Rehoming a Stray Dog or Cat


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Have you found a stray dog or cat and want to find a new home for him or her? We hope the suggestions in this booklet will help you achieve your goal. First, we’ll talk about what to do if you’ve found a stray. (If you locate the pet’s owner, you may not even need to find a new home.)

If you do need to find a new home for the pet, we’ll show you how to get the word out. We’ll talk about how to create an effective flyer, how to take a good photograph of the pet, and how to write imaginative text (to capture the attention of a prospective adopter) for a flyer or a classified ad in the newspaper. And we will show you how to take advantage of the networks already estab­lished to advertise your animal.

We then discuss the preparation of the pet: making sure that the animal’s vaccinations are up-to-date and that he/she is healthy, bathed and groomed.

We also walk you through the very important screening process. (We assume you don’t want to just give the pet away without making sure that he/she is going to a good, responsible home.) We suggest questions to ask to find out if the prospec­tive adopter will provide a suitable home.

Finally, we provide information on how to finalize the adoption and offer some words of encouragement in your quest to find a good new home.

Table of Contents
1.) What to do when you’ve found a stray
2.) How to get the word out
3.) How to prepare the pet for adoption
4.) How to screen potential adopters
5.) Meeting the potential adopter
6.) Finalizing the adoption
7.) Some final words of advice and encouragement
8.) Sample forms

1.) What to do when you’ve found a stray

Check for a tag or microchip.

If you’ve found a stray, do the obvious first – check for a tag. If there is a tag, and the owner’s name is on it, call and arrange for a pickup, and know you have done your good deed for the day. If the tag gives the name of a veterinarian’s clinic, call during business hours and get the name and phone number of the owner using the code num­ber on the tag. Then follow up to return the dog or cat. If the animal has no tag, there may still be a way to identify the stray if he/she has been micro­chipped. A veterinarian can help you find out.

If there’s no tag or microchip, put a temporary tag on the animal with your name and phone number. You can use a luggage label or even tape the in­formation around the collar with some duct tape.

Notify your local shelter that you have found a stray animal.

There are different laws in each city regarding stray animals. In some communities, finders of lost animals are legally required to either surren­der the animal to the animal shelter or to report to the shelter that they have a stray animal. Check with your local animal control or animal services department in your city to find out what your legal obligations are.

Even if you’re not legally required to notify the shelter, you’ll still want to let them know that you have a stray. If the owners of the animal are look­ing for their pet, they will most likely start by call­ing the shelter, so it’s very important that the shel­ter knows that you have found the pet. Also, some shelters have bulletin boards on which people can list lost and found pets, so it’s a good idea to post a photo of the pet at the shelter.

If you have some hesitation about trying to find the owner, keep in mind that just because an animal is injured, scared, or without identification does not mean that he has a “bad” home. Your stray might have lost his identification; he might have been lost for a long time; he may even be a rescued ani­mal who was scared when he was adopted.

If you must take the animal to the shelter, and you wish to do everything you can for the animal, be sure to claim last rights. Claiming last rights gives you adoption privileges if the animal is not claimed within a given time period and is due to be put down. It is a good idea to call the shelter daily to let the staff know that you are interested in the animal’s welfare.

Check with your local animal control or animal services department in your city to find out what your legal obligations are when you find a lost pet like this happy white medium-sized dog

Make every effort to find the owner.

Besides notifying your local shelter, you’ll want to check lost-and-found ads in the local newspa­pers. Try placing an ad in the lost-and-found sec­tion yourself. Another good strategy is to post flyers in the vicinity where the animal was found.

A typical ad describes the type of animal, the lo­cation where he/she was found, and the coloring and other distinct characteristics of the animal.

You want to leave out some crucial characteristic, though, so that when someone calls claiming to be the owner, you can verify that the animal really belongs to him/her. This helps guard against turn­ing strays over to bunchers (see an explanation of what bunchers are). For example, you could leave out the gender of the animal, or the fact that she has white socks on her front feet or a really bushy tail. Don’t forget to give your phone number and times you can be reached.

