Rescue 101: Adoption Agreements and Contracts

A baby guinea pig.

An adoption agreement spells out the agreement between your rescue and the adopting home.

An adoption agreement is a contract that spells out the terms of a final adoption when someone decides to adopt an animal from your rescue, it’s a document that serves multiple purposes. The adoption agreement you have your adopters sign will spell out the terms of adoptions and what you are concretely expecting them to do as an adopter, such as provide reasonable care for the animal and give you an opportunity to reclaim them if the adopter can’t keep them. It also spells out what the adopter can expect from you and the animal they were given, such as any guarantee you might be offering about the health of the animal or trial period for the adoption. It’s a document that will also help protect you from potential damages and liability. In this article, I’m going to share with you an example Adoption Agreement contract and will be going over it section by section to explain why you might want to include these clauses in your own contract.

Sample Adoption Agreement

Below you’ll find links to a sample adoption agreement, which is the same one that I developed for North Star Rescue. This adoption agreement is designed to be two pages long and print double-sided on a single sheet of paper. You are welcome to use these adoption agreements for your own rescue, just replace the placeholder of (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) in the document with your own rescue’s name, but I recommend that you always review any legal documents with your local legal counsel. There’s always the possibility that your state or locality will have different contract requirements that will require you to adapt this sample to work for your rescue.

Sample Pet Adoption Agreement – Word Document

Sample Pet Adoption Agreement – PDF

Animal Information, to be Filled Out by the Rescue

The first section of our sample adoption agreement is a portion that the rescue should fill out prior to providing the contract to a potential adopter. In this section it asks for information such as the Animal’s Name, Age, Species, Gender, if they are Spayed or Neutered, any Distinguishing Markings and Additional Notes. Most of this is self-explanatory, you’ll want to be able to fill out information so that you can identify that this animal originated with your rescue if you should need to for any reason further down the line. Putting down any distinguishing markings will also help you specifically identify that this animal did originate from you, if the animal has a spot or scar that might make them uniquely different from any other animal, go ahead and put it down. In the Additional Notes section, you can put down anything out of the ordinary you might need to record. If the animal is going out with a pre-existing medical condition the adopter is aware of, make a note of it so that if they come back asking you to cover vet bills later you’ll know it was a disclosed condition. If the animal has recovered from a medical treatment at the rescue, but you want to extend the health guarantee for this adopter to make sure they don’t relapse after a move to a new home, you could put that down as well. If the adopter is bonding the animal with another animal they already own and you want to extend their trial period, you can also make note of that here.

The Adopter’s Information

The sample contract asks for the basic information from an adopter such as their name, address, phone number and e-mail address. You may also want to include a request for a form of identification, such as a Driver’s Licence or state issued ID card. If you are planning to ask for information that is more risky for the adopter to give out, like a licence ID number or social security number, keep in mind that you’ll need to be sure you are storing this information in a very secure way since you can put your adopter in a bad position if you happen to leave their application visible around the wrong person. It’s generally safer to stick with the information you would need to get in touch with an adopter, and not anything that you’d have a greater liability around storing.

This section and the contract should always be completed by an adult. This is something I’ve always stressed to parents, who periodically want their children to fill out the form to “show they are making a commitment”. When this comes up, I offer the parents a dummy contract to have their kids fill out that they can take with them, but remain firm that the rescue will only enter in to a contract with a legal adult and that we don’t adopt out animals to children, we adopt them out to the adult guardians in the house and expect them to be prepared to agree to the terms of the contract.

Adoption Fee and Intro Paragraph

I/We the above named person and/or persons, hereinafter referred to as the “adopter”, agree to adopt this animal, known hereinafter as a “pet”, and release (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) and it’s directors, volunteers and associates jointly and severally from all claims for personal injury and/or property damage to myself or others associated with this adoption. In consideration of an adoption fee in the amount of $_______, the adopter acknowledges and further agrees to these provisions.

This first paragraph is where you will fill in the adoption fee for the animal you are adopting out. If you adopt out animals for different fees based on species or other considerations, you can fill this in by hand when you are completing the adoption agreement with your adopter. This is the first step in to some scary sounding language, “personal injury” and “property damage” might not be the first thing you are thinking about if you are dealing with smaller animals but you want to be sure you are protected from potential claims that might be unreasonable. For example, if you adopt out a hamster that bites someone in the household, you don’t want to be held liable for it. If the rat you adopt out chews a lamp cord and causes damage to the adopter’s house, you also don’t want to be liable for it.

