What Happens if You Break a Pet Adoption Contract?

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A pet adoption contract is a legal agreement between you and the shelter or rescue organization. It specifies the terms of your adoption, including how often you will visit and care for the animal. The contract typically ends when your pet has left its permanent home. In most states, any changes to the contract are negotiated in writing; this is because a written agreement is usually required to show that there was consent on both sides of the transaction.

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The contract will state that you are obligated to care for the pet for a certain period. If you break your contract, you might experience the following:

You’ll Be Fined

A contract violation may be punished by a fine or imprisonment in some states. There may be no penalties for breaking a pet adoption contract in other states, and you’ll have to seek damages in court. To cancel the adoption early, you’ll have to pay back the organization’s costs Adoption fees are what shelters use to cover their expenses associated with caring for your pet before and after your adoption.

You May Be Listed on a “Do-Not-Adopt” List

“do-not-adopt” is a list of people who are not permitted to adopt from an animal shelter in the future because they are not reliable as caregivers.

You Could Be Sued By the Shelter Or Rescue Organization for Violating the Contract

The shelter could sue you for damages associated with your failure to return the pet on time. It’s essential to read the adoption contract carefully before you sign it. You cannot return your pet if you change your mind after the adoption, even if you didn’t know what was in the contract. If you’re uncertain, ask someone at the shelter or rescue organization to explain any unclear terms that might seem unfair to you.

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The Shelter or Rescue Organization Could Demand the Return Of Your Pet

After you adopt a pet, the shelter or rescue organization will want to ensure that you are keeping up with your obligations under the contract. If you break your agreement, they may revoke your license to own the pet or decide to take legal action against you.

The Shelter or Rescue Organization Could Sell Your Pet To Someone Else

If you break a pet adoption contract and fail to return your new pet, the organization could sell the animal to recoup its losses. If you can no longer care for your adopted pet, know that there are other alternatives to returning the animal. You may be able to find another willing home through a different shelter or rescue organization. You might be able to work with your local humane society or SPCA on re-homing your pet, or they may have information on other resources in your area.

You Could Be Charged with Animal Abandonment

In many states, abuse or neglect is considered the same thing as abandonment. If you do not follow the terms of your adoption agreement, the shelter or rescue organization may charge you with animal abandonment. Animal abandonment is a serious crime in many states and could result in jail time and fines.

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Your Pet May Be Taken Away by Animal Control

If you fail to return your pet, the organization will report you to animal control. In some states, animal control officers have the right to enter your home and physically remove your pet if they feel that the animal is in danger or at risk of being abused.


The pet adoption contract is a legally binding agreement that you enter into with the shelter or rescue organization. It’s essential to read the contract carefully, ask questions if something isn’t clear, and make sure that you understand all of your obligations before you sign your name.