Dog Adoption Policy

PAW Dog Adoption Philosophy


The Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW) seeks to match its dogs to adopters who can provide committed, safe and loving homes. To that end, PAW volunteers spend time interviewing and learning relevant details about individual applicants so that they can get an idea of the level of care and commitment that the applicants can provide to an adopted dog. Ultimately, we look for prospective adopters who possess the qualities and means to offer the chosen animal a permanent, safe and caring home.


This document has been developed to help volunteers make wise adoption decisions. The guidelines that follow are not the only factors that need to be considered. However, they are essential to decision-making since the welfare of the animals we rescue takes priority over all other considerations.


In addition to understanding the guidelines, it’s vital for PAW volunteers to spend time interviewing applicants as individuals, help them select an appropriate dog, educate them in responsible and humane pet ownership, and make sure that they realize adoption is a lasting commitment. To enhance their own knowledge, volunteers are encouraged to review the many dog care and pet owner guides and other documents on the PAW website, read selections on the Recommended Reading list (available in the Resources section of the PAW website), and seek information from PAW’s educated volunteers. It is also recommended to attend PAW’s free workshop, “Success with Your New Dog: Tips That Work!” presented to the public twice monthly.


PAW is committed to its dogs for their lifetimes and, as stated in the adoption contract signed by each adopter, requires the return of any PAW dog if an owner is unable to keep his or her commitment to the dog.


Application Review Committee

To help ensure that applications are reviewed carefully, fairly and in line with PAW’s adoption guidelines, an Application Review Committee that includes volunteers experienced in handling vet checks, home visits and adoption arrangements will work with foster caregivers, boarded dog handlers and other volunteers. The committee members are selected by the Dog Coordinator and the Dog Advisory Team (composed of a variety of PAW volunteers regularly involved in and responsible for various PAW dog-related activities).


The Application Review Process

A summary of the review process is given in a table at the bottom of this document.

Each application is typically reviewed by the dog’s foster caregiver or boarded dog’s handler and one or more Application Review Committee members. These individuals evaluate:


* application answers in light of the guidelines in this document;
* the extent to which an applicant demonstrates responsibility and commitment; * the applicant’s interaction with the chosen PAW animal(s);
* vet care given to current and past pets;
* and safety and appropriateness of the home environment.


After satisfactory review of an application and an acceptable veterinary reference check if the applicant has current or past companion animals, a home visit is scheduled (see Home Visit section for details). If the home visit is approved, then arrangements will be made to complete the adoption.


When the applicant’s comments or application form answers raise concerns, the foster caregiver, handler or committee member will contact the applicant for additional information or to clarify answers.


Recommendations to pursue or decline an applicant are open to discussion. If a disagreement arises, committee members and the foster caregiver will work together to resolve the situation. If they have trouble resolving the disagreement, the issue will be discussed with other members of the Dog Advisory Team, and with the PAW Board of Directors if necessary.


If PAW application reviewers determine that the chosen dog is not a good match for the applicant’s needs and lifestyle, they will discuss the situation with the applicant and suggest other potentially better matches for the applicant’s lifestyle and home situation. (Home visits typically are not scheduled until the applicant has narrowed selection to one or two dogs, since some caregivers prefer to conduct home visits for their own foster dogs.)


If discussions with an applicant, answers on the application, or vet history reveal that the applicant is not sufficiently prepared to take care of any dog for the long term, or that the applicant may engage in practices that would place a dog at risk, reviewers will typically decline the applicant after careful consideration.


The application reviewers may request certain conditions be met prior to proceeding with an individual adoption, in addition to a satisfactory application, interview, vet check and home visit. Such conditions might include attending the PAW workshop (currently titled “Success with Your New Dog”), constructing a fence, enrolling in obedience training, obtaining a crate by the date of the adoption, or other criteria. In some cases, we invite the applicant to first volunteer with animals for a few weeks to gain experience. (Also see Contract Clauses below.)


Note: PAW volunteers try to contact each person who completes a PAW Dog Adoption Application. However, due to time limitations in this all-volunteer organization and the large number of applications received every week, some applicants are not contacted beyond an acknowledgment that their application was received. For this reason, the application form and the application process overview half-sheet given to applicants at shows both include a note indicating “If you do not hear within 10 days, please assume your application was not selected.” To find out the status of an application, an applicant can email or call the PAW line at 301-572-4PAW.


Foster Caregiver Input

The opinion of the dog’s foster caregiver is essential in the application review process. Typically, PAW foster caregivers can decline an applicant for their foster dogs since a caregiver is most familiar with the foster dog’s needs. If a foster caregiver favors an applicant who the Application Review Committee members don’t believe should be pursued, the caregiver and committee volunteers will discuss the situation and work toward resolution (see “The Application Review Process” for details).


Adoption Criteria

Numerous factors are considered when reviewing applications in the effort to find caring and responsible homes for the animals we’ve rescued. The following guidelines cover the key criteria.