Be wary of dishonest callers.

When someone answers your ad, make sure the person gives you a detailed description of the ani­mal. To ensure that you have found the animal’s real owner, here are a few additional tips:

  • Ask the caller to bring a photo of the animal to the meeting place.
  • Ask for their veterinarian’s phone number, and make a follow-up call.
  • Watch how the animal reacts to the caller in person. If you are not satisfied, ask for more proof of ownership.
  • Remember to get the owner’s phone number and address.
  • Ask them to bring their photo ID.

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2.) How to get the word out

If you do need to find a new home for a pet, you’ll want to advertise as widely as you can, in as many places as possible. Creating a flyer is a great way to start. Here’s what to put on the flyer:

  • Describe the appearance, size, and age of the animal.
  • Include the pet’s name and a good photograph of the pet (see the sidebar below).
  • If the pet is spayed or neutered, include that information.
  • Describe his/her nature and appealing qualities.
  • Define any limitations the pet might have (e.g., not good with cats or small children).
  • Don’t forget your phone number and the times you can be reached.

Depending on the situation in your area, you might want to add “No Bunchers” to your flyer. Bunchers are people who pose as prospective adopters, pretending to be loving and concerned. The pets they obtain are then sold to dealers who in turn sell the pets to research laboratories. (There’s more information on this subject in the section on screening adopters.)

If you do need to find a new home for a cat, like this beautiful tabby, or dog, you’ll want to advertise as widely as you can, in as many places as possible

When you’ve made copies of the flyer, post them throughout your community, wherever a good pro­spective adopter might see them. Ask to put them up at veterinarians’ offices, pet supply stores, and the workplaces of your family and friends. Places like health food stores, supermarkets, libraries, churches, and health clubs often have community bulletin boards where anyone can post flyers.

Tips on Taking Good Animal Photographs

Since photos really help people make a con­nection to an animal, you’ll want to use a good-quality photograph. Color is best. (If you don’t have a color printer, copy places like Kinko’s can print the flyers for you.)

When you take the pho­tographs, use a background that is in con­trast to the ani­mal, to high­light his/her best features. Keep the pho­to simple and clear, with few background distractions, though you might want to use a person, a hand or some other means to show the scale of the pet.

Before snapping the photos, take the time to get the pet as calm and relaxed as possible, so the photos don’t show an animal who looks anxious or scared. Ideally, the photo you choose for the flyer should have the eyes of the animal in focus.

But don’t stop with posting flyers. There are many other ways to spread the word:

1. Contact as many shelters and rescue groups as possible. Most agencies will be overloaded, but they might allow you to bring your pet to one of their adoption days. They might be able to put you in contact with someone who is looking for the kind of pet you are trying to place, or they could have some other suggestions. You can find local shelters and rescues by searching the listings on the Best Friends Network and (look for “Find animal welfare groups”).

2. Contact breed rescue groups if you’re try­ing to place a specific breed. If you have a pug or a Persian cat, for example, there may be rescue groups or clubs that have lists of people looking to adopt that particular breed. Some breed rescue groups might even be willing to place a mix, as long as the animal is close to purebred.

You can find local listings of breed rescue groups by doing an Internet search on a search engine such as or

Here’s a sample search combination:

Siamese + breed rescue + Montana

3. Place a classified ad in your local paper. When you write the ad, be creative. (See the sample ads on the next page.) Try to make the ani­mal as appealing as possible, but tell the truth. If you’re trying to place a dog who absolutely can’t be around cats, put that in the ad. Run the ad as many times as you can afford – you are looking to reach a wide audience.

It’s a good idea to mention in the ad that an adop­tion fee will be required. The bunchers we men­tioned earlier gravitate toward ads that offer pets “Free to a good home.” Asking for a fee will dis­courage these people from following up on your ad. If you feel uneasy about asking for a fee, you can always donate the money to your favorite charity.