Home Care

Home Care: The welfare of this pet is the sole responsibility of the adopter. The adopter agrees that this pet will be housed indoors only, and will be provided quality food, clean water, and a safe, suitably sized and sanitary habitat to live in. The adopter agrees to keep the pet’s housing at a safe climate that will not cause medical distress to the pet.

This section is fairly generic as to the care that the animals need to receive, but it is necessarily broad because you won’t be able to spell out the details of a proper hamster diet or types of cages that are suitable in an adoption contract. It states that the care and well-being of that animal now falls to the adopter, and the standards provided are widely recognized humane standards for any animal.

Veterinary Care

Veterinary Care: The Adopter understands that, unless otherwise disclosed, this animal was recognized to be healthy at the time of its adoption. The adopter agrees to take the pet to a qualified and licensed veterinarian and will arrange for immediate veterinary care in the event of an illness or injury during the animal’s lifetime.

Unless you made a note up in the ‘Additional Notes’ section at the top of the contract letting your adopter know that there was a pre-existing medical condition, this is letting the adopter know that you are providing them with a healthy animal when they are adopting. It also states that they will be responsible for future medical care for that animal, outside of the health guarantee period which will be included further along in the contract.


Breeding: The adopter understands that under no circumstance is any pet adopted from (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) to be allowed to reproduce or breed. The adopter further understands and agrees that if the animal is ever bred, (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) reserves the right to reclaim the adopted animal and its offspring, and agrees to pay a surrender fee of $10 for each animal claimed by the rescue in this fashion.

Most people don’t come to a rescue looking for an animal to breed, but at North Star Rescue we do periodically get inquiries from people who want animals for their breeding programs, particularly if a fancy breed or color animal has come in to the rescue. We decided to enter a no breeding clause in to our contract to give us some recourse if someone did end up breeding an animal they adopted from us, and to provide a further deterrent against people interested in getting an animal for breeding purposes. This is, frankly, more of a deterrent than something we’d be able to enforce or even find out about in the majority of situations, but if your animal was obtained by a breeding mill it would give you something to stand on if you found out and wanted to reclaim them.

Conduct of Pet

Conduct of Pet: The Adopter understands that no one can predict how a pet will react in a new situation, and will exercise prudence and caution in handling this animal and introducing them to other humans or pets until the pet has become fully adjusted to its new environment. (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) can make no guarantees, express or implied, about the suitability of any animal for any person or situation.

This section is important to protect you against a variety of situations that are beyond your ability to predict. When talking with adopters about this section, what I tell them is that it means I can’t tell them that the mouse they adopted isn’t going to bite their kid when they reach in the nest one day with hands that smell like potato chips, or that the guinea pig they adopted is going to be BFF’s with the one they adopted. I can’t get inside their heads and I can’t tell you with 100% certainty that they are going to react in the same way to new people and situations, and I can’t guarantee that this animal is going to be perfect for your particular situation. I follow this later with the discussion about the trial period so that adopters understand this doesn’t mean they are out of luck if things don’t work out.

Other Uses

Other Uses: The adopter agrees that this pet will not be used for feeding other animals or humans, fighting, medical or experimentation purposes. The adopter agrees that this pet will be nothing other than a house pet, companion and family member.

It’s a common fear I hear among rescuers that someone is going to get their animals for a bad purpose, especially with small animal lovers being afraid that the animals will be potentially adopted by someone looking for snake food. Honestly, this isn’t as big of a concern as it tends to be in the minds of scared people, because there are simply much easier avenues for someone who wants a feeder animal to get them than going through an adoption process, meeting, and paying higher fees for them. It doesn’t hurt to have it in the contract though and reiterate that you are adopting out pets, not 4-H projects, not experimental animals, not work animals or anything else.

Transfer of Ownership

Transfer of Ownership: The ownership and responsibility for this pet belongs solely to the adopter. However, if the adopted can no longer keep this pet or provide it with adequate care, the adopter agrees to contact (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) and give the rescue an opportunity to find another home for this pet. This pet shall NOT be sold, given to, or adopted to anyone else, nor shall there be any transfer of ownership without express written permission from (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME). It is understood and agreed that if, at any point during the animal’s life, the adopter is unable to provide a home for them they may return the pet to (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) at no cost to them.