Involvement of the Entire Household

PAW requires that all members of a household meet the dog before a home visit is scheduled. This enables PAW volunteers to determine if all household members are ready and willing to take on the responsibilities that come with a dog — and whether all family members interact appropriately with dogs(particularly important when children are involved). The adult applicants must plan to be the primary caretakers and not allow children to walk a dog without adult supervision until the children are mature and strong enough to handle this responsibility (usually not until the teenage years).


Pet History and Experience

To gain prospective on the kind of care that would be given to an adopted dog,PAW application reviewers seek details about the applicant’s past or current pets. In addition to vet history, we want to learn if the applicant’s other pets were (or are) “outdoor” pets…if the applicant let dogs run loose in unfenced areas…whether the applicant gave up pets…and the cause of loss or death of past pets. Reviewers will take into account prior circumstances and probe for the applicant’s sense of personal responsibility and current understanding of pet care. PAW volunteers are encouraged to educate applicants by suggesting effective solutions to behavior challenges,recommending books by contemporary canine professionals, and advising applicants to attend PAW’s free workshops (currently titled “Success with Your New Dog”).


PAW may decline an application if the applicant has not demonstrated commitment to safe pet care practices. If a prior pet was hit by a car, lost or killed, PAW reviewers will note whether the applicant expresses remorse or awareness of personal responsibility. If not, the applicant is not likely to provide better care to a new dog.


If the applicant has owned a cat that had or has outdoor access, PAW reviewers will probe the circumstances. Owners who let their cats live outdoors will be declined, as will owners who put cats outdoors to avoid cleaning a litter box. However, it is acceptable if the cat is allowed outdoors on leash, or in an area safely surrounded by cat fencing. In addition, PAW reviewers may accept circumstances such as a stray cat adopted as an adult and exhibiting extreme behavioral problems when never allowed outside. Reviewers can speak with PAW Cat Team members when evaluating such situations. In any case, PAW reviewers should advise applicants of the dangers of letting cats outdoors(risk of fatal infections, attack by other animals, being stolen or hit by cars).


If application reviewers believe that an applicant might have owned pets in recent years that were not listed on the application, they may ask the applicant if he/she has any other pet ownership experience.


Q. Should we decline people who have had a pet hit by a car?


A. It’s important to interview each applicant to get to know the individual as well as to gather details about the circumstances of the incident. Did the pet get loose in an unfortunate but singular incident, such as a family visitor accidentally letting the pet run out a door, or the owner tripping and dropping the leash? Or is there indication that the person has a pattern of carelessness (examples: the applicant says, “our past dog was always running out the door; he didn’t listen” or “you know those darn tabbies, wandering into the street”)? When did the incident occur — was it years ago? Did the applicant feel remorse and learn from the incident? Seek as many facts as possible and try to assess the person’s current attitude and responsibility level.


Veterinary History and Veterinary Reference Checks (Vet Checks)

A good vet check will indicate a consistent record of health care given to current and past pets, as confirmed by regular physical exams, vaccinations,preventative care (e.g., heart worm prevention, dental care),spaying/neutering, and following the veterinarian’s recommendations. Vet check procedures are outlined in the PAW guide, “How To Do Vet Checks.”


Veterinary information is needed before a home visit can be scheduled. If a veterinarian is unwilling to provide information, the vet check volunteer will ask the applicant to contact the veterinarian to request cooperation so that the application may be pursued.


An applicant can be declined if checkups have been irregular, or if veterinarian recommendations have been ignored, putting the animal at risk. If heart worm preventive medication was not purchased for a dog, the vet check volunteer will inquire whether it was prescribed by the veterinarian. Some dog owners order heart worm pills by mail, for which they may have receipts or packaging for pills being used for their current dog. Note: heart worm disease is not prevalent in some areas of the U.S., so veterinarians in those areas don’t typically prescribe heart worm preventive pills. If an applicant is aware of the need for year-round heart worm preventative measures in this region, the vet check volunteer should take the opportunity to educate.


If a vet check reveals gaps in exams, vaccinations or medications, the vet check volunteer will ask the applicant if he/she visited other vets or has vet records to fill in the gaps. Some veterinarians do not maintain records for very long, particularly for past clients, so in some cases decisions are made based upon discussion with the applicant. PAW has accepted receipts or other proof of vetting from applicants.


If an applicant does not vaccinate each year due to holistic health concerns,this will be respected as long as the applicant provides evidence of following alternative care practices (e.g. visiting a holistic vet, providing a holistic-style diet and supplements). Note: rabies vaccinations are required for dogs and cats by law.


A single lapse or other problem may not warrant an application’s decline if the applicant demonstrates a commitment to avoid future lapses. Furthermore,if an applicant has an unspayed or unneutered companion animal and another wise good application, the applicant can be asked to spay or neuter the resident animal as a condition prior to adopting from PAW. Under some circumstances, PAW may pursue adoption in cases in which a resident dog is not neutered/spayed due to being shown in AKC (American Kennel Club) events.


In general, applicants with a good vet history may be considered over an applicant who lacks a vet history. Applicants without a vet history or extensive experience should be asked to attend a free PAW workshop for prospective (and current) dog adopters. Attendance does not guarantee application approval, but indicates an applicant’s willingness to learn.


