PET ADOPTION CONTRACTS: Part 1 of 3 – The adopter

This is the first in a three-part blog series about pet adoption contracts – not to be confused with a bill of sale from a pet shop or breeder. This applies only to adoption contracts with pet rescue organizations.

When acquiring a dog, cat, puppy or kitten, you may choose to adopt from a shelter or a rescue organization rather than buy from a breeder, pet shop or puppy mill. That’s a noble decision and you should be congratulated. Thousands of unwanted pets are killed every day in shelters. “Adopt, not buy” is a noble creed.

Finding your pet may start with an online search of, where you key in the characteristics of the pet you are looking for (species, breed, size, gender) and you are directed to available pets for adoption. You may instead start by going to a local pet shop. Many pet supply stores partner with a local rescue group to host “Adoption Days” on weekends, where the pets are brought and displayed. The advantage is that you and your family can interact with the prospective new member of your family before making a decision.

You should be aware of a few things:

  1. Application process. Most responsible rescue organizations have standards to ensure that the pets they adopt out will go to forever homes. Most likely, you will be required to complete an application and state references. You will also need to list the people in your household, and reveal whether you own or rent. These are important considerations, because if you rent, you will need to prove that the landlord allows pets. Be truthful! Lying on an application can void the contract and result in confiscation of your pet.
  2. Meet and Greet. If you are approved for the adoption, there will be an opportunity to meet your pet. All members of your family and household should be present, as this is a monumental decision and everyone needs to be on board. This may occur before or after the application is completed. Sometimes it is at the store, and sometimes at the home of a “foster” family, who has agreed to temporarily house and socialize the animal(s) on behalf of the organization prior to adoption.
  3. Adoption contract. If you reach the point of approval, you will probably be required to sign an adoption contract when you pick up your pet. All people who are owners should sign this – especially if the co-owners are an unmarried couple (see Blog: Pet Custody). Be sure to read the entire contract and ask questions before you sign it, if you don’t understand any terms.

Typically, an adoption contract will require you to take your new pet to a veterinarian shortly after the adoption (usually around 7 days). Even if this is not required, it is good practice and in your best interests to do so. Rescue organizations are not liable for selling you a sick puppy (SEE BLOG – ON PET PURCHSERS PROTECTION ACT).


You will also be required to take proper care of your pet, providing regular veterinary wellness care and vaccines, not allowing your pet to roam loose, and making sure your pet is spayed or neutered. Many times, the Rescue will pay for the surgery (as part of the adoption fee) and if the pet is old enough, they may have done this before you actually adopt the pet.

There are some specifics to the species; for example, prohibition against letting a cat outdoors; requirements for grooming certain breeds; basic obedience training for dogs; or prohibiting declawing of cats or debarking of dogs, because these are cruel procedures and deprive the animal of natural defenses.

Most adoption contracts have a reversion clause. If you can’t keep the pet in the future, you can’t give it away – you must contact the Rescue first and allow them to re-home the pet. If this provision – or any of the health and care provisions – are breached, the Rescue may reserve the right to reclaim the pet and charge you for their legal fees if court action is required. Whether a reversion clause is enforceable will depend on the facts of the case and the wording of the contract, but it is not a risk you want to take.

The take-away is that you should take all the terms of a pet adoption contract seriously and follow them to the letter. If you have any questions, ask the Rescue group, and be sure to make a record of the questions and answers with a confirming text or email.

There are so many good reasons to adopt a pet. You may find yourself asking the question: “Who rescued Whom?” To ensure that this is a positive and fulfilling experience, work with the shelter or the rescue and not against them.

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