An adoption agency or rescue organization should consider taking several measures to avoid liability. Attorney Kenneth Phillips has created an Adoption Agreement for adoption organizations and rescue groups that limits your exposure to claims that arise after you adopt-out a dog. The contract is one of a number that are included in the Avoiding Liability When Working With Dogs. In that same download, there is a document entitled Policy and Procedures for Observing and Reporting Problems with Dogs, which is essential for preventing and avoiding liability for dog bites. Learn more about this important legal package by clicking here.
Here are some basic suggestions for adoption agencies and rescue groups. They are NOT a substitute for Avoiding Liability When Working With Dogs, which not only discusses these points at length but also contains all the documents needed to place most of them into effect:
Incorporate as a non-profit corporation. This has several advantages. You can get a 501(c) letter from the IRS, which will permit you to accept contributions and will enable the donors to write off their donations. You also will usually avoid personal liability in the event of a lawsuit, unless the suit alleges wrongdoing by the board itself -- including mistakes in creating policies for, setting up and running the organization.
Obtain liability insurance that covers the premises where your organization carries out it activities, mistakes by members, agents and employees, and board of directors liability (see Avoiding liability for mistakes and decisions of the board, below.)
The organization and its members should not be the owners of the dogs. Have the attorney set up some kind of receipt or contract for rescued dogs which says that you are the bailee or temporary caretaker, and that the person who previously owned the dog still owns it.
When taking a new dog from a person (as opposed to finding it on the street), have him or her fill out a form that inquires about the dog's dangerousness. It should track the information that should be in the written agreement (see next section).
In addition to the form that is to be filled in by the person who gave you the dog, there should be a second form that is filled in by your intake person and others who have contact with the dog, listing problems such as health issues and dangerousness (to people, animals and property).
You should disclose to the new owners everything noteworthy about the dog's health, dangerousness, and other information listed in the written agreement (see below).
You should use a written contract with the new owners that relieves you of liability. Among other things, it should contain information about health, dangerousness, etc. The complete provisions can be found in Avoiding Liability When Working With Dogs.
You should sell or transfer ownership of the dog. You should not retain ownership of it. All of these measures, which protect not only the organization but also the public, are discussed in Avoiding Liability When Working With Dogs.