With more and more dog owners “rescuing” dogs, the competition for puppies can be fierce. The application process requires applicants to answer many questions about children, spouses, work life, outdoor access, and more. As Beth Teitell writing for The Boston Globe recently reported, “[a]dopting a pet — once a simple, one-day affair — has turned into a process that can stretch for months. It can involve not only home visits, but requests for mortgage statements, questions about employment status, waiting lists, and testimony from references.”
Assuming you pass muster and are allowed to adopt a dog, usually for a hefty price, often in the form of a “donation,” you will have to sign an adoption contract.
As previously discussed, some contracts allow for perpetual home visits, scheduled or not, and also allow for continued ownership of the dog by the shelter or rescue.
If at any time the care of the dog is in question, the shelter or rescue can retrieve the dog. This may be considered a benefit if an adopter is unable to properly care for the dog. But in some cases, a rescue group uses retrieval as a threat, or for retribution, unrelated to the animal’s care.
In one case, an owner had adopted a dog with an infection and a probable congential disorder (possibly information that was withheld by the rescue). After spending thousands of dollars on veterinary care, the adopter contacted the rescue to inform them of the dog’s condition. Instead of expressing gratitude that the dog was being well-taken care of, the rescue demanded the veterinary medical records, and when the adopter refused that request, she was threatened with a home visit and retrieval of the dog.
These contracts have not been tested in court, to my knowledge. Even though dogs remain private property, and are therefore “owned,” instead of “adopted,” contracts that permit repeated, unannounced home visits and retention of dog ownership by the rescue/shelter, may be valid.
On the other hand, one could argue that these are contracts of adhesion and therefore unconscionable.
A contract of adhesion is defined as:
“[a] standard form contract drafted by one party (usually a business with stronger bargaining power) and signed by the weaker party (usually a consumer in need of goods or services), who must adhere to the contract and therefore does not have the power to negotiate or modify the terms of the contract.” See Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School.
“Courts carefully scrutinize adhesion contracts and sometimes void certain provisions because of the possibility of unequal bargaining power, unfairness, and unconscionability. Factoring into such decisions include the nature of the assent, the possibility of unfair surprise, lack of notice, unequal bargaining power, and substantive unfairness. Courts often use the ‘doctrine of reasonable expectations’ as a justification for invalidating parts or all of an adhesion contract: the weaker party will not be held to adhere to contract terms that are beyond what the weaker party would have reasonably expected from the contract, even if what he or she reasonably expected was outside the strict letter of agreement.”
If the terms of an adoption contract or the information you have to provide in an adoption application are of concern, you should probably consider buying a dog from a reputable breeder instead of adopting.
You will likely not be selected for an adoption if you refuse to sign the contract. With so many applicants waiting for a dog, particularly a puppy, you either complete the application and sign the adoption contract or do not get the dog.
That is, unless you want to see how the courts will interpret the fairness of the contract.