Do You Need a Background Check to Adopt a Dog?

Adopting a pet is a big responsibility. Different organizations will have their own criteria for new pet owners, but people often have questions about how the process works. People also wonder if you have to undergo a background check to adopt a pet.

We’ll answer that question first and then detail more about what you should know about the rest of the process.

Again, this is a general overview, and processes can be different depending on where you’re thinking about adopting a pet from, so keep that in mind.

Background Checks to Adopt a Dog

One of the biggest questions people have about pet adoption is whether they’ll have to undergo a background check.

Many organizations will require that potential new pet parents do undergo an application process that can include a background check.

The process of adopting a pet has changed a lot in recent years. In the past, you could essentially just go into a rescue organization or contact them and let them know you’d like a pet, and that was it. Maybe you had to submit a reference or two, but that was probably the most you had to do.

Now, you might expect to fill out a much longer application, submit several references (sometimes as many as five), and give a detailed record of all the pets you owned in your lifetime.

You might have to give your driver’s license, arrange a home visit, and at some rescue organizations, you’re required to provide a fecal sample from the pets you already have in your home.

You might be asked questions that you can ultimately find invasive, and even after completing an arduous process, you might not hear back on any of the pets you were hoping to adopt.

Some places have passed laws to make it mandatory for anyone who wants to adopt a pet to go through a background check, often as part of anti-animal abuse legislation.

In some places, background checks might not be a required part of the protocol, but shelters and rescue groups can opt to do them if they have concerns about someone who wants to adopt or they feel like they want to see more proof.

For nonprofits, running background checks can be expensive, so it’s something they maybe aren’t as interested in doing unless the situation really calls for it.

There are situations, according to reports, where people have felt that the process organizations go through to vet new owners begin to encroach on their privacy, but many advocates want people to know that it’s not always such a rigorous process.

For example, in the U.S., at the ASPCA organization, representatives don’t like restrictive policies that create barriers to ownership. These barriers can include home visits, references, asking whether or not people have a fence, and landlord checks. The ASPCA also says they don’t feel like certain things do any good to help them understand if people will be good pet parents.

At the same time, according to research, around 1 in 10 adopted pets in the U.S. are either returned or re-homed after six months.

A lot of animal activists feel it’s important to balance doing as much as possible to ensure dogs and pets get a get home with also making sure that the process itself isn’t a deterrent.

To give a short answer as to whether or not you have to go through a background check to adopt a dog, it really just depends.

What to Know Before Adopting a Dog

People have to go into the adoption of a dog, realizing that it’s a big life change and a massive commitment. The more you can understand the process beforehand, the better.

Specific considerations to make sure you’re aware of include:

  • What are the costs going to be? If you’re adopting from a quality organization, they’ll probably provide you with your dog’s health history and records. Depending on how old the dog is, they may have already taken care of spaying or neutering. You can talk to the rescue group about what they think your pet might need as far as future issues to start to estimate vet expenses in particular. For example, will the dog need medications for a chronic condition? Is the dog older and therefore likely to need more care?
  • The organization can help you not only figure out perhaps the level of care your dog needs, but they might be able to give you an estimate of average medical costs in your area too. Make sure that you’re clear on whether or not a dog has any hidden health issues before you adopt.
  • Would you get pet insurance? It can help you cover unexpected expenses that come with dog ownership, but some people don’t necessarily find it makes financial sense for them.
  • Are you going to pay to train the dog? That’s another thing to add to your budget. You can potentially do it yourself, but you’ll have to train yourself on how to do it before you can train the dog.
  • Other expenses to factor into your budget before making a decision can include food, grooming, and unexpected expenses like getting your carpet cleaned or replacing a piece of furniture if they ruin it.
  • Do you have an outdoor area for the dog, and if not, are you going to be able to dedicate time to going for walks and exercising after you adopt? You should set aside a portion of your day everyday to go for a walk, and that can be a good practice even if you have a backyard where your dog can use the bathroom. Older dogs need regular exercise as much so as younger ones.
  • Are you okay with giving up some of your freedom? If you want to travel, for example, you aren’t going to be able to do so without planning what you’ll do with your pet. You might also have to wake up early in the morning to walk the dog or do so in the middle of the night if they have to go out. Any time you’re gone from home for too long, your dog might get upset and could potentially go to the bathroom on the floor or destroy something.

The Process to Adopt

Above, we talked about some of the things you might expect when adopting a dog.

If you’re adopting from a shelter, the process can be different from adopting from a rescue or a private owner.

When you adopt from a shelter, the easiest way to get the process started is to stop by for a visit. Some shelters will also host adoption events.

Emailing or calling a shelter isn’t often the best way to get in touch with them because the staff is busy, and they can be stretched thin. Even though going by may get you information faster, the shelter might have a website you can look at that will outline exactly what the process is.

If you adopt from a rescue, they’re usually run by volunteers. Rescues often include pets in private boarding facilities or foster homes.

While we don’t often think about it as far as adopting, you can also decide to rehome a pet by working with a private owner.

There are pros and cons of any of these three options. If you adopt from a shelter, for example, you’ll see multiple potential pets at once so you can figure out which one is best for you. A shelter might have a more lenient screening process, and depending on the circumstances, you might be allowed to take the pet home that day.

An adoption fee can be lower than the fees charged by a rescue, but if you adopt from a shelter, you might have to pay for more of the pet’s initial medical costs.

If you adopt from a rescue, the people you interact with in the process know a lot about the pets they’re caring for. They often specialize in particular types of dogs, and a rescue is very involved in the screening process to place pets in foster homes until they’re adopted.

The good thing about those factors is that you can be well-matched to a dog that will be a good fit for you and your lifestyle. You will have to expect rescues will do a rigorous screening, and the adoption fees will probably be higher than at a shelter.

If you go through a private owner who’s rehoming a dog, they’re going to know about their pet’s health and behavior. The pet will also be going from one home directly into yours, which reduces their stress.

Private owners will have their own ways of handling the process and communicating with you, though.

Overall, don’t let the fear of a background screening or a tough application process scare you away from adopting a pet—many organizations are flexible in their requirements.

While they do want to make sure they’re finding a good home for pets, they’re also not trying to be restrictive to the point that they give up that opportunity.