A Contract to Control: Do Pet Adoption Contracts Go Too Far?

The other day, a pickup truck with a beautiful blue Pit Bull in the back rolled by while I was walking. “What a beautiful dog,” I thought. Then, “Oh…wait, that’s bad. That dog could get hurt.”

The driver pulled into his driveway and walked to the back of the truck, showering the Pittie with head rubs and ear scratches before he untethered the dog. The fact is, this man who obviously loves his dog and prefers a hard-to-adopt breed would never be approved by most animal rescue groups if he disclosed that he lets his dogs ride in an open pickup truck.

Dogs In Truck

Dogs In Truck (Photo credit: Mark Faviell Photos)

Last week, I blogged about a rescue group that took back a cat after four years based on a mistaken assumption that the adopters breached their adoption contract by allowing the cat outside. That got me thinking about adoption contract rules, which exist not only for legal reasons but also because someone, somewhere in that particular rescue group decided what is “best” for an animal, based on their view of the world.

Here are a few rules from various rescue contracts found online:

  • Adopter must notify us if you ever move to a new address.
  • The dog will not be kept outdoors during the adopter’s working hours, or at any other time left alone outdoors while the adopter is not at home.
  • The dog will not ride in the back of a pickup truck under any circumstances.
  • The adopter must keep the rescuer informed with the name of the dog’s veterinarian and rescue may check at any time to make sure that the dog is kept on heartworm preventative year-round.
  • If the dog gets loose/stolen and is not back in the adopter’s care/control within two hours, you must immediately notify the rescue. Failure to do so will be an immediate breach of contract.
  • Adopter agrees that [rescue group] shall have the right to enter Adopter’s premises at any time, with or without notice, to inspect the dog’s condition and environment at any point in the lifetime of the dog.

Hopefully, these restrictions are there to give a rescue leeway when it needs to get a dog or cat out of an actual abusive situation. Or, maybe these are guidelines, placed in the contract for the adopter to consider for their pet’s well-being. I know pet owners who don’t keep their dog on heartworm preventative every month during harsh winters, and I don’t think they are bad dog owners. I also think it’s a little nervy of a rescue to expect an adopter to welcome a surprise inspector to their home “at any time, with or without notice.

Besides, there needs to be a bit of a learning curve allowance for new pet owners. I am embarrassed to admit that when I took my first dog, Emma, to a nearby lake on autumn days to run off-leash, 20 years ago, I sometimes let her ride tethered in the back of my truck down I-35 for 30 minutes on the way back. Why? Because she was muddy, and she liked it, and, like nearly everyone reading this, I did more stupid things 20 years ago than I do today.

When I got my second truck, I let my dogs ride in the covered bed, and when I got rid of that camper shell, they rode in the cab with me. One day a couple of years ago, a car spun out of control on I-35, slammed into me, and my truck overturned, rolled twice and slid upside down across three lanes of traffic. Miraculously, thanks to my seat belt, I wasn’t injured, and neither was anyone else on the road. Fortunately, no dogs were with me.

No dog would have survived in the open bed of my pickup truck.

I hate to imagine what might have become of a dog in my pickup bed in that situation. Random things happen, in all of our lives, no matter how much we try to control everything, no matter how many rules we have in place. People who work in animal rescue want to take every possible precaution to protect their adopted pets because, in their line of work, they see horrific situations of animal abuse. After awhile, nearly every adopter is suspect. However, we all have different ideas of how to best care for our pets. Every animal, person and situation is different. Not everything fits neatly into an adoption contract.

If an adopter loves their dog or cat, takes care of them, and the animal isn’t being abused or neglected, maybe the rescue should just back off, trust that they made the right selection through interviewing and screening and let people take care of their pet as they see fit. I am all for adoption follow-up, and I think it’s essential, but doesn’t the dog or cat eventually belong to the person who adopts it?

Controlling adopters with dictates about the only “right” way a cat or dog should be cared for isn’t going to guarantee that all adopted animals will live long lives. It just means that a lot of people won’t get their pets from a rescue group, which means that a lot of homeless dogs and cats will wait a long, long time for that “perfect” home.


About Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is involved in the Kansas City, Missouri animal rescue community and is a freelance writer.


10 thoughts on “A Contract to Control: Do Pet Adoption Contracts Go Too Far?

  1. Well said!

    Posted by Caroline | October 31, 2012, 7:11 am
  2. Good post — there are lots of things to think about here. I do think animal rescues can be too controlling sometimes. I know they’re probably adding all those stipulations to the contract because they care about the animal, but I do think it could drive away some wonderful adopters. I think I take great care of my pets (and I’ve got a five-digit vet bill from when my dog Maddie had cancer to prove it) but there are certain rescue groups that have a reputation for being control freaks (one of which turned down my friend, a daily dog park visitor, when she wanted to adopt a dog) that I would never consider adopting from because I don’t want to be scrutinized and judged by a stranger.

    Posted by Allie | October 31, 2012, 8:11 am
  3. If I applied my own, personal standard of animal care to everyone then very few people I know would have a pet. But that’s not how it works, even in rescue. General guidelines are important, both for screening and for educating adopters. This should be not just a few lines on a contract, but talking points during the adoption. Some specific requirements before an adoption takes place might be in order. For example, if a dog is a known fence jumper then asking that any potential adopter have a secure, 6ft fence might be in order. But why limit all adoptions with a fence requirement like some of our local rescue do? Rescues make judgements when adopting out a dog or cat and hopefully, it is the right one. Follow up calls are an important part of the process, both for the adopter, if they are having issues that can then be addressed, and for the rescue to determine if some sort of intervention needs to take place – per the contract. They did sign and agree after all. The goal should be to keep the pet in the home as long as there is no abuse or neglect. The gray area is when ‘abuse’ and ‘neglect’ are defined narrowly by the rescue.

