Buying, Adopting, or Rescuing Pets, What Does It All Mean?
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Buying, Adopting, or Rescuing Pets, What Does It All Mean?

Buying, adopting, and rescuing are three words used and misused in the pet industry. People use these terms to get sympathy or to mislead buyers.

Buying, Adopting or Rescuing. These three words are often thrown around somewhat loosely in the pet industry, and the last two are often used to play on peoples senses and emotions, when in fact pets are being sold. Some times well meaning owners use the terms incorrectly on themselves, I have heard somebody say they “rescued” a “golden doodle” for $1200.


Buying is when you purchase a pet from a private seller or business. Money is exchanged, either all at once, or in payments. Its really rather straight forward. There are many types of sellers, from the reputable breeder (who only sells registered animals, and breeds only to better the breed, taking animals to shows to prove their worth as breeding animals, and so forth), to owners who can no longer keep their pet, to back yard breeders, who breed their unproven dogs and sell the pups, to accidental litters, to the worst seller, the pet store.*

*If you don't understand why pet stores are the worst sellers, read the link at the bottom of the article.


Adopting is done from an non-profit animal shelter, or charity run pet rescue group (this can be from kill, or non-kill shelters). Money generally changes hands, and contracts are always involved (they may or may not be involved with sales). The pets are adopted out at a relatively low cost, reflecting the fact that the animal shelter is non-profit. Adopters are screened (as they are from reputable breeders too), and go through a process of qualifying. Adoption contracts generally require the pet to be returned to the shelter if the adoptive owner cannot keep it.

sleeping cat

One of my own cats, obviously happy doing what cats do best, sleeping.


There are four types of rescue, one is an adoption from a non-profit animal shelter, as mentioned above, with the addition that the shelter euthanizes pets when they are full. As such the animal is truly being “rescued”, its life being saved. It is considered acceptable to use the term “rescue” when adopting from a no-kill shelter as well, although its not a true rescue.

The second type of rescue is when an animal was in distress, such as a dog hit by a car. Every attempt is made to find the dog's original owner, but none is found, and the finder of the dog offers to pay the veterinary costs, and keep the dog. Sometimes shelters will pay for vet expenses, but then, to be fair, the person is adopting the dog from the shelter, as the shelter is paying the bills they are acting as the dog's owner for a period of time.

Another type of rescue is when a person has to take over mothering duties of a litter when the mother has died, or been killed.  This type of rescue is expensive and hard work and should only be done by somebody who knows what they are doing.

The other type of rescue is when a person buys an animal (often a horse or cow) that is being sold at the low end auction markets, where meat buyers attend. It is only considered a rescue when the final price is lower so that only the meat buyers were other bidders, beyond that, purchasing an animal this way is a sale.


Mistaken Rescue - Theft

Theft also must be mentioned here because it occurs so often under ignorance. People find an animal they assume to be a stray and kept it. They make no effort to find out if the pet has an owner, and pat themselves on the back for doing it a favor. These people genuinely think they “rescued” a stray pet, when in fact it might have been dumped there, miles from its home, by a person who took it from their neighbor, perhaps angry at the pet (dog for barking, or cat for pooping in their flowers). To assume the pet was abandoned by its owner is generally wrong. To take a pet into your home without contacting your local shelter to report finding it is often illegal and in some areas you can be charged with theft if you do so.

This is not to say you cannot help a stray, or lost, pet, you most certainly can, and should. If you take on feeding a stray, check it for identification, such as a collar, or tattoo. Ask neighbors if they know who owns it, call the shelter to see if anyone reported it missing, and if not, file a FOUND report.

If you decide to keep the pet after all is said and done, and no owner has come forward, you did not buy the pet, did not adopt it (unless you went through the shelter for contracts of ownership), however you can say that you “rescued it from the streets”.

When a pet is found lost or loose, it is always good to be on the safe side, thinking the owner is looking for the pet. The first thing when you find a lost pet is to look for tags, these tags can tell you all kinds of information, like the owner’s information, or even a local rabies number, which your city or county can find the owner.

The next step when finding a lost pet, if possible, is take the dog or cat to your own veterinarian and sees if the animal has a chip. These chips are invaluable and can tell the vet who the owner is, their address and phone number.

More About Adopted Rescued Pets

If you are looking for a new dog or cat, go to your local animal shelter and look for the dog or cat you are interested in. For example, I wanted a new dog and went to the local shelter looking for a Border Collie. One was there, and we adopted her. When adopting a rescue pet, like a dog, remember, you don’t know their history, so go slow. But rescue dogs know they have been hurt and know that you will take care of them, and there is no better feeling than knowing you are helping a left behind dog.

When you adopt a dog or cat, the shelter will check out the animal first and if their health is good, you can then adopt the dog or cat. The shelter will most likely give shots and a city or county license, from then on you are responsible for the health of the adopted dog or cat.

It has been my experience with adopted rescue dogs, dogs that have been left at the local shelter, have been excellent and friendly pets. Once the adopted dog gets used to their new home, they are wonderful friends.

Don’t always look for a puppy, two of the sweetest rescue dogs I have adopted were between 4 and 6 years old. And unfortunately, these older dogs can be overlooked and left to sit in a shelter. There is an advantage to an older rescue dog since they are already trained.

An older dog that is left sitting in a shelter can be a very sad thing and you can help these older dogs that have been left behind my adopting them.

Free to Good Home Pets

These animals are neither bought, nor adopted, nor rescued, they are simply pets you got for free. 

Related Links

Buying from Pet Stores Supports a Cruel Industry

The Difference Between No-Kill and Other Shelters

What Happens if a Person Finds a Pet, Keeps it, and the Original Owner whats it Back?

What to do when you Find a Stray Pet

The Golden Doodle

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Comments (4)

Very clear explanation.

Informative article. I took on another dog yesterday, an 8month old GSD/retriever I am his 3rd home. The last 2 owners brought him then left him on his own all day when at work and wondered why he was a lunatic. He is very sweet but will need a firm guider as he has no control! LOL my 2year old bitch and 16year old terrier are showing him a few home truths!

Yes, Brenda. A very detailed analysis here. It's a big responsibility, too. Animals need attention, care and dedication from their owners. Great awareness article.

Pretty kitty! I can understand buying a pet from a pet store if it's something like a gerbil or a lizard or something...most pet stores around here do not sell dogs or cats because of the sheer number of animals who already need homes. I have five cats, they are all rescue kitties, and I wouldn't trade them for anything!