Where Can I Adopt Puppies [Sometimes for Free]

Adopting a puppy is known to have solid health benefits – dogs help relieve stress and depression, motivate us to take outdoor exercise, even lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.

They’re also a great way to engage kids unable to physically go to school and teach them adult responsibilities.

Adoption rates have gone up so much that some shelters are running out of dogs, and have even reached out to states where shelters are still overcrowded such as North Carolina, Texas, and Georgia. 

That’s great news for animal lovers! However, the demand for puppies has gone up so much that adopters now face longer wait times, and it’s now harder to find a good match.

So where can you go to adopt a puppy nowadays?

Where to Find Adoptable Puppies

Image credit: Canva

The best places to find adoptable puppies remain the same: local shelters and rescues, social media, and pet adoption websites like Petfinder.com. Because demand is higher, though, prepare for long wait times and losing out to earlier or nearer adopters. Broaden your search, put your best foot forward, and be patient.

Most shelter and rescue dogs are adults, with puppies being much rarer. If you’re specifically after a puppy, you may have to search longer and on more channels.

To increase your chances of a successful application you may want to make several simultaneously.

Expect to be charged more for puppies vs adult dogs, as puppies cost the shelter more in vaccines, and since puppies are in higher demand, the shelters tack on a bit extra to help with supplies for adult dogs.

Beware of supposed shelters that pressure you to adopt a dog without meeting them, ask for money immediately with the application, can’t produce vaccination documents, or have no return policies.

These scammers are more likely to specifically target adopters looking for puppies since they know the demand for puppies is higher and puppy mills of course produce puppies.

Best Pet Adoption Websites

Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet, ASPCA, and Rescue Me are among the top pet adoption websites with the widest coverage from shelters across the United States. In addition to the sites listed, you can also find pets for adoption on Facebook’s Pet Adoption Connection page and Reddit’s /r/AdoptMe subreddit.

The following sites have been chosen for features that make them more convenient and reliable to use such as: ease of search; a wide network of shelters and rescues; and clear information on available pets including vaccination, health issues, and sterilization.

The major sites also have useful supporting links and articles with tips on training, managing pet issues, breed-lifestyle compatibility, and the like.

AKC Breed Rescue Network

The American Kennel Club maintains a directory of breed-specific rescues across the country. This is a good resource if you’re looking for a specific breed.

However, these rescues are much more likely to have adult dogs rather than puppies, and specialists in your desired breed aren’t found in all states. You may find yourself with a long interstate drive or sizeable shipping expenses to get your dream dog home.


Petfinder aggregates info from 11,000+ shelters and rescues across the United States, and maintains an easily searchable site not just for dogs but also a huge variety of pets from iguanas to parakeets.

Their search engine has many useful filters such as age and compatibility with children, and they have a breed finder quiz that helps match your personality and lifestyle with a compatible breed.

However, Petfinder doesn’t host these animals itself. They’re all located in different shelters and rescues, each of which has its own adoption policies.


Adopt-a-Pet aggregates info from 17,000+ shelters and rescues across the United States. The site is easily searchable by age, breed, and location by zip code.

Like Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet only helps you get in touch with the individual shelter or rescue that’s actually holding the animal you’re interested in, each with its own adoption policies.

Adopt-a-Pet has had a few negative reviews on Yelp and other platforms, but these point rather to the individual shelters and rescues that Adopt-a-Pet’s users had problems with.

The organization can’t keep up with all the data coming in, so be prepared to do your own fact-checking and beware of any suspicious behaviors on the part of the rescue or shelter you’re dealing with.

PetSmart Charities

Pet-supply chain PetSmart maintains PetSmart Charities, a service that helps you search shelters and rescues across the United States.

You can search by location (zip code), desired age, breed, size, gender, and distance from you. One advantage of PetSmart Charities is that it allows meet-ups at selected PetSmart outlets.

Unlike most of the other services here, PetSmart Charities doesn’t have a way to message the pets’ caretakers directly; instead, they provide the email address.


The ASPCA maintains its own adoption center in New York with dogs and cats and a foster-based program for cats in Los Angeles.

In addition, the website allows you to search shelters and rescues across the United States by clicking on the Local Shelters tab.

They offer remote adoptions in both New York and L.A., with in-person meet and greets arrangeable for some pets.

Rescue Me

Rescue Me is a network by Go.com founder Jeff Gold and helps animals find new homes not only in the United States but in selected countries across the globe.

Opening its dog rescue page allows you to search the USA by a map of all 50 states, and helpfully shows the number of dogs available for adoption in each.

You can filter search results by sex or breed, and there’s an Urgent category listing dogs that are up for euthanasia if not adopted soon.

Like most of the services listed here, Rescue Me’s dogs are housed in different shelters and rescues, each with their own adoption procedures and requirements.

Best Friends Animal Charities

Best Friends Animal Charities maintains its own adoption centers in Kanab and Salt Lake City, Utah, in New York City, in Arkansas, in Houston, and Los Angeles.

If you’re near any of these places, you can adopt directly from the organization’s offices. Their website also has portals to search local shelters across the country and also to Petfinder and Adopt-a-pet.

The Shelter Project

The Shelter Project is a collaboration between the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund that promotes adoption from animal shelters since many of these pets urgently need a home before they’re euthanized.

Their search is zip code-based, with optional filters for sex, age, size, and breed. There is no option to search by state or city.

Petco Love

Pet supply chain Petco recently renamed its twenty-year-old foundation Petco Love, and its website has a simple but rich search feature.

You can search by zip code or city and state, specify a distance radius, plus species, sex, age, breed, size, and even color! Petco also makes in-person adoption available through some of its stores.


Petango taps a network of 1,800-plus shelters across the United States and Canada, and its homepage has a convenient search feature.