Q. What about applicants who say they don’t have their current dogs vaccinated due to concerns about over- vaccination?


A. Ask the applicant what they do as an alternative to vaccinating yearly. We would be looking for either the use of titer checks, which check the level of the dog’s immunity to diseases such as parvo and distemper, or vaccination on a regular basis (every 2 or 3 years). The applicant’s vet can confirm this. In some cases of disorders such as epilepsy, the vet may have recommended against vaccination. Please note that rabies vaccinations are required by law.


The Dog’s Living Area

PAW will not approve applicants who indicate the dog will spend most of the time in a crate, bathroom, doghouse, garage, outdoors or in a part of the house that the family does not reside in on a daily basis. This is for safety as well as socialization reasons; dogs are pack animals who thrive and behave best when kept with their people. In fact, it’s common for dogs kept outside for long periods to have housebreaking problems.


The place where the dog stays while the family is out of the home will be well-lighted and comfortable, with bedding, water in a tip-proof container, and safe dog toys provided. If the dog is kept in a crate when the adopters are not home, the crate must be at least large enough for the dog to stand up,turn around, and comfortably lie down on his/her side, and to accommodate a water bowl.


Since canine behavior professionals frequently advise to avoid crating a dog more than six hours a day, we recommend encouraging adopters to transition adopted dogs to a larger space within the home (for example, the family room-kitchen area) after the dog adjusts to the new home. However, if an owner plans to confine a dog for longer periods, a small, well-lighted, puppy-proofed-room or large indoor pen has benefits over a crate. A good idea for adopters who work long hours is to have a trusted neighbor or dog-walker visit the dog mid-day so that the dog can relieve himself/herself and get physical and mental stimulation. Doggie daycare is another option for adopters who aren’t home during the day.


Fenced Yards

Fencing is not required for all PAW dogs. However, it is sometimes required by foster caregivers and other dog volunteers for individual dogs. A minimum fence height may be recommended by the dog’s foster caregiver or other experienced volunteer based on the individual dog’s behavior. For example,many dogs can jump over a standard (three to four foot) fence, and many dogs(even small ones) can climb chain-link fences.


The fenced area must be enclosed on all sides and not allow space at the bottom through which a dog can escape. Many dogs dig, which is one reason that PAW advises dog adopters to continuously supervise when their dogs are in the yard.


In the case of a fenced area not attached directly to the house, the dog would need to be kept on leash while walked to the fenced area. For fences that are not of adequate height, applicants may install height extensions on the existing fence.


Fencing may be required for specific reasons, such as to give families a safe,convenient area for the dog to play with the family members and to go to the bathroom. As stated on the PAW application form, fences are typically required for households having children under age 12. This is based on the frequent observation by animal welfare volunteers and shelter workers that families have trouble fitting in several leash-walks a day while juggling the needs of young children. For example, parents are expected not to leave young children alone in a house when taking dogs out for walks, and young children may be difficult to take along on dog- walks when the children are ill or the weather is bad.


Fencing may be required as a condition to adoption, with the adoption delayed until the prospective owner has completed the fencing.


Q. Shouldn’t a 3- or 4-foot fence be adequate for smaller dogs?


A. Dog size does not always matter. It’s important to determine as best as possible the abilities and behavior of our individual dogs. While some dogs aren’t motivated to jump or climb fences, many are — and that includes many small dogs. Some adopters have been dismayed to discover that their14-pound lap dog adoptee can climb and flip over standard chain-link fences with ease.


Invisible Fencing

PAW typically does not approve invisible fencing as stand-alone fencing,although it can be used to supplement physical fencing. Reasons include: dogs have escaped invisible-fenced yards to chase animals or people…the fence is useless during power failures…wild animals and roaming pets can attack the dog…people, including small children, can enter the yard, with consequences ranging from pet theft to serious injuries to lawsuits.


Exceptions have been made in cases in which all of the following conditions are met: the adopter demonstrates commitment to train the chosen dog to the invisible fence (it helps if the applicant already has dogs successfully trained to the fence)…the chosen dog’s traits (such as prey drive level and lack of aggressive tendencies) make the dog suitable to being trained to an invisible fence…the location is far from traffic…and the applicant stays with the dog while the dog is in the yard.


Application reviewers may ask the applicant for a neighbor’s reference to confirm that all conditions to approval of an electric fence are met. Even so, an applicant with a physical fence may be chosen over an applicant with an invisible fence. Application reviewers may provide information regarding the drawbacks of electric fencing for educational purposes.


Dog Doors

A dog door poses a safety risk if the dog is outdoors unattended. The door also enables other animals and possibly even humans to enter the home. Generally, PAW does not place in homes that use doggie doors, unless an applicant demonstrates that the door is blocked when the owners are not home.


On/Off Leash Handling

As noted in the PAW Dog Adoption Contract, PAW requires that adopted dogs be walked on-leash when in unfenced areas. Any dog can give into instinct, break voice command and run off. And very few people are able to train even the most obedient dog to achieve reliable voice control over a dog’s behavior.


