Pet Adoption Paperwork: What You Need to Know Before Adopting

By Julie Zeilinger
Woman looking at adoption paperwork with dog
Jimena Roquero / Stocksy
Adopting a pet is a heartwarming and rewarding experience. While the adoption process for cats, dogs, or any other pet may vary from one shelter or rescue organization to another, one thing remains consistent: You’ll go through an adoption process that will almost certainly involve filling out pet adoption paperwork. By understanding the various types of paperwork and preparing accordingly, you can streamline the adoption process and get your new family member home as soon as possible, so here’s what you need to know before adopting a pet.

What is pet adoption paperwork and why is it important?

Pet adoption paperwork is a set of documents that you will need to complete when you adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue organization. The paperwork typically includes an adoption application, an adoption agreement, and veterinary records. In some cases, you may also need to provide additional paperwork, such as proof of residency or a landlord’s permission to have a pet.

This paperwork is important for a number of reasons. First, it helps ensure that you and your pet are a suitable match. One of the primary goals of pet adoption paperwork is to gather information about the adopter’s living situation, lifestyle, and preferences to make sure the pet’s needs align with their potential new family.

Pet adoption paperwork also often includes legal agreements that help protect everyone involved in the adoption. For example, this paperwork often includes agreements that cover topics such as pet care, medical care, and return policies. It might also outline the responsibilities of both the adopter and the shelter or rescue organization.

Finally, adoption paperwork will usually include the pet’s health records, including vaccination history and proof of spaying/neutering. This ensures you are aware of your new pet’s health status and can effectively continue to care for them.

What are the types of pet adoption paperwork?

There are three main types of pet adoption paperwork, including the following:

The Adoption Application

The adoption application is usually the first document you’ll complete. It asks questions about your living situation, experience with pets, and the type of pet you’re looking for. It’s essential to be honest and thorough in your responses, as this information helps the shelter or rescue organization determine the best match for you.

The Adoption Agreement

This legally binding document outlines the responsibilities and expectations for both the adopter and the shelter or rescue organization. It covers topics such as pet care, spaying/neutering requirements, and the process for returning the pet if necessary.

Proof of Residency

Many adoption agencies will ask for proof of residency, such as a utility bill or lease agreement. This is to ensure that you live in a pet-friendly environment and can provide a suitable home for your new companion.

The length of adoption paperwork varies — some are shorter while others are quite extensive.

How can you prepare for adoption paperwork?

The first step you can take to prepare for completing your adoption paperwork is to do some research. Learn more about local animal shelters and rescue organizations, either by visiting their websites or searching resources like Adopt A Pet.

Once you choose an organization from which you’d like to adopt, you can start gathering all of the documents and information you’ll need to complete the adoption paperwork. These documents might include proof of residency and any references a shelter or organization may want to contact.

Other information you should be prepared to provide:

  • Your contact information
  • Your veterinarian’s contact information
  • The ages of people who live in your home
  • The types and ages of other animals who currently live in your home
  • Information about past animals who have lived in your home
  • If you (or anyone in your home) have allergies
  • What your past pet parent experience includes
  • Information about your future pet’s living situation (such as how long they’ll be alone, where they’ll sleep, and if you have a yard)
  • Personal references

Where do I get the pet adoption paperwork?

You can get pet adoption paperwork directly from the shelter or rescue organization you plan to adopt from. Most organizations make these documents available either in person, online, or by contacting their adoption coordinator.

No matter where you complete the paperwork, however, carefully read and make sure you understand each document before signing anything. If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask someone at the shelter or rescue organization for clarification.

Is there a deadline for completing pet adoption paperwork?

Be sure to ask the shelter or rescue organization you’ve decided to adopt from about any specific deadlines for completing the paperwork, as this can vary among organizations. Typically, the adoption process moves forward once your application has been reviewed. Adopting a pet is a big commitment but some pets can be adopted quickly, so it’s important to be proactive and promptly submit all required materials.

Additional tips for navigating pet adoption paperwork

The adoption paperwork process may seem a bit intimidating at first, but following these steps can help make it as smooth as possible. 

  • Be patient and understanding. The pet adoption process, including filling out paperwork and waiting for a shelter or rescue to process it, might be time-consuming. It’s essential to remember that the shelter or rescue staff are doing their best to ensure the well-being of the pets in their care. They want to find them the best homes possible, which can mean taking time to do their due diligence, ask questions, and gather information.
  • Ask questions if you’re not sure about something. It’s crucial to be honest and transparent during this process — both in the answers you provide and if you have any questions for the shelter or rescue staff. The people on the receiving end of your paperwork are there to help and can provide guidance.
  • Be prepared to provide additional information or documentation if needed. Shelters or rescue organizations might request additional information, including proof of address, a landlord’s approval, references, or veterinary records for any current pets. Be prepared to provide this information to demonstrate that you’re willing to go the extra mile to ensure your new pet’s well-being.

FAQ (People Also Ask):

Are there any fees associated with pet adoption paperwork?

There are typically fees associated with pet adoption. The specific fees vary depending on factors such as the policies of the animal shelter or rescue you choose to adopt from, any medical treatments the animal underwent in their care (including vaccinations and spaying/neutering), any transportation costs, and more. Essentially, these fees help cover the costs accrued by the organization in caring for the animal and help them continue their life-saving work.

What if I lose the adoption paperwork?

If you lose adoption paperwork, you can contact the animal shelter or rescue from which you adopted their pet; they usually keep records of adoptions and can provide you with copies of the necessary documents. It is essential to maintain these records, however, especially in case of emergencies, so consider making copies and storing them in a safe place.

What is a microchip and why is it important in pet adoption?

A microchip is a small device that can be implanted in your pet and contains a unique identification number. It’s usually injected under the skin between your pet’s shoulder blades and is essential for both identification (it’s a permanent form of identification that greatly increases the chances of reuniting with your pet if they go missing) and proof of ownership. Many animal shelters and rescue organizations ensure the pets they adopt out are microchipped to offer peace of mind to everyone involved. Your pet adoption paperwork will include the microchip number of your pet.


Julie Zeilinger is a NYC-based writer and editor whose writing has been published in Marie Claire, Vox, HuffPost, Forbes, and other publications. She is also the author of two books: College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year (2014) and A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not a Dirty Word (2012). She is the mom to Baloo, a two-year-old Bichpoo and foster mom to dogs via Badass Animal Rescue.

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