4. Post your pet on adoption websites. There are general adoption websites, as well as specific sites for certain types of animals (for example, FIV-positive cats, disabled pets, or senior dogs). Pet Bond is good examples of general adoption websites.

Another option is Rehome, a peer-to-peer self-service platform launched by The site allows pet owners who cannot keep their pets to find new loving homes in their own community. Rehome is a free service for the pet owner. The new adopter pays a small adoption fee that is then donated, in full, to an animal shelter or rescue group of the original owner’s choosing.

5. Use any and all of your community contacts. Ask friends and family to mention the animal in their church or community newsletter; send an e-mail about the pet through your office memo system; post a notice and photo on your Facebook page; or share some flyers with members of clubs or associations to which you belong.

6. Don’t underestimate word of mouth. Tell anyone and everyone about the pet who needs a home, and ask friends and family to help with spreading the word. You never know – your fa­ther’s neighbor’s daughter could be looking for just the pet you have to offer.

7. Get the pet out there. (This works especially well with dogs.) The more your pet interacts with people, the more likely he/she will charm the right person. If you’re trying to place a dog, take him/ her on walks, to pet supply stores, to the local park. Put a colorful bandana on the dog that says, “Adopt me.”

Sample Classified Ads

Betty Lou has a new pair of shoes and she is ready to walk right into your heart! Betty is a two-year-old spayed female terrier mix. She loves to dance, prance and play. She is a doll! She is good with cats as well. Call Kelly or Doug at 555-3576 after 7 p.m. weekdays or all day Sunday. Adoption fee required.

. . . .

Joe Cocker is coming to town and wants to sing for you. Joe is a three-year-old neutered male cockapoo with a great personality. Loves kids and dogs, but isn’t as keen on cats! He has had all his shots. Call Morris after 6 p.m. at 555-4674. Adoption fee required.

. . . .

Persian cat with attitude. Martha thinks she rules the world! She is gorgeous, and knows it. She loves to sit on laps and be petted. She would prefer a home where she is the only cat. Adoption fee required. See her at the Petco on Broadway, Saturday, June 10, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Ask for Beth.

. . . .

SHAMBU is the kind of companion that we all long to have. Loyal, playful, tender and kind best describes this beautiful orange tabby. He is 3 years old, neutered, and has had all his shots. He prefers an adults-only home. Call Jeremy at 555-2189 before 11 a.m. any day. Donation for my favorite animal charity required. No bunchers.

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3.) How to prepare the pet for adoption

First and foremost, spay or neuter the pet you are trying to place. Without this proce­dure, no reputable humane rescue group will help you. Pet overpopu­lation is an over­whelming problem and we all need to do what we can to prevent more unwanted animals from being born. If you want informa­tion on low-cost clinics in your area, call SPAY/ USA at 1-800-248-SPAY. You can also visit their website,

Next, bring the animal to a vet for a thorough checkup. It will be easier to place the pet if he’s been seen by a veterinarian prior to adoption.

You should also prepare a general history of the pet. Include as much information as possible about the pet’s likes and dislikes, current food preferences and favorite treats, relationship to other animals, and preferred types of toys. All this information will help the adopter get acquainted with the pet and make the transition easier on the animal.

To show the pet’s best side, groom and bathe him or her before taking your flyer photos and before showing the pet to a prospective adopter. If it is relevant, talk to a trainer about the pet’s dis­position. The help of an experienced and caring professional can often help you resolve quirky or destructive behavior, making it easier to place the pet in a new home.

First and foremost, spay or neuter the pet or the stray you are trying to place. This cute white Chihuahua has been fixed.

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4.) How to screen potential adopters

When someone responds to your flyer or ad, you’ll want to interview them over the phone be­fore introducing them to the animal. By doing so, you can eliminate unsuitable potential adopters early on.

