Beautiful coastlines, breathtaking mountains, and a fantastic climate—there’s nothing like living in the Bay Area. But there’s one thing that many would agree makes life perfect: a dog. With so many great outdoor spaces, from hiking trails to trendy bistros, why not experience nature with man’s greatest companion?
There are so many loving dogs in need of homes, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding the one for you. This guide will help you find a new pet in the Bay Area.
If there’s one thing that Americans love, it’s their pets. If you look at San Francisco, you can see the affection for pets in the many upscale pet boutiques, hotels, and behavioral trainers. In fact, those living in the 415 have probably heard something like, “There are more dogs here than children!” more than once. That’s no hyperbole—an American Community Survey showed that dogs outnumber kids in San Francisco by an estimated 5,000-35,000.
To start finding your new companion, look at shelter and rescue websites for dogs available in your areas. Databases like Adopt-A-Pet and Petfinder combine listings from dozens of participating shelters, allowing you to view virtually all adoptable dogs near you. But if endless variety makes it hard for you to decide, you can narrow your search by browsing an individual shelter instead. We have a great list of top-rated rescues below.
Banned breeds in the Bay Area
Overall, the Bay Area is kind to dog breeds that are often restricted or determined to be dangerous. While there aren’t many laws outright ban breeds, some places do restrict ownership.
For example, it is illegal to own an unaltered (unspayed or unneutered) pit bull or pit bull mix in San Francisco.
Still, animal control laws vary on a city or county basis. Always check your local laws to confirm the dog you’re interested in is of an allowed breed.
The dog adoption process in the Bay Area
Every rescue has its own operating methods, and therefore, the specifics of the dog adoption process may vary. Some require a home visit before clearing adopters, while others are fine with a phone call to your veterinarian.
With that said, the basic steps of adopting a dog are relatively the same no matter where you go:
- First, you’ll find a dog that attracts your interest, whether online or in person. Make sure you read the rescue-provided description to get an understanding of the dog’s personality.
- Next, fill out an adoption application. A member of the rescue staff will review your paperwork and, if everything looks good, schedule a meeting. If you apply in person, you’ll likely meet the dog within a few minutes.
- Bring everyone who will live with the dog—including other dogs in the home—to this introductory meeting.
- If things go well and the dog seems like a good fit, complete the adoption paperwork. An adoption counselor will meet with you to discuss responsible pet ownership.
- At this point, you’ll pay the adoption fee and bring your new pet home.
Dog licensing varies depending on the city and county you reside in. The fee also may change if your dog has had spay/neuter surgery or has a current rabies vaccination, if you purchase a license for over one year, or if you are a senior citizen:
Here’s a sample of license prices in the Bay Area:
- San Francisco: $23 to $163
- Oakland: $5 to $175
- Contra Costa County: $10 to $110
- San Mateo County: $9 to $145
- Santa Clara County: $0 to $34
- Sonoma County: $13.50 to $104
Check your local laws for more details on the process and prices for dog licenses.
Rescues do all they can to save a dog’s life on the limited resources they have. Sometimes, this means delaying treatment of minor concerns, such as kennel cough, for more life-threatening ailments.
Not to worry: a quick trip to the vet will take care of things. It’s a good idea to schedule your dog’s first appointment within a week of adoption for this reason. Some shelters will even provide vouchers to cover the cost of your pet’s first check-up, provided it happens within a certain time frame.
During this visit, bring any information the shelter provided about your dog’s medical history so the office can put these details into their records.
Adoption fees, especially those from independent rescues and not municipal shelters, help cover the cost of finding, transporting, sheltering, feeding, and treating homeless pets.
Family Dog Rescue
- Cost: $375 for adult dogs, $500 for puppies and rare/northern breed dogs
- What it covers: spay/neuter surgery, veterinary exam, age-appropriate vaccinations, temperament testing
- Cost: $75 for dogs older than 7 years, $175 for dogs 7 months to 7 years old, $275 for puppies younger than 7 months
- What it covers: spay/neuter surgery, age-appropriate vaccinations, micro-chipping, temperament testing, worm treatment, preventative medication (flea, tick, and heartworm), temporary leash or carrier, a certificate for a free veterinary exam
San Francisco SPCA
- Cost: $175 for dogs, $400 for puppies under 5 months if the adopter hasn’t taken a free Puppy Parent Orientation class. Free for adopters over 65. San Francisco residents will pay a $23 adoption fee.
- What it covers: spay/neuter surgery, microchipping, behavioral screening, free health exam from participating veterinarians within three days of adoption
The Bay Area has plenty of places to find your next pet. Get started by checking out the shelters and rescues below.
- Bay Area Pet Fair: Claiming the title of largest pet adoption event in the U.S., this free fair features hundreds of adoptable animals from various rescues, vendors, workshops, and food trucks.
- Berkeley Humane: With more than 125 years of service, Berkeley Human offers a variety of services including low-cost spay/neuter surgery, dog training, and more.
- Contra Costa Humane Society: Formed in 1991, CCHS partners with a variety of public and private organizations to reduce euthanasia rates.
- East Bay SPCA: Provides comprehensive animal rescue services, including adoptions, veterinary care, dog training, and financial assistance.
- Family Dog Rescue: Rescues dogs from across the region, spanning California shelters and the streets of Mexico.
- Hopalong Animal Rescue: Hopalong provides animal advocacy and education in in-school and after-school programs alongside their adoption services.
- Pets In Need Redwood City: Founded in 1965, Pets in Need holds medical clinics and youth programs, including an annual youth camp.
- Rocket Dog Rescue: A foster-based service that has rescued 10,500 animals since 2001.
- San Francisco SPCA: A local rescue with a mission to support 5 million animals by 2030.
- Wonder Dog Rescue: Originally a rescue for Boston Terriers, Wonder Dog now works to find permanent homes for dogs of any small breed.
Budgeting for your new expenses is a part of responsible dog ownership. Some purchases you’ll make only a few times in your pet’s life (like leashes), while you’ll repeat others time and again (like food).
With pet ownership, one-time purchases include:
- A leash and collar and/or harness
- A crate and bedding
- Dog training sessions
- Grooming products
Repeat purchases include:
- Food, treats, and toys
- Medical exams
- Vaccinations and medications (including parasite preventative)
- Dog walkers
- Boarding/pet sitting services
- Pet insurance
If your new dog has a chronic health issue or is a breed prone to health problems, pet insurance can help you keep up with vet bills and medications. You have many insurance options (note that your employer may offer pet insurance as part of its benefits package), so compare quotes to help you decide if this investment is right for you.
You’re almost there! But, before you can bring your dog home, you need to get everything prepared. Having a pet-friendly space ready to go will make the transition from shelter to forever much go smoothly.
Take steps to pet-proof your home. You don’t want your new dog destroying expensive heirlooms or getting sick by eating something they’re not supposed to.
Head to the store and pick up the following items:
- Dog food and treats
- Food and water bowls
- A leash and collar/harness
- Dental care products
- Grooming tools
- Dog toys
- Enzyme cleaners
Even if your dog is housebroken, a new environment can cause it to have stress- or excitement-related accidents. That’s why it’s a good idea to have enzyme cleaners, which naturally break down urine, on hand.
Congratulations! You and your pet are about to embark on a great journey together. Don’t forget: Rover is here to help with qualified dog walkers and sitters in the Bay Area.
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