You’ll want to make sure that the animals that you adopt out have a safe place to call home, and no matter how much you screen or educate an adopter before they bring them home, there’s always the possibility that they will need to give up the animal. This section stipulates that the adopter would need to get your written consent before giving the animal to a third-party and that they have the option to return the animal to the rescue at no cost.

When I am covering this section with adopters, I tell them that we want to make sure the animal is always in a safe place for the rest of its life, and we’re not necessarily going to require that the animal be returned to us if they have a family member that could give the animal they no longer want a good and loving home. I let them know that making sure they contact us first means that we can make sure the animal is still getting a good standard of care at their new home, and give the new owner our information if they can’t keep the animal so they can bring it back if there isn’t a better alternative for it again.

North Star Rescue has also always had a policy that we don’t charge a surrender fee for animals who were originally adopted from our rescue, because we don’t want there to be any deterrent to an adopter bringing back an animal at any age or in any condition. Since we made the commitment to save that animal, we’d rather receive them back and keep an open door for the adopter rather than try to recoup additional costs during the return.


Repossession: The adopter understands that in the event that he/she/they do not follow the terms of this agreement, or that they neglect or abuse the pet, that (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) or another animal authority has the right to take possession of the pet. The adopter agrees to pay (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) any and all expenses, including but not limited to incurred Veterinary fees.

Here’s the scary section for adopters to read, which talks about when the rescue could take back the animal if they aren’t following the terms of this agreement. As a rescuer, it’s important to understand that this portion of the contract is to give you more leverage with an animal control or police agency in the event that you find out an animal you have adopted out is in a bad situation. It doesn’t give you the ability to go reclaim an animal from a property or do more than show up and request the return of the animal, if you need to use this clause, you need to get legal back up to go with you.

Similarly, while this part of the contract says that the adopter agrees to pay associated vet fees, you can send an invoice for those medical fees but it’s pretty likely if you had to actually repossess an animal, that person isn’t going to pay up without a court summons. Just like the breeding section, this is first and foremost a deterrent to make people consider the repercussions of their actions if their intentions are not good.

Health Guarantee

Health Guarantee: (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) provides a 14-day health guarantee for all animals adopted from the rescue against pre-existing medical conditions, not inclusive to injuries or illnesses contracted while in the adopter’s care. The adopter agrees that if there is a health concern within the first 14 days of adoption that they will immediately contact (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) to return the animal for treatment. The adopter agrees and will be responsible for transporting the animal back to (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME). The adopter further understands that (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) will provide a reasonable amount of medical treatment, and reserves the right to euthanize animals if treatment is not available or the animal is determined to be suffering without a chance for a reasonable recovery.

While you should be making every effort to make sure the animals you adopt out are perfectly healthy, or are going to adopters who understand and are willing to take on a pre-existing medical condition, there’s always the chance that an animal has a stress induced medical issue that comes up after going to a new home. This is something we most commonly see with pet rats, who are susceptible to stress related respiratory problems, and we want to make sure that the adopter doesn’t go home with a rat only to find themselves having their first vet bill a week later. The Health Guarantee shows your adopter that you are standing behind the animals that you adopt out and you will be there for them if anything happens while the animals are transitioning to their new home.

The Health Guarantee equally protects you as a rescue. You’ll notice in the above paragraph that if an adopter receives an animal who becomes sick during the trial period, the contract states that they need to return the animal to the rescue, and the rescue will be responsible for a reasonable amount of medical treatment. This is to protect you and your rescue from unreasonable medical bills, an animal who sneezed because the air freshener at their new home doesn’t mean you should have to shell out a few hundred dollars for a vet bill the adopter took them in for at their regular vet. It means you’ll be sure the animals are getting treated by competent vets that you work with who are familiar with animals of that species, and you’ll be able to control the medical decisions in a reasonable way that is best for the animal.

Reserving the right to euthanize an animal if medical treatment isn’t available is not a happy prospect, but it’s an important one in a worst case scenario. You might adopt out an animal who was visibly healthy at the time of adoption, only to find out within a two-week period that they have an inoperable brain tumor that has started to impair their ability to move and eat. This would be a situation where you would have to go back to your adopter to let them know that you are dealing with an incurable medical issue, and talk with them about the best options for the animal at this time. Some adopters might want to take them back and deal with hospice care, but many people aren’t in a position to take on an end of life case in the two weeks after they just brought a new animal home, and this will make sure that you can still provide the humane care an animal needs at the end of its life.

