1) Make a list of all the traits you want in your pet. Do a little research to prevent false beliefs. "I want a female dog, because male dogs mark." Female dogs can and do too! Males neutered early may be less likely to mark, but it is also a matter of training and the individual. "We have a small house, so we need a small dog." Many big dogs are lower energy than small breeds. Activity level can be more telling than size. "The cat must be declawed." It can be easy to manage scratching behavior in cats with a pair of nail clippers and some preparation.
4) Stick to your list of requirements. Do not end up taking home the kitten with the sad story, despite knowing that an adult low energy dog is most appropriate for your home.
5) Volunteer. Spend some time with a rescue that has the type of animal you are interested in, whether it's ferrets, rabbits, or dogs. This experience will allow you to learn a lot about the type of animal that is really best for your home. In Columbus we have rescues for ferrets, rabbits, cats, dogs, specific breeds, horses, and birds. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities to be had!