Look beyond the cute pictures

We know that an adorable picture of a dog or cat can tug at the heartstrings. It doesn’t take much for those of us who love animals to want to bring those sweet critters into our families. However, it is important to look beyond the cute photos and examine the circumstances those pets are coming from. Whether you find your new best friend from a shelter, a rescue, or a breeder, it’s important to ask questions and do your research, as not all organizations and sources are equal.

Before getting a pet, think about your life and ask yourself some key questions. Do you have the time to take care of a pet? Can you manage the ongoing costs associated with pet ownership? What type or breed of pet would fit best with your lifestyle?

If you’re looking to add a furry companion to your home, please take a little time to reflect on your situation and to research the shelter, rescue, breeder, or other source to ensure that they are taking good care of the animals and have their best interests at heart and are working to match the right pet to the right family, and (in the case of a breeder) have done all the recommended health testing before deciding to breed a litter.

See beyond my selfie

Question: What is your adoption/​purchase process?

All individuals or organizations should have a defined process, regardless of where you get your pet.

Some things that may be expected of you as part of the process may be:

  • to show a photo ID
  • complete an application form or answer application questions verbally about your lifestyle
  • provide references (including from a veterinarian if you’ve previously had pets)
  • com­plete a home visit
  • answer finan­cial questions
  • ask ques­tions to show that you have done your research and to find out if the orga­ni­za­tion, indi­vid­ual or source is right for you

The extent of the process varies, and one way is not necessarily better than another, but you should make sure that you are comfortable with that process.

There will be fees, which go towards recovering expenses for taking care of the animal, such as food, shelter, vaccines, microchips, spay/​neuter surgery, medications, health testing and clearances and the individual’s or organization’s time in caring for the pets.

There should also be a contract for you to sign. This ensures both parties are clear on the expectations and guarantees surrounding the agreement.

I could be more than you bargained for…

Question: What vet care do your animals receive?

All animals must receive a veterinary exam prior to going to their new home. In New Brunswick, if you are purchasing a pet the seller is required by law to provide you with a Veterinary Certificate of Health. This is a very specific document that can only be obtained at a vet clinic and will be signed by a licensed veterinarian.

Initial vaccines should be given before the pet goes home by the provider. It is important to note that further vaccines will likely be required as one vaccine is not sufficient protection against future diseases, and there are various types of vaccines that may be needed.

Rescues or shelters should be providing a pet already spayed or neutered or have an agreement that you must get your pet fixed at a certain age. Breeders should similarly have a set agreement with the new owner and usually sell pets with a non-breeding contract.

Breeders should be able to provide veterinary care information on the parents of the litter, as well as temperament information. A reputable breeder will likely be able to provide you with an extensive medical history and will complete the health testing recommended by their breed club prior to breeding. A reputable breeder should also require that their pet be returned to them if their owners are unable to care for their pet at any point in the pet’s life.

Question: How do you assess the temperament of the animals?

Whether you are looking for your new best friend from a shelter, rescue, or breeder, it’s important to ask questions about how the process for evaluating a pet’s temperament. Ask the shelter or rescue what processes or evaluations they use to assess the temperament of animals in their care. It is important to note these evaluations should be done not upon the animal’s first arrival, but once the pet has settled into their care, or periodically during the pet’s stay. Also important, this is an assessment of the animal’s behaviour observed at the time in that environment, and behaviour may change, evolve, or disappear or new behaviours may become apparent once the animal is adopted into a new home. Even if the pet is in a foster home, that may not mirror your home environment and there may still be new challenges or situations to which the animal has not been exposed.

Behavioural assessment information, and any behavioural history should be disclosed to you. Evaluations should assess the degree of any behavioural concerns, like food guarding, behaviour around other animals and various people unfamiliar to the pet. If there are any behavioural concerns observed by the staff or volunteers, the organization should provide potential adopters information on how to help the animal thrive in their new environment, such as how to build trust with the animal and training recommendations.