A dog who runs off can be hit by a car, fight with another dog, injure a passer-by, get hurt, be taken by someone, or become lost in the woods. This is why PAW tries to protect the dogs it rescues by requiring that adopters keep the dog on leash when not in a fully fenced area. It’s also why PAW application reviewers place great importance on applicants’ intentions regarding the use and non-use of leashes.


If an applicant indicates letting previous dogs off-leash in unfenced areas,reviewers will consider the individual circumstances. Considerations include whether the applicant’s previous off-leash activity was in connection with obedience trials, agility training, fly ball or search-and-rescue, and whether the applicant understands why a PAW dog cannot be let off-leash in unfenced areas.


An applicant who indicates off-leash intentions may still be considered for a PAW adoption, provided that after the application reviewer or foster caregiver explains the dangers, the applicant expresses sincere concern and acceptance of PAW’s on-leash requirement as stated in the Adoption Contract.


Note: If an applicant/adopter lives in a jurisdiction that permits use of voice control in place of a leash, clarify that the PAW adoption contract’s on-leash requirement still applies.


Dog Parks

Unfamiliar dogs and insufficient fencing/gating pose a risk of injury to dogs at dog parks. Transmission of disease and parasites is another problem. Therefore, PAW recommends caution in selecting and using dog parks,particularly if the dog is vulnerable or has shown any signs of dog aggression. Use of unfenced parks for PAW dogs are not permitted. A PAW volunteer needs to examine dog parks that an applicant intends to use before a decision is made to pursue or decline.


Dog parks are not wise choices for dogs who have exhibited antagonism toward other dogs, dogs who are easily stressed, and small dogs who might be regarded as potential prey. In line with recommendations of breed-specific rescue groups and breed authorities, PAW recommends that dogs of breeds originally used to fight or seize other animals should not be taken to dog parks to avoid he risk of a serious fight. At a time when some breeds are victims of negative press, breed-specific legislation and insurance exclusions, it is best to avoid potential incidents that would further fuel negative sentiment.


Guidance on this subject should be shared with prospective adopters, along with other detailed information about the breed and individual characteristics of the dog.


Applicants with Young Children

We expect families to consider babies and young children a priority and that young children may accidentally hurt a dog or be hurt by the dog. This is why so many rescue and adoption groups typically do not place dogs in families with children under age six. “Are You the Pet for Me,” a book by Mary Jane Checchi, includes insight into the reasoning behind such guidelines. PAW application reviewers also follow that guideline, which is printed on the adoption application.

Exceptions have been made in cases in which the parents have demonstrated substantial experience caring for a dog.


Puppies and children: Dogs typically do not display all breed and individual characteristics until maturity, so PAW typically does not place puppies in households with young resident children. Puppies tend to trigger impulse decisions on the part of parents and children (which has resulted in a large number of relinquishments), so it is critical to help families realize the time demands of a puppy and the fact that puppies will grow much larger and stronger in mere months. PAW has placed young dogs with families with young children in cases in which the adopters had substantial dog ownership experience (such as the parents having a recent, successful history of owning and caring for an active dog).


Studies have shown that the largest number of give-ups occur before a dog reaches one year of age. In response, we discourage the placement of puppies with families who lack current dog experience. Too often, families give up puppies once they grow larger, start jumping on people (and knocking over little people) and engage in other common canine adolescent antics. Many parents do not have, or are unwilling to take, the time for the necessary obedience training. Maturing puppies must be given proper house training,socialization and other behavioral guidance while they are young, and busy families that eventually return young dogs often have missed a critical age-related window of opportunity.


Breed traits: It’s important to understand breed traits — and that the traits of some breeds make them risky matches for households with young children or frail residents. For example, some dogs with herding or guarding instincts will present difficulties to households with children and/or frequent visiting children. Some dogs, particularly small breeds, may attempt to bite out of an instinct for self-preservation. (See details about breed considerations later in this guide.)


Of course, it’s essential for people to understand that any dog can bite, and that the humans and dogs have far different definitions of what constitutes”provoked.”


Be sure to counsel adopters to never leave dogs and children alone together,as emphasized by canine behavior professionals nationwide. The age at which a child can behave safely and responsibly when alone with an animal varies with the individual child (and dog), but every parent must be advised to exercise caution. It is best to steer families to dogs whose behavior and characteristics are well-known, such as dogs who have spent at least several weeks in foster homes.


PAW volunteers should suggest that families attend obedience training with the children participating. One successful approach is to require prospective adopters to line up an obedience class before the home visit and to note obedience training class as a requirement in the adoption contract. Be sure to provide prospective adopters with cautionary advice along with complete information about the chosen dog.


There is an elevated risk when we adopt out kenneled dogs since we do not know how the dog will behave in a home environment. Therefore, it is best to not place a boarded dog in a home with children under age 12 unless a PAW volunteer first fosters the chosen dog for at least several days.


Q. Why do we encourage applicants with young children to have fenced yards?


A. Because it gives busy families a convenient and safe place to exercise and “walk” the dog when they can’t fit in several leash-walks a day. The children have a safe place to play outside with the dog. And since children are prone to leaving doors open, a fence would safeguard against some escapes from the house into the yard. A parent can make sure the dog gets enough potty breaks even on days when the children are sick. Parents may not want to leave their children alone when it’s time to walk the dog. A fenced yard allows the dog ample time to be outside on those occasions. While exceptions have been made, most parents tend to find a fenced yard extremely helpful.