    Posted by Deborah | October 31, 2012, 8:28 am
  4. This is a great post that gives you a lot to think about. Sadly, I think because of the all the bad people that are out there, having stipulations are necessary to help insure the pet is going to a good and safe home. I also think sometimes they can go too far. I’m sure there are things every pet owner has done at some point that would not necessarily be “approved”. It’s a learning process and every animal is different. I’ve personally been denied adoption of a dog because of not having a home with a fence. Do I think having a fence is a good thing? Of course. Does me not having one make me a bad pet owner? No, it doesn’t, but due to that one item, I was not considered for adoption. When I adopted my first dog from a different rescue, they did not have that as a hard requirement. I can’t even imagine my life without my dog and to think, if it had been another rescue, I would have been automatically declined.

    Posted by Sara | October 31, 2012, 8:34 am
  5. I think that some rescues do go too far, but I am a firm believer in really getting to know the adopter. When I am fostering a dog I know how happy they are at my house. I know what their life is like. Now I’m going to entrust their life to someone else, and that’s very hard for me. I don’t think all rules apply to everyone. For example: I live in the country with 40 acres. My dogs are always off leash with me which is very opposed by some dog owners and would possibly make me a bad adopter in the eyes of some rescues, but my dogs love their life the way it is. It’s always hard for me to remember that dogs live in the city just fine too!
    Deborah, I feel the same way as you; if I expected everyone to treat their dogs the way I do I would never give up my fosters to new families! I love mine like children, and I honestly miss them when I’m at work or out with friends. But sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised. Every once in a while I find a group of people who ARE like me, and sometimes I could even be considered a worse dog mom (I’m frequently forgetting Heartgard and I don’t feed fancy food)! These are the kind of people I look for when I choose an adoptive family.
    Adopting from a rescue can be hard, but I love knowing that anyone who IS willing to go through this process REALLY wants a dog. That makes me feel good when I am giving up a foster whom I love.

    Posted by pittiesforyourthoughts | November 9, 2012, 10:46 am
  6. I agree with your post. I think rescue groups should be homing pets promptly to good homes, instead of waiting for perfect homes to show up after a long period of time.

    That being said, I think it’s interesting that there is a negative stigma towards dogs in trays of ‘trucks’ (we call them utes) in the USA. In Australia, a dog in the tray of a ute is an icon. We have ongoing problems with dogs not being suitably restrained in the trays of utes, but the riding itself never seems to be addressed as problematic. An interesting cultural difference.

    Posted by Tegan | November 9, 2012, 8:51 pm
  7. I think it is more about control than it is about caring…Adoptive parents don’t have these same type of rules when they adopt children…I buy a dog from a family and they do not have those stipulations. Why should an rescue group be this controlling? So they can get the animal back and resell it…because most of them charge a fee for the animal…usually around $150 to $175. These are non profit organizations but yet they will charge because of vet bills, food cost and business expenses… but if you find fault with an adoptive home you can charge again…I am not sure if these contracts are held up in the court systems. No home is perfect…I have three goldens…they have it made but sometimes I might not be home in time to feed them their dinner at 5:00 it might be 6:30. They live in the house, have tv on when I am gone but since I put the remote up high they can not change the channel…if they were from some of the rescue groups they might come to my house and want my dog back…give me a break!!!!

    Posted by Charlotte | February 9, 2014, 9:44 pm
  8. Very well said! I was just thinking about this the other day, and how lucky I am to have found a shelter who had my River with few rules, so I don’t have to worry about breaching a contract for doing what I think is best for her.

    Posted by Elaine | January 23, 2016, 1:12 pm
  9. i had this exact issue while i was looking to adopt a dog for the first time. now please note, this was not my first dog in general, it was my first adoption experience which happened to never make it out of the starting gate. there is an obscene amount of dog rescues in Arizona and i tried applying to a good dozen or so of them, having picked out which dogs sounded best suited to my lifestyle. I’m a basic trainer and i love playing fetch, biking, hiking and trick training. pretty ideal for a dog right? well the issue that Ultimately led to all of my applications being denied was the fact that i lived in an apartment. i had the time, patience, resources and energy to own an active, young and untrained large breed dog but no one would even consider me because i didn’t own a house and was even told to wait until i moved to a bigger place to own a dog in general. to be honest after that i realized the whole “adopt dont shop” movement is a big joke. they want us to adopt animals but only on their terms and it is frustrating and degrading and embarrassing. i did find a good german shepherd breeder after that who have me an even tempered boy, who is now two years old and the happiest dog alive. mind you, i spent $1500 on this dog when it would have been about $200 to adopt a very unstable shelter dog with no background history. i even have a leash business built around him called Ruger’s Ropes. all in all, if you meet the requirements to adopt then go for it but i feel that people demonize getting animals from other places too much. we need fuzzy friends too

    Posted by Mac | April 29, 2018, 12:26 pm


  1. Pingback: The Week in Tweets (18th November) | Some Thoughts About Dogs - November 18, 2012

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