For a breeder, the behavioural evaluations of the parents should have been considered in breeding. Ask about the temperament of the parents and about the process used to socialize the litter before going to their new homes. Natural tendencies like playfulness, energy levels and calmness of temperament will allow a breeder to make the best match between each animal and their prospective families.

You’d be crazy not to swipe right

Question: How do you ensure the best match for your animals going to their forever homes?

Now that you’ve decided to add a pet to your family, shelters, rescues, and breeders may recommend a different pet or breed if they think that may be better suited to your home. Through the application process, the breeder, shelter, or rescue will have a good idea of which prospective family would be the best match for each animal.

For shelter or rescue animals, evaluations and assessments are completed in an attempt to understand the pet. It is important to note that these are the organization’s best understanding of the pet’s behaviour and needs based on their observations. 

In private re-homing situations, the seller should be able to disclose to you an extensive behavioural and medical history. There should still be a process to find the best family match for the animal considering their individual needs.

Responsible breeders will observe and evaluate an animal’s temperament over a period of time to match you with your ideal to suit your needs and lifestyle.

All dog breeders in New Brunswick must have a valid Pet Establishment License. This annual license may ensure that dogs are born and raised in a safe and healthy environment and that Canadian Veterinarian Medical Association kennel standards are followed. Every Pet Establishment that breeds and sells dogs, boarding kennels for dogs, pet stores, and animal shelters receive their license for operation after their facility has passed an annual inspection by New Brunswick SPCA.


Question: Do you take animals back if they do not work out in their new home?

When getting a pet, you don’t tend to think about what would happen if it doesn’t work out, but it happens! The pet’s behaviour may change to something entirely different than expected or a sudden and drastic life change could mean it was not the right time to get a pet. Organizations and individual sellers should have a policy regarding what happens in these situations, with most requiring the pet be returned to them if the pet needed to be re-homed. This may be only within a certain time frame or for the life of the pet.

Not all rescues are created equally

Question: Where do your animals come from? 

Shelters or rescues get their animals as rescued strays or owner surrenders. At a minimum, groups should have a process to have stray pets checked for microchips to try to reconnect them with their families and a mandatory wait time to give owners time to come forward.

Some shelters or rescues will exist primarily to transport animals in from other areas within North America or other countries. This is increasing in popularity and may be a sign that the pet population locally is under control. It is important for this to be done safely for the animals being transported and those in the destination area, with the main concerns being the potential spread of infectious diseases and behavioural issues not accurately disclosed. Few cross-border rescue groups do not conduct prior health screening for heartworm-positive and tick-borne diseases in dogs. Heartworm treatment is both difficult and expensive, while tick-borne diseases other than Lyme are emerging in the Atlantic region. 

Shelters/​rescues should be transparent with their policies and procedures for transporting animals, including:

  • Method and length of transport
  • Rest period policies
  • Safety during transport
  • Veterinary care provided before and after transport
  • Behavioural evaluation processes before transport and before adoption

Canadian Border Services import requirements only specify that a rabies vaccine is required and in some situations a microchip is also needed. Any obviously sick animals will be refused entry; however, some illnesses are not outwardly apparent. These minimum requirements do not provide enough reassurance and organizations importing animals should have their own processes that at a minimum before transport includes:

  • Core vaccines
  • Testing appropriate to the region (such as heartworm)
  • Veterinary check prior to transport
  • Veterinary Certificates of Health detailing treatments given
  • Flea, tick, and worm treatment

Veterinary care details and behavioural evaluations should be available and provided or disclosed to adopters.

Question: What is the structure of your organization?

Most shelters and rescues are set up as charities or not-for-profits. One is not necessarily better than the other, but they should be incorporated or registered in some way. Ideally, the organization should have a Board of Directors to guide the governance of the shelter/​rescue and a defined set of policies.

By being registered with the Canadian Revenue Agency, the organization has some accountability and oversight on its financial processes, but this registration does not evaluate any operating policies.