Expectant Parents

As recommended by many canine professionals as well as parents who have been through the experience, PAW typically does not adopt dogs to people who are known to be expectant parents. This is for the welfare of the dog and the family, since childbirth and bringing a new dog home are both stress-inducing,life- changing and schedule-changing events. A volunteer who has had children may be asked to explain the reasoning to expectant parents.


Too often, dogs are neglected and given up as result of challenging or at-risk pregnancies and neonatal problems that demand the parents’ full attention and interfere with their ability to care for a pet. Even when the delivery goes smoothly, the demands on new parents are often so time-consuming and stressful that the dog’s attention and exercise needs are not met, particularly if the parents have not had experience caring for a dog and an infant at the same time.


It is best to encourage expectant parents to wait until their lives settle down and they adjust to having a new child before considering the addition of a dog to the home. In some cases, expectant parents might be interested in volunteering with animals as a short-term alternative to making the very long-term commitment to the responsibilities of owning a dog during a time of major adjustment in their lives.


Q. Does this mean that we can never place a dog with a family expecting a baby?


A. If the parents have dog experience, infant care experience and have demonstrated that they have planned for the difficult task of adjusting to anew baby and a new dog at the same time, then a dog adoption might be pursued. However, they still might find it easier to wait until having and adjusting to the baby than to introduce a new dog into the household at a particularly busy and stressful time. Delaying dog adoption plans until after the parents adjust to the new baby will reduce stress for the dog as well. A less-experienced person or couple will have a much harder time than those with substantial dog ownership experience.


People Planning to Have Children

If an applicant gives indication that he/she/they may have or adopt children in the next few years, a volunteer will explain that children joining the household will alter the relationship between the dog and the adopters. To prepare for a smoother transition, recommend that the people seek guidance from a canine behavior specialist and read materials available from PAW and other sources. Provide a copy of Dog Tips: Preparing Dogs For Life-With-Babyin the adoption folder.


Adult Children Residing with Parents

For prospective adopters over 18 and under 21 years old who reside with parents, a parent will be asked to co-sign the application, indicating shared responsibility for the dog.


For any dog adoption, as noted previously, each member of a household will be considered as part of the adoption decision. Regardless of age, a family member who is not ready or willing to have a dog might present a risk to the stability of an adoption.


Homes with Residents with Physical Challenges or Age-Related Conditions

There is a greater risk of injury to frail or physically vulnerable individuals from puppies and highly active dogs. Applicants in homes with such residents can be introduced to more mature, calmer dogs who would be a better fit for the home. Elderly and other applicants should be asked about their plans for the dog should they become unable to care for the dog.


People with Allergies

Many people with allergies have dogs and keep them for life. The key factor is not choice of breeds, but rather the problem-solving ability and commitment level of the adopters. The PAW website contains a Dog Tip and another section about coping with allergies. It’s important to realize that an allergy to dogs can develop even if an individual had not previously experienced symptoms when exposed to dogs. That’s why it’s wise to ask the applicants questions such as,”what steps will you take if you or a family member develop allergic reactions to the adopted dog over time?” It’s preferable if the allergy-prone individual sees an allergy specialist for advice before adoption. Good advice includes making sure that the dog does not sleep in or near his/her bed, that someone else in the family grooms the dog, and that the individual washes his/her hands after petting the dog, particularly if the allergic person is a child. PAW,just like other groups and shelters, has had dogs returned when the owners decide not to take other allergy maintenance steps, so education and inquiries at the interview stage are vital.



If an applicant rents his/her home, PAW application reviewers will determine if the landlord allows dogs, and will verify pet-related restrictions and conditions. Also consider the physical structure of a rental unit. For example, some apartments have thin, non-soundproofed walls and floors, putting the prospective adopter at risk of noise complaints from neighbors and building managers. A relatively quiet, calm, mature dog might be best for such situations. (Note: this recommendation applies to thin-walled condos as well.)


If the applicant’s landlord has a size, height or other pet restriction, PAW will not place a dog in violation of the restriction(s). However, many rental townhouses and houses, and some apartments/condos, do not have weight or size restrictions.


The challenges of renting with pets should be discussed with the applicant. Frequently, new dog owners are not aware of the obstacles until problems arise. Rental restrictions are one of the key reasons people give for relinquishing their pets; hundreds of dogs are given up in our area due to owners choosing a new rental with pet restrictions or choosing not to pay pet deposits and added monthly fees. Ask applicants about plans in case they must move. PAW volunteers can also advise applicants and others to read the”Renting with Pets” Dog Tip found on the PAW website.


If the applicant has occupied the current rental less than one year,application reviewers should ask for the name and phone number of the prior landlord (in addition to the current landlord). This can provide insight about the responsibility level of the applicant.


Group Houses

If an applicant lives in a group home, application reviewers will meet with all roommates to assess their willingness to live with a pet and their responsibility level. In addition, the roommates will be asked to describe how they will accommodate the pet if a new roommate does not care for pets, or if a move requires them to split up.


