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Roundup: Pet Adoption Laws You Should Know

Grey and white calico kitten playing in cage waiting for adoption
By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

In the animal adoption world, there are plenty of regulations. Most are focused on the welfare of the animal, but some come at the frustration and heartache of the people adopting them.

Read on for more information about the rules and laws surrounding pet adoption, the organizations, and animals.

Animal Shelters Have Individual Rules

Local shelters are regulated by their individual board of directors or local officials. Each one can set its own rules. If you have a complaint, you can bring it to the director of the shelter's organization.

However, shelters must always follow federal laws under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA is enforced by the following:

Before Adopting, You Should Know Everything About a Pet's Health and History

Learn about the laws that cover health and history disclosures, returning unhealthy pets, sales agreements, and exotic pets. You have the right to know the complete history of every pet.

Application Denials Aren't Considered Discriminatory

Shelters and rescues can ask intense personal questions – and deny your application for any reason. It is up to their staff to determine whether you qualify.

Depending on the animal's specific needs, you could be denied because of the following:

  • Having too low an income
  • Being too busy (working long hours or lots of travel)
  • Housing situation (no fenced yard, no animals allowed in a rental unit, etc.)
  • Family situation or children (young kids, full household, etc.)
  • No previous pet experience
  • A bad referral from your vet
  • A bad referral from your application references

These types of criteria are not considered discrimination. But if something feels off about the application denial, or if someone made discriminatory comments to you, it may be worth talking with an attorney during a free consultation.

The Adoption Process Doesn't Run A Background Check

Some states say shelters and rescues may run background checks. This is not a common practice, and most organizations only rely on calling referrals and vets.

This means people with a criminal record of animal abuse may be allowed to adopt new animals. Sometimes they only have to wait a few years before they can adopt a new animal. So far, nine states are working on creating animal abuse registries to stop this.

Pet Insurance Is Optional (For Now)

You do not have to get pet insurance in any state. So far, this industry did not have much attention from the government. But recently, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) started drafting model law for pet insurance. Their aim is to review the rules and protections for pet insurance customers.

Learn more in the 2019 State of the Industry report from the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA). Change may be coming to the future of pet insurance.

Some Contracts Say You Are Not the Actual Owner

Read all adoption contracts carefully. Some shelters or rescues can claim "superior title" and monitor the pet for the rest of its life. This gives them the right to take it back if you aren't up to par.

Shelter Staff Can Stop By At Any Time

Check your contract. Some shelters and rescues have contracts saying they will conduct a home visit:

  • During the application process
  • After the adoption takes place
  • Any time after adoption just to check in

You have legal rights not to let someone into your home, but they might have a contract to seize your pet if you refuse the home visit. Know the policy so it isn't a Saturday-morning-in-a-robe-and-slippers surprise.

Know the concerns and risks if you buy a pet and gift it to someone else. If you signed a contract to keep the animals, you could breach the contract by giving a kitten or puppy as a gift.

Most organizations see the adoption cost or application fee as a non-refundable donation. Whether you are denied, choose not to adopt the animal, or return the pet after a few weeks, that money is likely gone for good.

On the plus side: the money goes to a worthy (and furry) cause.

We hope you head into your adoption process feeling informed. To learn more, keep educating yourself with the resources below or explore your own state's pet adoption laws.

Related Resources:

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