The 7 Best Pet Adoption Agencies of 2021

There are so many great places to find your new best friend

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

pet adoption agencies

Group4Studio / Getty Images

There are so many reasons you should add a new furry member to your family. Pets are good for your health: They help keep you active, ease stress, and help you live longer. Plus, they make great companions who will provide you with unconditional love. Pets can help children learn loyalty and trust, compassion, and empathy. Whatever your reason to adopt, there are so many great places to find a new best friend.

Adopting a pet from an animal shelter or rescue group is a wonderful way to save a life. There are organizations in every city and small town that work to find homes for strays, young animals, and pets that owners just can’t take care of anymore. You can find pretty much every age, breed mix, size, and personality if you know where to look and are patient enough. When you adopt, you also open up space for another furry friend to be rescued. And, generally speaking, adoption is generally less expensive and more ethical than getting a pet from a breeder.

If you’re ready to share the couch and have a new buddy, here’s where you can start.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Petfinder

Petfinder

 Petfinder

Why We Chose It: Although Petfinder isn’t an animal shelter or a rescue group, we chose this website as our overall best pick because it works with thousands of animal rescue organizations across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

What We Like

- Listings from nearly 11,000 shelters and rescue groups in North America

- Search online by breed, age, size, location

- Set up email alerts when a pet is listed

What We Didn't Like

- No physical shelter

Petfinder is one of the best and most comprehensive pet search tools out there.

Using the tool, you can search for all adoptable pets near you or narrow it down by breed, age, color, or size. You can even get more specific and make sure the pet is good with kids or other animals. If you don’t see the perfect pet right now, set up an alert with everything you’re looking for and you’ll get an email when a pet exactly like that is posted.

Petfinder isn’t limited to dogs and cats: The company also shares information about birds, horses and farmyard animals, little furry critters like hamsters and gerbils, and finned and scaled creatures like fish and turtles.

Using Petfinder is free, but there might be an adoption fee if you end up getting a pet from a rescue, but individual owners cannot charge an adoption fee

No matter where you are located, Petfinder offers the ideal way to find your next pet.

Best Shelter Network: Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends Animal Society

 Best Friends Animal Society

Why We Chose It: We selected Best Friends because of its accessibility and the number of shelters it has in each state.

What We Like

- Works with 3,200 shelter and rescue partners

- One of the leaders in the national no-kill movement

- Runs largest animal sanctuary of its kind in the U.S.

- Saving animals for more than 35 years

What We Didn't Like

- Unlike an online tool like Petfinder, you won't get search results from individual pet owners

With the motto “Save Them All,” this well-known animal rescue group has been saving animals for more than 35 years.

Best Friends Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, is the largest sanctuary in the U.S. and is typically home to more than 1,600 animals needing lifelong care. There are dogs, cats, horses, goats, parrots, wildlife, and many other animals. But the true reason this group made our list is for the Best Friends Network of 3,100 shelters throughout the country, with locations in all 50 states. Wherever you are, you can find a no-kill facility or rescue near you or search for pets online.

Best Friends is one of the leaders in the no-kill movement, providing support and training for shelters and rescues and mobilizing community awareness to reach a goal of nationwide no-kill status by 2025.

Best Friends recently closed some of its physical shelters to focus on foster-based programs and help boost its partner rescue groups. 

Best New York: North Shore Animal League

North Shore Animal League

 North Shore Animal League

Why We Chose It: North Shore Animal League made our list is because it places more than 18,000 pets each year.

What We Like

- The largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization in the world.

- Low-cost spay/neuter and vet services program

- Places more than 18,000 pets each year

- Many animals come from partner rescues/shelters across the country and around the world

What We Didn't Like

- Animals can only be adopted from one location

Located in Port Washington on Long Island, North Shore Animal League is one of the largest no-kill rescues in the U.S. At this high-profile organization, many of these animals come from partner rescue groups across the country and around the world who have an abundance of homeless pets.

When you visit, an adoption counselor will work with you to help find a pet that fits your lifestyle. You’ll spend time meeting the pets you’re interested in until you find your animal soulmate.