Another consideration: what accommodations can and will the adopters make if other residents of the group home add new pets to the household, given that some pets are not compatible with one another.


The home visit is critical to determining the general lifestyle, financial capability and individual responsibility of members of the household, so in the case of group homes, it is recommended that two PAW volunteers conduct the home visit and discuss their observations with others on the Review Committee.


Military Placements

Because many pets are abandoned by military personnel when they are transferred, PAW exercises caution in placing with military families. When interviewing military personnel, ask the following questions. First, how long have they been in the military, and how long do they expect to remain? Someone preparing to leave military service is not likely to be deployed somewhere and might be considering a pet for that reason.


Next, what is the applicant’s pet history? Did he or she keep pets over the course of the military career? This could be documented by vet records. The answer will give an idea of the applicant’s commitment to animals.


Finally, ask “what would you do with the animal if you move or are transferred?” If a military person plans to take the animal, that would require him or her to decline an assignment that prohibits taking pets. Higher ranking personnel (example, E-7 and above) have more say in assignments/relocation and type of housing. However, if the person is ambitious and/or plans to spend a long career in the military, this still might not be the best situation. More probing should be done to ensure the applicant is in a position to reject an assignment that prohibits taking pets.


As with all adoption interviews, attitude, demonstrated commitment and history play a role, so a good interview is key to determining whether to pursue an applicant.


Applicants Who Have Given Up Past Pets

PAW looks for a pet history that includes commitment over the long run. Applicants who have previously given up pets may or may not be prepared to keep a pet for the pet’s lifetime and/or resolve pet-related problems. So gather details about the year the pet was given up, why, attempts to resolve the problem, to whom the applicant gave the pet, and whether the applicant followed up after re- homing the pet.


Examples: an applicant who gave up a dog three years ago because the dog got too large or annoyed a new spouse would not be a good candidate for adoption. Nor would an applicant who left a cat to a county shelter due to spraying or scratching the furniture. However, PAW might pursue an applicant whose dog became aggressive with her children, sought veterinary and training advice,took the time to re-home the dog when the aggression problem persisted, and then awaited several years until her family was in very stable position to adopt a dog. PAW might also pursue an applicant whose family gave up a pet years ago but who provides evidence of having done thorough research, acquired the knowledge to solve pet problems and prepared for a successful adoption.


Q. Should we decline people who gave up a pet in the past?


A. It’s important to interview each applicant to get to know the applicant as well as gather details as to why the pet was given up. Was the give-up last year or 20 years ago? Was the pet given up by the applicant’s parents? Did the applicant give up the pet due to a move instead of seeking out a pet-friendly rental? Does the applicant blame the animal — or does he/she acknowledge personal responsibility and the need to plan to prevent/solve problems? Was the pet given away due to aggression problems or negative behavior (example: a cat not using a litter box) after the applicant worked with a trainer, behaviorist or vet? And, when that didn’t work, did the applicant seek a more suitable home for the pet, screening the new owners and following up? Or did he or she just leave the pet at a shelter? Has the applicant’s family prepared carefully in the intervening years to avoid repeating past mistakes? There are many different circumstances. Some reveal that the person may not have the commitment or resources to keep their next pet for the animal’s lifetime. PAW would consider placement with responsible people who have taken steps that indicate they are now ready to make a lifetime commitment to a pet.


Applicants Who Want To Give Pets As Gifts

Animal welfare groups and animal professionals agree that pets should not be given as gifts. A large number of pets given as gifts are given away or abandoned within months when the novelty wears off, the owner no longer wants or can handle the responsibility and/or the owner wanted a different pet. Owning a live animal takes substantial preparation; in addition, people want to choose their own pets. If the gift-giver believes that the giftee wants to get a dog, suggest alternatives such as a present of dog care and training books or generic items such as pet bowls and beds.


Home Visits (House Checks)

Pre-adoption home visits, also called house checks, are used to evaluate the home conditions as suitable and safe for the chosen dog. It is strongly advised to take the chosen dog on the home visit for the benefit of the dog and the prospective adopters. These visits offer an opportunity to explore any concerns raised by application reviewers and/or the dog’s foster caregiver. The home visit volunteer also looks for positive interaction among household members and any other pets they have as well as with the PAW dog (it is recommended that the chosen dog be taken on the home visit). The home visit or may recommend measures and repairs appropriate to the well-being of the dog. It is also very useful to have two volunteers conduct the home visit. For details about conducting home visits, see the PAW Dog House Check Guide.


Adoption Contracts

After a successful home visit, the applicants will be asked to consider whether they wish to proceed with an adoption. If they are certain they wish to adopt the chosen dog, an adoption day is arranged at which the PAW Dog Adoption Contract will be signed. The adopter should be given a list of items to obtain before the adoption day. The PAW volunteer will obtain a dog adoption kit and the dog’s medical records to give the adopter at the adoption.


The PAW volunteer handling the contract will give the adopters ample opportunity to review the contract and will also verbally walk the adopters through each contract clause, answering questions as they arise. The volunteer should explain the clause requiring that the adopter return the dog to PAW if he or she no longer wishes or is able to keep the dog. In the event that the adopter becomes seriously ill, disabled or incapacitated and wishes to place the dog in the care of a trusted relative or friend, the adopter should notify PAW of the transfer of ownership.