Trial Period

Trial Period: Pets adopted from (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) are considered to be adopted on a trial basis to last 14 days. During this period of time if the adopter does not feel that the animal is a suitable match, they may return the animal to (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) for a refund of the adoption fee paid, not including transport costs. If the adopter is not able to return the pet to (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME), they will be responsible for costs incurred by North Star Rescue to pick up and return the animal. If at any point past the 14-day trial period the adopter wishes to return the pet, they may do so at no cost, but will not be eligible for a refund of their adoption fee.

Another thing I found important to offer adopters is a trial period so they could get to know the animal in their own home and see how they fit in. You want the match between your adopter and the animal you place with them to be a good one so that everyone has a happy life together after the adoption, and it’s no good for anyone involved if the adopter doesn’t feel comfortable with the animal they adopted once they get used to living with them in their home. This trial period provides the adopter with a period where they can return the animal for a refund of their adoption fee, but reiterates they can still return the animal at a later date without receiving a refund.

In this paragraph, you’ll notice that there’s a mention of transport fees. This is a remnant that we left in because North Star Rescue used to offer a transportation service for adopters, but found we didn’t have enough volunteer and travel time to do it on a regular basis. There are still cases though where we work with adopters who have disabilities that prevent them from leaving home where we will send a volunteer to their home in exchange for a fee that covers their gas and bridge tolls to get there and back, and we left in the mention that we don’t refund these fees since they are a cost we pay when providing that infrequent service.


Quarantine: (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) holds all animals entering the rescue for a minimum of 14 days, during which period they are monitored for signs of communicable diseases. Animals are made available for adoption at (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) only following this 14-day quarantine period if no symptoms of illness have been displayed. It is recommended that the adopter follow an additional quarantine process before introducing the adopted pet to any current household pets, including but not limited to housing the animal in a separate room, washing hands in between handling the pet and other animals, and not allowing animals to share potentially contaminated surfaces.

Your quarantine policies with your rescue may vary, but this section describes to the adopter the length of time an animal is observed before going up for adoption with your rescue and that you recommend they follow their own quarantine process. Even if you have a completely isolated quarantine process for the animals coming in to your rescue, you could run in to an issue where an adopter gets an animal from your rescue and another location that doesn’t quarantine in a short period of time. Telling the adopter that you still recommend them following their own quarantine process is reminding them to be responsible about the way they bring animals in to their home.

Closing Paragraph and Signature Section

(YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) has provided the best information it is able to provide about the pet and the adopted accepts responsibility for this pet based on the information available at the time of this agreement. The adopter agrees that it will not hold (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) responsible for errors provided in the information about this pet. The adopter understands that any rescue only knows information left by a previous owner, and very little in the case of stray animals, and that (YOUR-RESCUE-NAME) has done it’s best to disclose any known information about the animal, it’s temperament and health status during it’s time at the rescue or known health status before arriving at the rescue.

This final paragraph lets the adopter know that you are providing them the information with good intentions and have given them the most correct information you have available. As a rescue, you don’t always know the full history of an animal you are adopting out, and this will give you a little bit more of a cushion of protection if someone wants to come back and complain that you misjudged the age of an animal who came in without owner history.

At the end of this, you’ll have a place for your adopter to print their name, sign and date the agreement, and complete their adoption before bringing their newly adopted pet home.

Filing and Adoption Agreement Copies

You should have a plan on where you are going to keep your adoption agreements, and how you are going to organize them. Ideally, you’ll have a spreadsheet or other way of managing information digitally where you can scan in the agreement and document the information on it so that you can look it up later if you need to find information on an adopter. Minimally, plan to have a safe place to file the agreements so that you can look up adoption agreements by month in case someone wants to return an animal and you need to verify that they did adopt them from you.

It’s also a good idea to provide a copy of the adoption agreement to your adopter. If you are handling the adoption out of your location, you might have access to a copier where you can copy the completed agreement for the adopter on the spot. If you are at an event, you can ask your adopter to fill out the contract in duplicate so that they can take a copy with them immediately. You can also scan and e-mail a copy of the adoption agreement to your adopter so that they have a reminder of the terms they agreed to.

About Lauren Paul

Lauren is the founder of North Star Rescue, a non-profit organization in California’s San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the rescue and welfare of companion pet rodents. Lauren operates Alma Rodentia, a website featuring an online store for pet rodents and their humans and a blog about rescue and life with pet rodents.

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