You can search by species (dog, cat, or other), breed, and city or zip code. Information given on Petango is thin, however, so you have to click on the link to the holding shelter’s website to view the details.

There is also no way to message the caretakers through Petango, instead the site provides you an email address or phone number.

How to Identify a Good Shelter

Not all shelters and rescues are equal, and a few are unfortunately run by ignorant or unscrupulous individuals.

dog shelter
Image credit: Canva

With the current high demand for adoptable pets, you can also bet scammers are finding ways to infiltrate the system. When communicating with and visiting a shelter or rescue, watch out for the following telltales to see if they’re legit and worth dealing with:

Offers Only Vaccinated and Sterilized Dogs

Shelters should only offer vaccinated and sterilized dogs and be able to give you proof of vaccination.

Some may roll the costs into your adoption fees, and some may charge for them separately, but as responsible agencies, their animals should be fixed and up to date on their shots.

Lets You Meet Their Dogs

Responsible shelters and rescues are dedicated to finding good matches for their dogs and have nothing to hide. While some may not be open to face-to-face meetings at this time, they should at the very least offer virtual meet and greet opportunities.

Many do so via Zoom.

Even a virtual meet and greet will let you see the dog’s behavior and its treatment by its caretakers, and since many shelters and rescues will do this on their premises, this also lets you scope out their facilities.

Clean Facilities

Clean, well-maintained facilities tell you the shelter is concerned over the health and welfare of their charges and has hard-working, dedicated staff or volunteers.

A strong ammoniac smell, lots of uncleaned feces, dirty food, and water bowls, and overall sloppiness on the other hand indicate a shelter that’s not run properly and is also likely to give you an unhealthy animal.

Healthy, Happy Animals

Healthy and generally happy animals are excellent indicators of the level of care given by the shelter.

While you may see some new intakes sick or cowering in their crates, most of the shelter’s dogs should show positive effects from being in the shelter’s care. If they’re not, the shelter may have a staff problem or lack the funds to get proper veterinary service.

Know Their Charges Well

The shelter or rescue staff should be familiar enough with their charges that they can tell you about their behavior and quirks. The more they can tell you, the more you know that they spend time caring for and exercising or socializing their dogs.

Not only does this help prepare you for the adoption, but it also makes it more likely that your new dog is healthy, happy, and able to adjust well to your home.

Has a Solid Return Policy

Responsible shelters and rescues are dedicated to finding good matches for their animals and are realistic about the challenges of adopting a possibly traumatized creature. Their contracts should come with a well-defined return policy.

Has a High Adoption Rate, But Asks Questions

A good record of adoptions vis a vis intakes shows the shelter or rescue has realistic, easily met requirements for their dogs. At the same, you can see the shelter’s concern for their animal charges by the questions they ask you.

If it seems they’re making it too easy for you to adopt, take it as a warning sign that they see the adoption more as a commercial transaction than delicate match-making.

Doesn’t Offer Underage Puppies

No puppy, whatever the breed, should be sold or offered for adoption before eight weeks of age. No responsible breeder or shelter would do this; they simply can’t finish the required vaccinations and fixing until the pup is eight weeks old.

If you’re offered an underage, unweaned, or barely-weaned puppy, you’re likely dealing with a puppy mill in disguise.

Doesn’t Push You

If the shelter is trying to rush you or push you into adopting with as few questions as possible, head for the door. This is a clear sign they’re only in it for the money, not for you or the dog.

Best Pet Adoption Support Websites

Finding and bringing home a new furry friend is only the beginning of a long journey.

Along the way, you’ll likely find yourself needing to answer questions like how to calm an anxious dog or what to do if your new dog won’t eat.

The following websites offer a treasure trove of articles and links to useful resources and services for the pet parent:

Google Reverse Image Search

Wait, what? There’s a good reason we’re recommending this. As dog adoption frauds are on the rise, one of the ways to double-check is to search the dog’s picture and check if it reappears anywhere under another name.

Fraudsters often reuse pictures, just changing names and locations.

To do an image search, simply bring up Google’s image search engine (click on Image), and click on the camera icon in the search bar to upload or enter the URL of the photo you want to search.

Google will return similar images. If you see the exact same picture of a doggo but with another name, chances are you’re dealing with a scammer.


This website has content written and reviewed exclusively by certified veterinarians and contains articles and tips on pet health, plus a handy symptom checker you can use in case there’s anything wrong with Fido.

Note that the symptom checker doesn’t substitute for a visit to the vet, and shouldn’t be used to self-medicate your dog. Instead, it’s an aid to help you describe what’s happening to your vet.

There’s also a chocolate toxicity meter, in case Fido found your stash.

WebMD Pet Health Center

This division of popular health info site WebMD has articles and tips on pet health, plus an index of common symptoms to help you identify various canine disorders. 


This website is primarily a tool for finding veterinary services, but it also has a wealth of information on pet health, behavior, and training. Check out their article on what you should know before adopting a dog.

K9 of Mine

This website has many articles and tips on dog care, health, and training, and advocates for positive reinforcement only training.

This training method is especially recommended for adopted dogs, as punishment-based methods can only erode their already-fragile trust in humans and hamper bonding with your adopted puppy.

The Spruce Pets

The Spruce Pets is part of the family of multi-awarded Spruce lifestyle websites and is chock-full of well-written articles and tips on dog care, health, breeds, behavior, and adopting.

It’s reassuring to know that many of their articles, especially the one on health, go through a review board of veterinarians.

Companion Animal Psychology

The website of animal behavior expert and positive reinforcement-training advocate Zazie Todd, Ph.D., is a treasure trove of articles and tips on dog behavior and training.

Be sure to read her article on how to prioritize training for adopted dogs. Better yet, read it before you adopt a dog.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The Pet Rescue.

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