All adults in the adoptive family should sign the contract, and the PAW volunteer should include his or her name and phone number on the contract so that the adopters have a personal contact in the event of problems or questions about the dog.


Important Placement Considerations

Dog Behavior-Related Placement Considerations

The behavior of individual dogs can make them more suited to some households than others. A dog prone to barking or howling might not work out in a multi-unit dwelling with thin walls. A dog with separation anxiety often requires an owner with patience and a flexible schedule to help the dog learn to adjust to being left alone.


We need to carefully evaluate the chosen dog as best as possible before any placement, particularly for placements in homes with young children or frail/elderly residents.


Same-Sex Dog Placements

We know of many dogs of the same sex who live harmoniously in the same household. However, canine behavior professionals, shelter workers and long-time rescue volunteers have observed an elevated risk of dog-on-dog aggression and fights between dogs of the same sex. The owner can moderate and control this to a great extent through diligent training and supervision. However, we still sometimes discourage same-sex placements for the safety of the dogs, particularly for dogs of breeds whose genetic heritage includes a high prey drive, fight drive or animal-aggression – and for individual dogs who have demonstrated aggression while in the PAW program.


Breed-Specific Legislation

A few areas in the U.S. have breed-specific legislation directed at restricting or banning ownership of certain breeds of dogs. At the time of this publication, Prince George’s County bans ownership of American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and mixes resembling Pit Bull-type dogs. Dogs of these types who were owned in the county prior to the law were generally grandfathered in; however, the law prohibits residents from bringing new Pit Bulls into the county. While PAW does not support the idea of breed-specific legislation, we are unable to make placements that would violate a jurisdiction’s breed ban. For more information, contact the individual jurisdiction’s Animal Control/Management facility.


Only-Dog Placements

If a dog in foster care exhibits anti-social behavior towards other animals within a foster home after the adjustment period, it’s best to seek an only-pet adoptive home. Such behavior may not stem from breed, but rather from the dog’s upbringing and lack of proper exposure to other dogs during the puppy socialization period.


Placing Intact (Unneutered/Unspayed) Dogs

PAW arranges spaying and neutering for all dogs, including puppies, before placement in adoptive homes. The only exceptions are dogs who cannot undergo surgery for medical reasons. For these dogs, it is imperative to screen applicants for indications that they understand the need to prevent dogs from having or siring litters and the need to keep these dogs from opposite-sex dogs who are intact. For example, it would be preferable to find adopters who have taken the step to spay/neuter their own dogs in a timely manner, and homes with the least likelihood of the dog accidentally slipping out the door or yard to mate with a neighborhood canine.


A note about raw hides and similar toys:

Many dogs get overly excited and possessive of raw hides, pig-hooves and other tasty/odorous treats and toys. Such items have triggered fights between pets as well as bites inflicted on human residents and visitors. Advise prospective adopters of this information and suggest that they avoid using such toys and treats.


Special Considerations

Preparing Applicants New to Dog Ownership

PAW volunteers may suggest that an applicant new to pet ownership attend several dog adoption shows as a volunteer handler to help the applicant acquire more experience with dogs. That will enable PAW volunteers to assist the person in handling and even suggest a different, more suitable dog. As with any volunteer, the applicant will be provided the Volunteer Guide and Volunteer Agreement for review and signature. Also advise applicants to read recommended books and, when available, attend PAW’s adoption workshops.


Contract Clauses

The Application Review Committee and/or foster caregiver may make additions to the adoption contract. Example: a requirement that an applicant take obedience training with the dog.


Alternative Arrangements: Fostering, Foster-to-Adopt Placements, and Delayed Contracts

Prior to approving an adoption in some cases, the application reviewers may suggest an alternative arrangement. For example, an applicant with a busy schedule or with limited dog experience can be asked to be a PAW foster caregiver before an adoption is pursued. This gives the applicant an opportunity to gain experience and to see how having a dog will affect his or her schedule before making the long-term commitment to the responsibilities of dog ownership. This approach has been suggested as result of many dog adopters indicating they wished they had been better prepared before plunging into adoption. Some people who’ve participated in this arrangement have discovered that they prefer to foster instead of adopt, which is welcome since the animals benefit from PAW having additional foster homes.


Another alternative is a foster-to-adopt arrangement: an applicant might be invited to foster the dog he/she would like to adopt for a trial period, such as six weeks. This approach might be used for a first-time dog owner and/or boarded dog whose behavior in a home is not known. This alternative is used in rare situations and requires very careful consideration, since moving a dog place to place is stressful to the dog. The applicant would receive a Foster Guide and sign a foster agreement with added provisions about intent to adopt and obedience training. A contract will be signed after the foster period, if not sooner. Ongoing follow- up by the PAW volunteer making the arrangement is required. If the applicant does not wish to adopt the dog, he or she will return the dog to PAW or continue fostering the dog as a regular foster caregiver, and see that the dog attends at least two PAW adoption shows a month.


