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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