Animal rescue and adoption are an increasingly popular method of obtaining a new pet, particularly dogs.  Adopting a dog in need of a home is a benefit to the dog and adoptors who are not interested in purchasing a pure bred.  Everyone’s goal is to find a permanent, caring home for abandoned, relinquished, or stray dogs.  However, applications for adoption and adoption contracts often include unreasonable and unnecessary restrictions and provisions which may create a disincentive to otherwise-interested potential adoptors, and which do not protect the dog’s health or well-being.

Tips for adoption applications and contracts:

  • VETERINARIAN-CLIENT-PATIENT RELATIONSHIP: The adoption contract should emphasize the importance of establishing and maintaining a professional relationship with a veterinarian.  All contracts should require that the adoptor bring the adopted dog to a veterinarian within a short period of time after adoption, but no longer than 14 days after adoption, for two reasons: 1) to initiate a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, and 2) to establish the current state of health of the dog, including any subclinical infections or disorders that may not have been apparent or revealed before.  New studies have shown that adoptors who seek advice from veterinarians, family, and friends are more likely to retain ownership of that animal, as compared with other adoptors, although other factors are involved.  Also, movement of dogs between shelters and rescue groups has become more common, with the potential of increased exposure to infectious diseases and agents along the way.  The requirement for the adoptor to seek veterinary care within a short period of time will not only protect the adopted dog, but also the adoptive family, including any pets they may already own.
  • VACCINATIONS: Vaccinations to prevent infectious disease should be a recommended practice and part of the dog’s annual veterinary visit, but the exact nature and interval of vaccinations should not be required by contract.  For example rabies immunization, required by law, can be provided annually or once every three years.  If exposed to an animal known or suspected to be infected with rabies, a booster vaccination is recommended immediately.  Therefore, a contract that requires annual rabies vaccination would not be accurate.  As part of their overall care, the veterinarian should recommend vaccinations based on the geographic location, risk of exposure to infectious diseases, age, and other physical parameters routinely considered for such purposes.  With the increasing number of global diseases, additional vaccines may become available and recommended to protect those at risk.  Therefore listing specific vaccines is not advisable.
  • PARASITE CONTROL: Statements about and recommendations for parasite control should be carefully worded.  Statements that a dog is or is required to be “free” from all parasites should be avoided.  Instead, routine testing and/or treatment for internal and external parasites should be required as part of a wellness program prescribed for that dog by the veterinarian, based on similar risk factors described above.
  • FOOD AND WATER: Avoid requiring food and water to be available at all times.  Providing food at all times, is contra-indicated, as it can lead to obesity, and requiring water at all times may be unrealistic.  Instead, provisions should require that food and water must be provided in such quantity and quality to maintain the health and well-being of the dog.
  • FENCING: While the safety of the adopted dog is of paramount importance, many contracts prohibit certain conduct that can be perfectly safe.  For example, dogs can be left outdoors for certain periods of time without their owners being with them; both structural and underground electric fencing can provide safe environments as long as the dog is properly trained; and restricting all off-leash activity can unnecessarily limit the dog’s enjoyment of the outdoors in certain safe environments.
  • SPAY/NEUTER: As veterinary medicine continues to evolve, the requirement to spay or neuter, as historically defined, may be unnecessary, and in some cases contra-indicated.  For example, scientists in the U.S. are beginning to question whether early ovarian removal is beneficial to female dogs.  Instead, there is some evidence that retaining the ovaries for a period of time, may better protect health.  Also, alternatives to surgical castration of male dogs already exists.  Therefore, instead of requiring specific surgical procedures, contracts can require proof that the adopted dog can no longer reproduce.