Petfinder: Everything You Need to Know

by Edwin Plotts
Pawlicy Advisor
Pet Care Blog
Petfinder: Everything You Need to Know
Petfinder has been helping pets get adopted for over 20 years. Here's everything you need to know to use the tool - from the reasons Petfinder was started and how they maintain their reputation, to how Petfinder directly helps pet adoptions.

Petfinder is an online database of animals who need homes. The database also contains a directory of nearly 11,000 animal shelters across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico - making it easy for pet parents to find, adopt, and foster pets in their area.

petfinder logo

For over 20 years, Petfinder has helped more than 25 million dogs, cats, birds, small animals, horses, and barnyard animals find homes through adoption.

Curious about using Petfinder? Let's get you up to speed.

Whether you're looking to bring home a rescue or get a pet adopted, you'll quickly learn:

  • the reasons Petfinder was started
  • how Petfinder maintains their reputation
  • how Petfinder directly helps pet adoptions

Why Petfinder Was Started

Petfinder started with Betsy and Jared Saul in 1995, who came up with the concept on the way to dinner on New Year’s Eve. Both were animal lovers who were interested in ways to get more pets adopted, so connecting shelter pets with potential adopters through the internet seemed like a great way to help.

In the beginning, Betsy called shelters and they faxed information about adoptable pets to the couple. They then put up information about pet adoptability on their website. The website went national in 1998 and added Canadian groups in 2000.

Here’s what the homepage looked like in 1998:

Old Petfinder 1998 homepage design

(They've definitely come a long way.)

Eventually, Betsy sought corporate sponsorship to expand the website’s capabilities and ensure it could remain free for adopters and shelters.

Since then, Petfinder launched a foundation and has donated more than $10 million to shelters and animal rescue groups. They’ve even launched an iPhone app.

Petfinder’s primary purpose is to match potential pet parents with adoptable pets. And it uses the power of search technology to help users find the perfect pet for their home and family.

Instead of having to travel to various shelters, potential pet parents can search the database to get an idea of which pet they’d like to adopt.

The tool is particularly helpful for thoses who have a disability, don’t have much free time, or don’t have access to reliable transportation.

How Petfinder Helps Pet Adoptions

It’s important to note that Petfinder itself isn’t a pet adoption group, they merely serve as an intermediary between pet parents and shelters.

That said, they do make the process of pet adoption as easy as possible.

Once you see a pet you’re interested in adopting, you can click on their Pet Profile. You’ll immediately see an option on the right-hand side to “Favorite” the pet or “Ask About” the pet:

Dog for adoption - Riley a Shetland Sheepdog Sheltie in Norristown PA via Petfinder

When you click on the “Ask About” button, you’ll be redirected to a page containing a website form. The page will also list the name of the shelter where the animal is located.

The form will ask you for some basic information, and you’ll have the option to send a custom message. By completing this form, you’ll be reaching out directly to the animal shelter about the pet.

Petfinder "ask about" form

This begins the adoption process.

Once you receive a response from the shelter, they’ll walk you through your next steps and help you set up a meeting with the animal.

That’s it!

There are no fees associated with Petfinder itself. However, you may need to pay fees directly to shelters during the adoption process.

According to Petfinder, adoption fees can range from nothing at all up to several hundred dollars depending on the shelter and the medical care the animal has received.

The Petfinder Foundation

As mentioned above, in addition to the Petfinder tool, Petfinder created a nonprofit foundation to help pets in need. The stated mission of the Petfinder Foundation is “to help ensure that no adoptable pet is euthanized for lack of a good home.”

petfinder foundation logo

To accomplish this mission, the Petfinder Foundation provides grants through three core programs:

  • Quality of Life
  • Disaster and Emergency Response
  • Sponsor a Pet

All these programs are designed to help homeless animals stay safe and healthy and to help them find adoptive pet parents.

If you can’t adopt a pet but you’d like to help them, you can click on the “Sponsor” button on a pet profile to donate directly to the pet’s care through the Petfinder Foundation.

NOTE: Many veterinarians urge new pet parents to enroll in pet insurance to ensure their pet will get the treatment it deserves, without financial burden. Too many pet are abandoned to shelters due to an inability to afford prescriptions, surgery, or recurring visits. To help prevent "economic abandonment", we urge you to compare pet insurance options.

How Petfinder Maintains Their Reputation

Petfinder only allows reputable animal welfare organizations and rescue groups to become members through Petfinder Pro. Once they are vetted and accepted, the shelter gains access to the database and can list pets for adoption.

petfinder pro logo

According to the Petfinder website, several different types of organizations are eligible for membership, including:

  • Municipal Public Shelters
  • Private Shelters
  • Pet Rescues with pets in their direct care
  • Veterinary Clinics who rehome pets

To maintain their reputation, Petfinder does not partner with for-profit pet-pacement organizations, hobby breeders, and others.

Here is the full list of organizations who aren’t eligible for membership:

  • Networking or Referral-Only Groups
  • Pet guardians rehoming their own pet
  • Show or Hobby Breeders
  • Any for-profit pet placement
  • Organizations outside of the United States, Canada, or Mexico

Naturally, Petfinder is against unethical breeding and for-profit pet operations, such as puppy mills.

The Best Ways to Look for a Pet on Petfinder

To get started on Petfinder, simply type in your location on the homepage and select the type of pet you’re looking for. This will bring up a list of pets in shelters in your area. This is often the best way to find a pet because it means meeting the pet in-person will be much easier.

You can find more than just cats and dogs through Petfinder:

"Types of Animals" filter on Petfinder

You can also search by specific dog and cat breeds if you prefer. Petfinder dedicates an entire search tool to breeds, so you can filter based on size, energy level, and other criteria:

Breed filters on Petfinder

If you’d like to save any pets to look at them later, click on the heart icon in their profile picture or on the “Favorite” button on their profile.

You’ll need to create an account to save favorites, but you can do so through an existing Facebook account, an existing Google account, or by using an email address and password.

NOTE: If you’re a veterinarian, shelter, or rescuer listing pets on Petfinder, you can edit listings by signing into your Petfinder Pro dashboard. Just go to the “All Pets” page, sort your collection, then view and update individual pet listings.

Let's Get More Pets Adopted :)

Whether you’re searching for a new pup or feline family member or you’re a rescuer looking for an easier way to connect with adoptive parents, the Petfinder search is an essential tool.

For decades, they’ve matched adopters with pets based on location and breed, ensuring more pets find loving homes. And with over 600,000+ searches a month for "petfinder", you can rest assured that they're well trusted and supporting a good cause.

Edwin Plotts, Director of Marketing at Pawlicy Advisor

About the author

Edwin Plotts

Foster/Rescue Parent & Director of Growth - Pawlicy Advisor

Edwin Plotts rescues and rehomes cats in Brooklyn, NY - while leading Pawlicy Advisor's brand growth. He's a pet parent of two rescued sibling cats: Greyson and Babs. He's also an avid volunteer with Flatbush Cats and The Toby Project.

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