Adoption fees range from about $50 to $350, depending on the type of pet and age. Costs include spay/neuter and up to 15 days of health care, if needed. North Shore also offers low-cost spay and neuter services and veterinary care to pet owners in the community.

Best Chicago: PAWS Chicago

PAWS Chicago

 PAWS Chicago

Why We Chose It: PAWS placed thousands of dogs and cats in 2020 and racked up nearly 84,000 volunteer hours. It also offers low-cost spay/neuter and veterinary pet services care to the community.

What We Like

- Compatibility quiz to find your best pet match

- Follow-up training required for most dog adoptions

- Offers low-cost vet services and training classes

- Found homes for more than 4,100 animals in 2020

What We Didn't Like

- An extra training class fee for younger dogs

It can be daunting to walk into a shelter and look at all those cute furry faces. We love that PAWS Chicago wants to help you make the best match.

Before you search for animals at one of its facilities or online, PAWS suggests you take the ComPETibility Quiz. It’s just a few questions about how many adults, children, and other pets are in the home and a little about the personality of the dog or cat you’re looking for. You’ll receive a personalized scorecard to help you find pets with scores that generally match your own. It's this matching service that put PAWS on our list.

Adoption fees range from about $50 to $350 depending on the type and age of the pet. Dogs under 8 years old also require roughly a $100 deposit toward training classes to make sure you and your pup get off to a good start.

Best Los Angeles: Wags & Walks

Wags and Walks

Wags and Walks

Why We Chose It: Wags & Walks made our list because the rescue has saved over 7,000 dogs since it launched and focuses on matching dogs with humans by personality.

What We Like

- Focuses on temperament, not breed or age

- Flexible about adopters' qualifications

- Has a 4,000-square-foot facility and large foster network

What We Don't Like

- Adoption fees are on the higher-end of the scale

Although one of the smaller groups on the list, Wags & Walks earns praise for giving overlooked dogs and adopters a chance.

The rescue was founded in 2011 by a veterinarian’s daughter who was stunned by the number of healthy dogs euthanized each year in overcrowded Los Angeles shelters. The group’s goal is to focus on dogs with great temperaments, no matter what the breed. The organization has a 4,000-square-foot facility in West Los Angeles, which is temporarily closed to walk-in visitors due to COVID-19. Currently, all dogs are in foster care.

The rescue requires all potential adopters to fill out an application before meeting potential canine buddies. This allows them to screen adopters and make the best dog-human matches. Wags & Walks is also flexible about adopters and don’t rule out people who aren’t home full-time or live in small spaces.

Adoption fees are about $450 to $550 and include spay/neuter, vaccines, and microchipping.

Best Texas: Austin Pets Alive!

Austin Pets Alive

 Austin Pets Alive

Why We Chose It: Austin Pets Alive! is a top pick because it makes it incredibly easy to find a pet that fits your family and lifestyle.

What We Like

- Detailed online search and app to help find the best pet match

- Nearly 11,000 adoptions in 2020

- Training and socialization include playgroups, Canine Good Citizenship, and Total Obedience Program

- Helps train and mentor shelters and rescues transitioning to no-kill status

What We Don't Like

- Need to be within 100 miles of Austin to adopt

Austin Pets Alive! provides the Austin area with access to adoptable pets and has a comprehensive pet search system through its website.

The online search encourages you to add information about your household (people, pets, and how quiet or active it is). You can further narrow your selection based on energy level, size, breed, and more and will get all sorts of suggestions that might be a good match. The shelter also has an app that lets you find the perfect pet or set up alerts for when the ideal one comes along.

The organization had nearly 11,000 adoptions in 2020. Adoption prices vary depending on age and type of pet, and often there are no fees. Training is an important part of socialization for dogs at the shelter. Most take part in playgroups and some complete Canine Good Citizen Training or the Total Obedience Program.

Best Pet Store-Affiliated: PetSmart Charities

PetSmart Charities

 PetSmart Charities

Why We Chose It: We selected PetSmart Charities because it works with more than 4,000 nonprofits and governmental entities.