The following is a list of questions to ask the pro­spective adopter. You might want to take notes as you talk to the person. (There’s an adoption screener’s worksheet below that you might find useful.) From the answers to these questions, you can start to build a profile of the person. Try to ask the questions in a conversational style, so it doesn’t sound like you’re conducting an interview. To start, you might say: “This dog/cat is very spe­cial to me, and I am looking for just the right home for him/her. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about yourself and your home?”

“Is the pet for you or someone else?”

If the dog or cat is for someone else, then tell the caller that you need to speak directly to the prospective adopter.

“Do you have other pets at home? Would you tell me about them?”

Their answers can help you to determine whether the pet you are placing will fit into this household. For example, if you are trying to place a dog who hates cats, and they have cats, this is obviously not a good choice.

If they don’t have pets now, ask these questions:

“Have you had pets before? If so, what happened to them?”

Responses to these questions can reveal a lot about the person’s level of responsibility. One negative incident in the past shouldn’t immedi­ately rule that person out; accidents can happen to even the most caring people.

“Do you have children? If so, how old are they?”

The child/animal bond is very special and can be of tremendous value in producing a compassion­ate, caring person who will bring those qualities into his/her whole life. So the decision to take on a family pet needs to be made with great care. We have many resources in the pet-care section of our website that can educate people about what’s involved in having a pet. Go to Best Friends resources.

Of course, if the animal you are placing has had any kind of biting or nipping incident around chil­dren, it would be irresponsible to place that ani­mal in a home with children. Even if the prospec­tive adopters have no young children, they need to be aware of the history of the animal, since adults-only homes may receive visits from grandchildren or neighbor kids.

On the other hand, an adult cat or dog who is used to being around small children can make a won­derful family pet. A larger animal is less vulner­able to being hurt by children, and an adult animal is usually more tolerant of a toddler’s inquiring hands pulling at his/her tail or ears.

“Do you live in a house, a mobile home, or an apartment?”

It’s not necessarily a negative thing if they live in an apartment. Many dogs and all cats do very well in apartments. The proximity encourages close companionship and bonding.

“If you rent, does your lease allow pets?”

If the people are renting, ask if they know whether they are allowed to have pets and if there are any size restrictions (especially for dogs, since some landlords restrict the size of dogs). It’s not fair to the pet you are placing to put him/her in a situa­tion where he/she is at risk. We have known peo­ple who try to sneak a pet by the landlord, only to be found out. And guess who has to go!

“How many hours would the animal be alone during the day?”

The number of hours that an animal will be alone during the day needs to be taken into account. Young dogs and cats can get very lonely and bored – and consequently very destructive – if they’re alone a lot. Many adoptions do not work out because prospective adopters were unaware of their pet’s social needs.

Dogs have an especially hard time being alone for long periods of time. They are social animals, so they need companionship from either the family or another pet. A lonely, bored dog or puppy can chew through the couch, rip up the carpet, destroy the table legs – just for something to do.

Prospective adopters should be encouraged to make provisions for a young dog if the family is away every day for long hours. There are dog-walking and doggie daycare services in most cities. Perhaps a neighbor or a local retired person could spend some time with the animal. Lock­ing a dog outside all day can present a target for thieves, particularly in a big city. An ideal situa­tion is to have a companion animal as a buddy and a doggie door into a dog-proofed area of the house with lots of toys to chew on.

Cats do not appear to need the same level of social interaction with people that dogs do, but anyone who has had more than one cat knows what a dif­ference companionship of their own kind makes to a cat.

Be sure to ask questions of any prospective adopter of the cat or dog you've found. This calico cat was just adopted.

If you’re trying to find a home for a dog:

“Does your home have a yard and is it completely fenced?”

You’ll want to make sure that the yard is com­pletely fenced, with no gaps, so the dog can’t escape. If the prospective adopters do not have a fenced yard, ask if the dog will be chained up out­side. This is a cruel fate for any dog, and we are sure you would not want yours to end up this way.

