As you start looking for a pet, keep in mind that each group has its own adoption policies, and it's important for would-be adopters to understand the policies of the group they're dealing with. Groups may require that adopters have a fence or may prohibit adoptions to homes with small children. Others may not care about either of these things. Some groups allow out-of-area adoptions, and others don't. Some groups may do extensive reference checks on all applicants and others may be first come, first served.
Adoption fees vary widely among different shelters and rescue groups. Some county shelters have low adoption fees but provide little or nothing in the way of veterinary care or evaluation. Others offer their animals fully vetted. Some rescue groups take care of all veterinary needs prior to adopting, others may require that adopters sign a contract or make a deposit to get the work done themselves. A quick search of Petfinder reveals adoption fees ranging from $15 to $350.
Typically, these fees reflect the amount of veterinary care that has gone into the animal, but county shelters and humane societies may have lower adoption fees than rescue groups with the same amount of veterinary work if the shelter receives external subsidies. Most small independent rescues rely on adoption fees to cover their medical bills and must charge accordingly. County shelters typically have the lowest fees, and breed-specific rescues, particularly those that deal with smaller breeds, usually have the highest. Severe problems such as dental decay and heartworms can generate medical bills ranging into the thousands of dollars. An animal's adoption fee may reflect its individual medical needs or it may reflect an average cost to the group, with healthy animals subsidizing the care of other animals with more problems. Adoption costs also vary by region and breed.
Petfinder charges members nothing for its services and retains no part of the adoption fees. It leaves all decisions about medical treatment, adoption fees, adoption requirements, and animal care to its members, with the understanding that they treat animals humanely and do not sell them for profit. Although Petfinder staff make an effort to screen and get to know their members, it is not possible for them to check out or monitor all rescues in person. For this reason, prospective adopters and rescue groups alike should be alert and careful when using Petfinder.