In some instances of uncertainty about the suitability of a dog due to other pets in the family, the application reviewers may suggest a delayed contract for a maximum of one week. This provision would be added to the adoption contract, and the applicant would provide the donation fee, which would be held until the trial period ends.


Multiple Adoptions

In general, PAW will not place a dog with an applicant who recently acquired a dog unless the applicant demonstrates the ability and willingness to take the substantial time needed to acclimate the new dog while meeting the other dog’s needs. It is easy for the new addition to pick up the behaviors, good or bad,of the resident dog. We’ve found that it’s best to advise applicants to spend at least six months helping the first dog adjust and learn good house manners before adding another dog to the household.



Applicants whose answers don’t reflect their truly intended practice of dog care will not be pursued for adoption. Volunteers are asked to be careful not to tip applicants off on the “right” answers. For example, we wouldn’t want to suggest an applicant state “on-leash walks” when the applicant is likely to let the dog off leash, since that could result in a painful injury or death for many an adopted dog. Also, suggesting that an applicant omit information about a given-up animal can result in a risky placement for an animal we worked hard to rescue; the vet check for or discussion about the given-up animal might have revealed problems that the adopter could repeat to the detriment of the new dog. An applicant who is honest about a past mistake will not be declined for that mistake alone if he/she demonstrates having learned from the experience and having taken steps to ensure he/she can and will provide the care we seek for PAW’s adopted animals.



Make sure prospective adopters understand that they must return the dog to PAW(vs. giving the dog to a local shelter or acquaintance) if they cannot keep the dog. In the case of an adopter who becomes incapacitated and wishes to transfer the adopted dog to a trusted friend or relative, PAW is to be notified.


Encourage adopters to seek help from PAW volunteers, canine behavior professionals and books before reaching the point of wanting to give up the dog. Education and following up with adopters are critical parts of the adoption process.


Other Factors in Application Review

Other factors come into play as we tackle the complex endeavor of applicant review. Any concerns a volunteer has about an applicant and any observations made should be discussed by Application Review Committee members and the foster caregiver or dog’s primary handler.


Q. Why do many animal welfare groups and shelters discourage adopting pets from mid-December through January 1?


A. Introducing a pet properly into a new home and family requires time and effort. During holiday celebrations, a family focused on guests,gift-wrapping, travel plans, cooking and other holiday activities will have trouble tending to a new pet’s needs. Plus the higher activity level in the home can add unneeded tension when the new dog is already stressed by the change in environment.


Preparing Adopters and Following Up

Educated owners are more capable of safely managing their dogs and keeping them for life. Provide prospective adopters with cautionary advice and complete information about the chosen dog.


In addition, explain that changes in family structure or living arrangements will affect the dog, who may exhibit stress in the form of housebreaking accidents and other behavior changes. The dog will probably need help from the owner to adjust to household changes.


After placement, follow-up by the foster caregiver or volunteer making the placement will benefit the dog and owner alike. The volunteer who placed the dog should follow up with the adopters by phone, e-mail or both. This provides a good opportunity for the adopter to ask questions about any behavioral or other issues, to maintain good relations, and to hear how the dog is bonding with the new family.



Boarded Dog

Application Given to:  Application Review Committee (ARC)

Step 1 – Application reviewed*

Step 2 – Input from dog handler, table staff and/or electronic app volunteer

Step 3 – Vet check

Step 4 – Home visit (if app and VC satisfactory)

Step 5 – Prepare adoption contract, schedule  appointment with adopter

Step 6 – Contract signing and transfer of dog to adopter

Step 7 – Follow up by foster caregiver, boarded dog buddy/handler or other volunteer


Fostered Dog

Application Given to:  ARC/Foster Caregiver

Step 1 – Application reviewed*

Step 2 – Input from dog handler (if foster caregiver is not present), table staff and/or electronic app volunteer

Step 3 – Vet check

Step 4 – Home visit (if app and VC satisfactory)

Step 5 – Prepare adoption contract, schedule  appointment with adopter

Step 6 – Contract signing and transfer of dog to adopter

Step 7 – Follow up by foster caregiver, boarded dog buddy/handler or other volunteer


For listings of current Application Review Committee volunteers and others who help review applications, contact the PAW Dog Coordinator.


*Some questions to ask during Application Review:

  • Who is the prospective adoptee?
  • What is known about this dog?
  • What are the needs of this dog?
  • What is breed and size of dog?
  • Is dog a jumper or a digger?
  • Does he/she suffer separation anxiety?
  • Does dog have any known, or perceived, idiosyncrasies?
  • How does he/she behave at shows?
  • Does the prospective adopter have existing pets?
  • Are these pets compatible with the prospective adoptee?
  • Does the app indicate existing pets are up to date on vet care?
  • If adopter had prior pets, where are they now?
  • How long did they care for their previous animals?
  • What is their reason for getting dog: children, watchdog, companion, etc.?
  • Is the type of house/townhouse/apartment compatible to the chosen dog?
  • How long will dog be left unattended?
  • How will the dog be housed when alone: crate, one room, whole house, etc.?



<< Back to Volunteer Area Main Page