Don’t automatically write off prospective adopters if they don’t have a fenced yard, however. Many people who don’t have fenced yards (such as apartment dwellers) are that much more conscien­tious about taking their dogs for walks. And some dogs who have a nice fenced yard are outdoor dogs, left to fend for themselves most of the time.

“Will the dog get regular exercise?”

Dogs need to get off their home turf at least once a day, to sniff and explore and get some exercise. If the animal you’re trying to place is a young, energetic dog, you might want to find out if the prospective adopters are realistic about how much exercise the dog needs. Letting the dog out in the yard a few times a day is often not enough.

If you’re trying to find a home for a cat:

“Will the cat be an indoor or outdoor cat?”

Cats who go outside live, on average, for about two to three years. They are vulnerable to traffic accidents, attacks by dogs, and accidental or de­liberate poisonings. A cat who stays indoors can live up to 20 years. Cats do very well as indoor pets, but some people like to add a cat enclosure (sometimes called a cattery) onto the house, or screen in a porch so that their cats can enjoy the open air and yet remain protected. If the person wants more information about building a cattery, you can refer him or her to the cat care section of our website.

“Would you consider declawing a cat?”

Best Friends regards declawing as a cruel and un­necessary procedure. Most people just need to be informed about how to accommodate a cat’s need to scratch: getting a scratching post that is the cor­rect height (as tall as the cat when fully extended), clipping the cat’s claws regularly, and giving the cat lots of toys for play and stimulation. If you come across a prospective adopter who wants a declawed cat, you could mention that local shel­ters or rescue groups often have cats who have already been declawed.

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5.) Meeting the potential adopter

Once you have the answers to these questions, you will have a pretty good idea about whether the prospective adopter will provide a good home for the pet you are placing. Of course, it is al­ways possible that the answers you received are not truthful. Some people may tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than how it actually is. You will need to use your instincts. The next step is to meet the people and in­troduce the animal.

You have some choices about where to introduce the animal. The prospective adopters could come over to your place, you could take the pet to theirs, or you could meet on neutral ground, like a park or a vet’s office. But, if the prospective adopt­ers have another dog and you are placing a dog, a park setting could be a good place to arrange a first meeting. Wherever the meeting takes places, you will want to observe closely how they relate to the pet, and how the pet relates to them.

Hopefully, you will be as impressed with them in person as you were on the phone. If there are any doubts in your mind, you can either talk to them about your doubts or simply decide not to adopt to them. Don’t feel uncomfortable about having doubts – it’s fine to be concerned about your pet’s well-being, and any reasonable person under­stands this. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry. To make a graceful exit without confronta­tion, you could mention that there are other people interested in seeing the pet and that you will get back to them.

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6.) Finalizing the adoption

If you decide to go ahead with the adoption, you may want to use a contract like the one below. A contract can be a safety net for both you and the adopter. Make two copies of the contract and both of you can sign them. Leave one with the adopter and take one with you.

When you give up the animal, collect your adop­tion fee and remember to hand over any medical and vaccination records, and any special food, bowls, toys or bedding.

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7.) Some final words of advice and encouragement

As you go through the process of placing a home­less pet, keep in mind that creativity, persistence, and a positive attitude are usually rewarded. Think about the best possible environment for the pet and explore all the options you can think of. Try not to get discouraged and don’t give up after just one or two interviews. Finding a home can take some work and some time, but if you persevere, you are sure to be successful. We hope that the advice we’ve given here helps you to place the pet you’ve rescued.

If you need additional information, we have other resources that might be helpful.

Best Friends, other animal rescue groups, and many concerned individuals have used the process described here to re-home thousands of dogs and cats. So, when you’re feeling discouraged, just remember: It can be done. People find new homes for pets every single day. With some effort, cre­ativity and perseverance, you can do it, too. We wish you the very best.

As you go through the process of placing a home­less pet, keep in mind that creativity, persistence, and a positive attitude are usually rewarded. This lost big dog finally found his family again.