Organizations may still do great work and not be registered, but this requires that you are comfortable with the people operating the rescue and reassured of their reliability and trustworthiness. The animal rescue field is unregulated, so there is no authority or governing board to which you can report concerns regarding operating practices. Therefore, you should ask questions to ensure you are comfortable with the policies and support the shelter or rescue provides.

Question: How is your organization funded? 

Transparency in any organization is a good sign of ethical practice. Shelters or rescues should provide information on funding and donations they receive and how that money is spent. Charitable organizations should have audited financial statements available to the public, as well as operating budgets that are adequate for caring for their animals.

Reputable organizations may have calls for donations to help with challenging medical expenses for animals, but care is not delayed or declined to the animal, nor are they euthanized due to financial need. At the same time, organizations should have policies on euthanasia for quality of life/​compassionate reasons and aggressive animals for the safety of our community.

Have you seen my mother?

Question: Can we meet the mother and see where the puppies/​kittens are housed?

Reputable breeders will welcome prospective families for their puppies/​kittens to visit and meet the mother of the litter. The father may not be on site, but the breeder should be able to tell you about him. By visiting, this will ensure that in meeting an adult of the breed, the new family’s expectations are accurate, and the breeder can be sure that the family is ready to welcome that pet into their home.

There are a few red flags common to puppy mills and irresponsible sellers to keep in mind:

  • If a seller is only willing to meet you in a neutral location or deliver the pet.
  • The seller cannot/​will not tell you anything about the parents of the litter.
  • The mother of the litter is not available to meet.
  • The puppy or kitten is younger than 7 weeks of age when going to its new home. Even though it may be eating on its own, staying with the mother and siblings longer is crucial for your pet’s social and behavioural development.
  • The seller does not provide any information about the animal’s medical or behavioural history.
  • The seller does not provide a Veterinary Certificate of Health for the animal.
  • If you witness animals kept in crowded, inadequate and/​or unsanitary conditions or notice a strong odour of ammonia or feces.

For more information on how you can avoid puppy mills, please visit Humane Canada’s site. All dogs sold as purebred in Canada are legally required to be registered by a registry body such as the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and all registered dogs must have permanent identification. For more information about the Canadian Kennel Club, please visit ckc​.ca.

With rescues or shelters, the parents may be unknown, but you should still inquire what is known about the animal’s history. If the mother is known, reputable rescues or shelters will ensure that the mother is spayed and assist the owners with this as a condition of helping to re-home the puppies/​kittens or perhaps have taken the mother into their care for re-homing as well.

Special note

If you do go somewhere to see potential pets and notice that the animals are not properly cared for, please do not buy this animal. We know that it can be heart-wrenching to think of leaving an animal there, but in purchasing one you are only contributing to the problem. Puppy mills and irresponsible sellers prioritize profits above the health and welfare of their animals. Please report the situation as soon as possible. If you wait, the animals may all be gone, and the authorities may not be able to take preventative action. If you suspect that someone is mistreating their animals, please contact the New Brunswick SPCA, your local police/​RCMP detachment, or Crime Stoppers.

From the internet or your neighbour

Question: Where did you get this animal?

This is an important question to ask someone who is advertising a pet on a buy/​sell forum such as Kijiji or Facebook. It is important to understand if you are communicating with a rescue, a breeder, a person whose pet had an accidental litter, a puppy mill-type organization, or even perhaps a scammer.

Anyone selling a pet in New Brunswick is required by law to provide a Veterinary Certificate of Health, but when a pet is given away, there are no such assurances.

In a personal re-homing situation, be aware of the commitment you are taking on, because you may not have the ongoing support or option to return the pet should it not be the right match for you.

Check out the other sections of this site for more questions that you should be asking before you get your next pet.

New Brunswick SPCA acknowledges the role of the Minister of the Department of Environment and Local Government, Government of New Brunswick in supporting this awareness campaign.

This awareness campaign was adapted from the NS SPCA campaign with their support.

Canadian Kennel Club endorses this campaign in support of accountable breeders and choosing a pet responsibly as a lifetime commitment.

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