rent your home?
  • Do you have a fenced backyard (dogs), if not, how often and in what way will you provide exercise?
  • Does everyone in the house approve of getting a new pet?
  • Do you have children? Are they good with pets?
  • Do you currently have pets? Are they good with other animals?
  • Have you had this type of animal before?
  • Where will the animal be kept during the day? At night?
  • How will you care for the dog if you have to leave town?

Be honest in your answers and don’t lie about anything that you’re asked. It’s tempting to write down what you think the rescue wants to hear, but this could lead to you matching with a cat or dog who won’t fit well in your home environment. If you’re worried that a lack of backyard means you won’t be able to adopt a dog, include details on how you’re planning to provide exercise and increased socialization by taking your dog on walks and to the dog park. Don’t have a lot of experience with cats but you want a kitten to raise and love? Let the rescue know about the research you’ve been doing. Or petsit for a friend’s cats to get some experience. 

Landlord approval 

If you rent a home or apartment, confirm with your landlord that your rental is pet-friendly. Some rental properties have a limit on the number of pets, type of pet or breeds allowed. It’s best to check with your landlord before submitting an application on a dog or cat, as rescues will often call and speak with applicant’s landlords for approval. 


Choose your references carefully, as they can have a lot of sway on adoption applications. Rescues will ask everything from how long the reference has known you, to if they would let you petsit their own pets. Choosing a reference that either doesn’t answer their phone or only responds with generic or uninterested comments to the questions can reflect poorly on your application. If the rescue has spent three days trying to reach a reference, odds are good another applicant will be chosen for the dog you’re interested in. 

Your references should be individuals you’ve known at least a few years, who have seen you interact with animals. They should want to provide a rave review that causes the application screeners to want you to be the one to adopt the pet you’re interested in.  

Veterinary records

Any rescue worth their salt will take the time to call your listed veterinarian to confirm that all of the pets in your home (current and past) were seen annually for a wellness check, kept up to date on vaccinations and were on preventative treatments. If your veterinary records show a history of lax pet parenting, rescues may choose to pass by your application for fear that you won’t keep your new pet up to date. It’s important that your pets see a vet for a wellness check every year to keep an eye on their physical and dental health. 

Home visit

Many rescues will require a home visit to ensure that your new pet will have a safe home environment. This can also be a time when the potential new family member can meet other pets, children or adults in the home. Puppy-proof your home if you're applying for a young dog and showcase the adoptable animal’s potential new toys, crate, feeding area etc. to show the rescue coordinator that you’re prepared for a new pet. If the rescue chooses you as the new adoptive family, you may only have a few days before bringing home the new animal and should be ready.

A few tips

Put in general applications

If you choose to go the route of adopting from an animal rescue, put in a general application with the rescue even before you see an animal listed on their website that you’d like to meet. Often rescues are happy to save approved applications for future adoptable animals. If your application is already approved and the rescue thinks you might be a good fit, you’ll move to the front of the line to meet the potential new pet. Complete applications with several local rescues and provide them with a list of what you’re looking for in a new pet.

Denied applications aren’t closed doors

If your application is denied, don’t be afraid to contact the rescue to inquire why it was turned down. There’s a chance that you can explain some information that might have been misinterpreted from the application forms. If their concern is something that you can alter, such as time away from home during the day, etc. ask if you can amend your application once you’ve made the necessary changes. 


Volunteer with a local animal shelter or rescue! Acting as a volunteer means you’ll be the first to know when new animals are available for adoption, and you’ll already be well known by the rescue or shelter. Many volunteers choose to act as a foster and take available animals into their homes until they’re adopted. In some cases, volunteers who foster an animal will decide they love the pet too much to give up and will end up adopting the animal themselves!

Don’t give up!

Don’t get discouraged. Adopting a new pet can be a long process, so be prepared for it to take time. Often pet owners will spend a few months speaking with rescues or shelters and meeting potential new pets before they find one that fits well into their family. Once you’ve found the perfect match, the wait will seem well worth it!

Protect your new pet

Once you've been approved and bring home your new pet, you should consider enrolling him in a pet insurance policy. Pet insurance can help protect you against unexpected veterinary bills for accidents and illnesses. You can also enroll in wellness coverage which will reimburse for preventative care items such as vaccinations/titers, dental cleanings and much more! Get a quote.

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