What We Like

- Have adoption events or centers in nearly all 1,660 stores

- Online search for pets

- Works with nearly 4,000 nonprofits and government groups

What We Don't Like

- If you want a specific pet and it's far away, you'll need to travel for it

- No permanent physical facility at all stores

Instead of selling puppies and kittens in its stores, PetSmart has teamed up with local rescues and shelters to hold adoption events and sometimes house adoptable pets in almost all of their 1,660 locations.

You’ve no doubt seen the waggy-tailed pups and mewling kittens outside the stores as eager adopters gather around, hoping to add a new family member. These events give great exposure to pets, especially those that are with small groups that don’t have physical facilities.

Two out of every 10 pet adoptions in North America are facilitated through PetSmart Charities. You can go to an event, look for pets in-store, or search online at PetSmart’s portal to find a pup near you. Adoption fees will depend on the pet, shelter, and location.

PetSmart Charities have granted more than $451 million to animal welfare since 1994.

What Are Pet Adoption Agencies?

A pet adoption agency is an organization that allows people to adopt pets. There are all sorts of ways you can adopt a rescue pet. You might find a local humane society or animal shelter that takes in stray animals or connect with pets that have been given up by their owners. There are also lots of independent, nonprofit rescue groups. Many of these don’t have physical facilities but keep their pets in volunteer foster homes until they are adopted. Some of these are breed-specific, meaning they focus on saving certain breeds or breed mixes, often hoping people will adopt instead of buying from breeders.

How Much Does It Cost to Adopt a Pet?

Adoption fees depend on the age, type of pet, and geographical location, but most range from $50 to $350 or more. That typically includes any necessary vaccinations, spay or neuter, and microchip. Some shelters have specials where they have no-cost adoptions. But remember that there’s much more to pet ownership costs than just that initial charge: Consider food, annual veterinary exams, heartworm and flea/tick prevention, and of course, toys.

What Documents Are Required to Adopt a Pet?

Documentation depends on the rescue or shelter. Some require that you provide vet records showing that any current pets are up to date on vaccinations and are spayed or neutered. If you don’t own your home, you may have to show that your landlord gives you permission to have a pet. Most groups require identification to prove a minimum age (18, 21, or maybe older).

Some rescues and shelters require that you fill out an application before you can meet a pet. Some will do vet checks or call references to screen potential pet parents. You may also be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your home or lifestyle so adoption counselors can help match you with the best pet. In some cases, you’ll be able to meet and play with a pet that day and take them home. However, sometimes the process can take longer. 

How We Chose the Best Pet Adoption Agencies

We started the process by looking at shelters and rescues in big cities or with a nationwide presence. Sifting through dozens of organizations, we focused on no-kill agencies that take in strays and owner surrenders or rescue pets from high-kill shelters that don’t have the resources to find homes for all their animals. In rescue circles, “no-kill” generally means saving every dog or cat that can be saved that doesn’t have extreme health or behavioral issues. Generally, for a shelter to be considered no-kill, they save at least nine out of 10 dogs that are admitted.

We gave extra credit to groups that focused on making a good match like Austin Pets Alive! with its detailed search and app and PAWS Chicago with its compatibility quiz. And we were really impressed with organizations like Wags & Walks that have an open mind about both the animals they offer for adoption and the potential adopters who want to take them home.

All the agencies we chose include necessary vaccines, spay or neuter, and microchip, but most also made our list because they provide extra support to pet owners in the community, like low-cost vet care and training classes.

Bottom Line

Choosing a pet adoption agency will likely come down to geography: You’re probably not going to travel too far from where you live to find the perfect pet. But what we found was that no matter where you go, the best places offer some of the same things. They work hard to make sure the pet and the person are a great match, and that you have the resources for the relationship to succeed.

If you don’t live in one of the cities mentioned here, then we recommend you start out with Petfinder. It lets you search online to find a pet that has all the qualities you want in your new buddy. But be patient. If you don’t see the pup or kitty that tugs on your heartstrings, set up an alert and wait. You’ll have your BFF in no time.