I recently took part in a discussion on an avicultural forum that relates to the way we acquire animals. There are a number of terms being used in this discussion and they are terms that are often used incorrectly. These terms are rehome, adopt, rescue, and purchase. The following are my interpretations of what these terms mean, when they are appropriate, and why they should be used in this way.
You rehome an animal when you are no longer able to or no longer want to care for it, but you don't want to surrender it to a shelter. You instead want to find the new home yourself. Your goal is solely to find a new home for the animal to live out its life. Money is not the focus of the exchange. Idealistically, no money changes hands as the sole purpose is to find a good home for the animal. Realistically, a "rehoming" fee is often charged - not to recoup expenses or to make a profit from the exchange, but just to make sure the new owners are serious about caring for the pet and, in the case of rats, are not intending to use them as free snake food. This fee is advertised, but is often not collected if the prospective owner can establish that they are a qualified pet owner and can assure the original owner of the intentions of caring for the animal properly.
Rehome is starting to be used improperly, likely due to the requirements of websites such as Craigslist. Craigslist does not allow for the sale of animals outright. Craigslist does allow advertisements for rehoming of animals and they allow for a rehoming fee. Because of this, breeders are starting to advertise their animals as having a "rehoming fee" instead of a price. Technically, they are selling their animals against the rules of Craigslist and taking liberties with terminology to slide under the radar.
It is important that this terminology shift not gain ground. Breeders of animals should claim to sell their animals for a price, and not claim to rehome them for a rehoming fee. When you breed an animal with the intent to sell, you are not rehoming a pet you can no longer care for. You are selling offspring you bred for that specific purpose.
You adopt animals from a rescue or shelter. You do not adopt from an owner rehoming an animal or from a breeder selling animals. Adoptions occur when a third party organization steps in between an original owner and the new owners, taking the animal in, providing medical care, and going to great lengths to find the right home for the new animal.
Adoptions usually include an adoption fee. This fee helps keep the shelter in business, paying for some of the costs and vet bills associated with the animal. It also ensures that the owners are committed to caring for the new pet and will look at it as something with value, and not something that is disposable. The adoption fee is often mislabeled as a rehoming fee.
When you adopt an animal, you are usually not free to then sell that animal or rehome it. The animal must be turned back over to the adopting agency. This rule exists for many reasons. First, adoption agencies want to make sure that any animal in their care ends up in a good home for life. Second, sometimes rare, expensive animals find their way into rescues. Rescues charge an adoption fee that tries to cover some of their expenses, but it is not based on the rarity or value of the specific animal on the free market. Thus, sometimes, animals can be adopted cheaply from a rescue, and then turned around and sold for a profit, with no regard to the qualifications of the new owner. This is obviously not in the best interest of the animal and thus, rescues want to prevent this from happening.
Therefore, it is important to use the term adoption properly, as the term implies not only taking in an animal that needed a home, but also a loss of some of your rights as a pet owner. When you adopt an animal, you lose the ownership right to sell that animal or even rehome it.
Nonetheless, people often use this term incorrectly. People do not want to think of acquiring their animals as a business transaction and thus are starting to trend toward the term "adopt" rather than "purchase" or "buy." So, it is not uncommon to hear someone say that they have adopted their animal from a breeder or from a pet store. They did not. They purchased their pet. Unless, of course, the pet store adopted out the animal through an animal rescue program that did not require a fee going to the pet store itself (Petco sometimes has animal adoptions available - our Casper was adopted through the Illinois Doberman Rescue and Petco).
Breeders have picked up on this and have followed in the footsteps of rescues, calling their sales "adoptions." They have made up "adoption" applications for people interested in purchasing their animals. While the application process is a good idea, this is not an adoption. This is the sale of an animal and and such documents would be more correctly called a "sales contract" or "purchase application."
Most of the time, the pet owner himself did not rescue the animal. Usually, a rescue or shelter rescued the animal and the pet owner adopted him. Sometimes, individuals do rescue an animal, when they find the animal in a bad situation and convince the owner to surrender the animal to them without a fee. Note that if a fee is involved, it is usually not a true rescue. If money exchanges hands, it amounts to a purchase, with the original owner making a profit and going on to commit the same sins again to make another profit down the road. You are replacing one animal in a bad situation with another animal coming into that exact same situation.
Thus, if you see an animal in deplorable conditions at a pet store and you purchase that animal, it is not technically a rescue. It is a purchase, with the pet store making a profit on that animal and replacing it with another that will exist in the same deplorable conditions. A rescue that just swaps one unfortunate animal with another gets nowhere.
On the other hand, if you see an animal at a pet store needing medical care and you offer to take the animal off their hands and get it treatment, and the pet store surrenders the animal without payment, that could be considered a rescue - as the animal receives care it would not have gotten and the store loses its investment in that animal. Another will come to take its place, but likely not with the same problems.
This is the most significant of the terms and no one wants to use it correctly, but everyone should. When you buy an animal from a pet store or a breeder, you are not adopting, you are not rehoming, and you are not rescuing, you are purchasing. Purchasing something gives you rights of ownership. These rights are important to us as pet owners. If we are to ensure that we always have control over the decision making regarding our animals, assuming we are keeping them lawfully in good conditions, then we want to be owners of our pets. Not guardians or keepers or any other such animal-friendly terms, but owners. We don't want anyone to be able to come into our homes and take our animals away because they have other ideas about how they should live. We want to own our pets. The more our language moves away from terms that imply ownership and towards terms that make us feel good but that actually imply a loss of some of the rights of ownership, the easier it can be for animal rights groups to pick away at those rights over time.
There is nothing wrong about owning an animal. Owning an animal doesn't mean we love them less or treat them like objects. It only means that we get to decide how that animal should live and be cared for, as long as we are keeping them in lawful conditions and not subjecting them to neglect or abuse.
All of these terms have important roles in animal acquisition, but it is important that we use these terms correctly. More and more, the lines have begun to blur, and the more that happens, the more we lose important distinctions between the terms and situations.