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8.) Sample forms

Note: This is a sample contract that you can adapt to fit your particular situation.

Adoption Contract

Name of person adopting out the animal (referred to as “Guardian”)____________________________________

Phone_____________________ Address____________________________________________________

Adopted Animal’s name_____________________ Sex_____ Age_____ Spayed/neutered? ____________

Color and description_________________________________________________________________

Name of person adopting the animal (referred to as “Adopter”)____________________________________

Phone___________________ Address_______________________________________________________


1. If the Adopted Animal is not already altered, I agree to have the Adopted Animal altered by this date: __________________. I will provide proof of altering by ________________ and, if not delivered, I understand that _________________________ reserves the right to reclaim the animal.

2. I agree to keep an identification tag attached to a properly fitted collar that will remain on the Adopted Animal at all times, whether inside or outside of the house, and to obtain all city licenses required by local authorities.

3. I agree to provide the Adopted Animal with necessary inoculations at the intervals advised by my veterinarian.

4. I agree to have the Adopted Animal under my control when he/she is not within the confines of my property. A secure fenced area will be provided for dogs, including shelter from the elements. If the Adopted Animal is a cat, I agree to keep the cat as an indoor-only pet. The Adopted Animal will not be tied or chained.

5. If for any reason I cannot keep the Adopted Animal, I agree to notify the Guardian of the availability of the pet and to return the Adopted Animal upon request.

6. I agree not to abuse or neglect the Adopted Animal and I authorize the Guardian, at his/her sole discretion, to determine whether or not the pet has been abused or neglected.

7. I understand that any failure to perform the foregoing agreement will constitute a breach of contract. In the event of any such breach of contract, I authorize the Guardian to reclaim both possession and ownership of the Adopted Animal.

8. I understand that the pet covered by this adoption contract is, as far as can be determined by the Guardian, in good health and that the Guardian is not responsible for any medical fees incurred after the adoption date. However, if a health problem develops during the first 10 days, I should notify the Guardian so we may discuss the matter.

9. I agree to give the Guardian occasional visitation rights to ensure that the terms of this adoption agreement are being observed.

Signature of Guardian______________________________ Date______________________________________

Signature of Adopter_______________________________ Date______________________________________

Note: This is a sample worksheet that you can adapt to fit your particular situation.

Adoption Screener’s Worksheet

Date call received________________________ Date of interview______________________________

Name and address_____________________________________________________________________

Phone numbers: Day___________________________ Evening_______________________________

Record the prospective adopter’s answers to these questions:

How did you hear about the pet?_________________________________________________________

What type of animal are you looking for?__________________________________________________

Who is the animal for?_________________________________________________________________

Who will be the primary caregiver?_______________________________________________________

Do you have other pets at home? ___ Yes ___ No

If yes: Please tell me about them._________________________________________________________


If no, ask: Have you had pets before? _____ If yes: What happened to them?______________________


Do you have children? _____ If yes: How old are they?______________________________________

Do all members of the household know about and want a new animal? ___ Yes ___ No

If no, please explain:___________________________________________________________________

Do you live in a house, a mobile home, or an apartment?______________________________________

Do you own your home or are you renting?_________________________________________________

If renting, does your lease allow pets? ___ Yes ___ No

How many hours would the animal be alone during the day? __________________________________

If you’re trying to find a home for a dog:

Does your home have a yard and is it completely fenced?____________________________________

Will the dog get regular exercise?_______________________________________________________

If you’re trying to find a home for a cat:

Will the cat be an indoor or outdoor cat?__________________________________________________

Would you consider declawing a cat? ___ Yes ___ No

After the interview, record your impressions:

Does the prospective adopter seem responsible?_____________________________________________

Flexible and compassionate?____________________________________________________________

What is your general impression of this person? (Go with your gut feeling.)_______________________


Any doubts that this will be a good home?__________________________________________________


Click here to access a Spanish version

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