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Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Adoption Agreements

If you have adopted a rescue pet from a rescue or shelter, your adoption agreement may say that you must return your pet to them if you cannot keep the pet. Does that mean that you can rely on that statement in your agreement to serve as your emergency or estate plan for your pet?

In other words, if you have an accident or debilitating illness, or pass away, can you plan on and count on your pet going back to that organization? The answer is, probably not, but it would also depend on how long ago you adopted your pet.

Can you really return your pet?

Most of the time now pet adoption agreements say that they want you to bring the pet back to them if you cannot keep the pet. So, Why do rescues and shelter say this in their agreements and what do they really mean by it?

Shelters and rescues care about finding a loving caring home for their rescued pet. One of their greatest concerns is that someone would adopt their rescued pet and then turnaround and give that pet away to someone else who may not be a good pet owner. Additionally, rescues usually include the return statement to keep their pets from being turned into a shelter that euthanizes their pets for behavioral issues or due to lack of space if the adopter decides they cannot keep the pet.

The statement about returning the pet is intended to try to ensure that the pet comes back to the rescue or shelter organization if you decide it is not a good fit for you and it really has an unspoken term that is usually within 3-6 months of the adoption. Once the pet owner has had the pet for a year or more, it’s very likely that the shelter or rescue won’t be able to take the pet back. The reason is that these organizations are taking in pets all the time and always operate at or near capacity. If, for example, you have had your dog or cat for 5 years and then try to return it, odds are it will not be accepted back, especially if in the meantime it has developed medical or behavior issues.

Life Care Residence vs Rescue Shelter

At Perpetual Care our pet life care facility is a residence for pets where they can live out their life in comfort and that is our mission. Our mission supports shelters and rescues by preventing orphaned pets from having to go into a shelter. Shelters and rescues are intended to be short term facilities for pets to come in and hopefully be adopted quickly into a new home. They operate on the need for a high quantity of pet intake and outcomes, which serves a different and valuable mission for the community. For that reason, you should not rely on the shelter or rescue to take your pet back again if at some stage of your life you become ill or disabled or pass away.

Your Options

Some Shelters do now have a “life care” program and do their best to offer pet owners an option for their estate plan for their pets. This is certainly an option if the pet owner has no one who will take their pets or they do not have an estate plan, however, the reality is that shelters and rescues are physically set up as a short term facility and so the organization really needs to get that pet adopted or they may develop mental health and behavioral issues from confinement in kennels. It is not the environment you would want your pet to experience for months or years, although many shelters work at providing enrichment programs for them.

If you do not have a family member or friend who you can designate as your pet’s caregiver in your estate plan, a shelter or rescue may be your only option, so talk with your local rescue or shelter organization about a life care plan for your pet and find out exactly what they will do with your pet if they are returned or designated as caregiver in your estate plan.

In summary, it’s important to clarify the terms of the return policy of the shelter or rescue when you adopt your pet and it is still important to have a separate estate plan for your pet in case of an emergency, illness or death. To learn more about your options and how to set up an estate plan for your pets, visit our website and read our estate planning blogs at

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