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Find Your Furry Companion: A Guide To Ethical Dog Adoption in LA

A white and brown dog sticks their nose between the bars of their outdoor kennel at Pasadena Humane.
A dog available for adoption at Pasadena Humane, an animal resource center in Pasadena.
(Ryanne Mena
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Across Los Angeles, there are thousands of dogs in need of a home, waiting for adoption in animal shelters run by local governments and nonprofit rescues, including those based on breed.

Which means the path to become a dog parent may require dozens of choices and many factors to consider. And — as we heard from an LAist reader who asked for advice on ethical dog adoption in L.A. — it can be overwhelming.

We created this guide for you and any other Southern Californians looking to add a furry companion to the home.

Why dogs end up in shelters and rescues

Although the majority of shelter dogs come in as strays, there are also hundreds of dogs being surrendered by owners to shelters and rescues each month.

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Many of the organizations we spoke to said the No. 1 factor driving people to give up their dogs is financial — owners just can’t cover the costs, such as food and medical expenses. The end of L.A.’s COVID eviction protection is also affecting renters with pets. We have compiled resources for dog (and pet) owners to help them take care of their beloved animals at the bottom of this article.

Who we spoke to for this piece:

  • Marcia Mayeda, director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Animal Care and Control
  • Leah Cohen, communications director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Animal Care and Control
  • Kevin McManus, Pasadena Humane’s public relations and communications manager
  • Bob Cheslow, volunteer and board of directors member at Westside German Shepherd Rescue
  • Chloe Lawrence, director of Dogs Without Borders
  • Gabriel Fierro, Sgt at Los Angeles County’s Carson Animal Care Center

Note: Fees, adoption process times and requirements listed in this story are based on the organizations and agencies we spoke with to create this guide. We offer them as estimates to help you evaluate your options. 

What is ethical dog adoption?

Most people who work or volunteer in animal services agree: Adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue is the most ethical option.

So, does that mean all adoptions from shelters and rescues are ethical? Well, that depends on your values, to a degree. Some people might only want to rescue a dog from a no-kill shelter (more on that later) rather than from a shelter that euthanizes dogs due to capacity. Some people might want to rescue a dog from a shelter with a high rate of euthanasia.

It’s important to know where or who you are getting your dog from and the level of care and treatment the dog is receiving, and that will require some research. Marcia Mayeda, L.A. County’s Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) director, recommends checking out the shelter or rescue organization you’re interested in beforehand. Look at the organization’s website and ask for references from past adopters.

“There can be people posing as rescues that are really breeders or may not be always honest about the background of the animal because they’re trying their best to get them placed but may not provide you with all the information you need to have,” Mayeda said.

County and city shelters

Animal shelters are typically operated, funded and maintained by local governments. L.A. County and city shelters have facilities that are open to the public with regular business hours.

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Some animal shelters may euthanize animals, either due to overpopulation or behavioral or health issues; shelters that have a policy of not doing this are referred to as “no-kill shelters.”

The most common interpretation of a no-kill shelter is one that does not euthanize any animals just to make space for new arrivals. However, even no-kill shelters will sometimes still have to euthanize dogs for medical or behavioral reasons, which are considered humane reasons for euthanasia.

    • Adoption fee: $100 - $150 (depending on where you go and on the age of the dog)
    • Adoption process time: Same day unless the dog hasn’t been spayed/neutered. If they haven’t, it could be a few days until the dog has healed and is ready to go to their new home. Making an appointment speeds up the process
    • Requirements for adoptive owners: must be at least 18 years old.

Dog rescue organizations

Nonprofit dog rescue organizations operate through private donations and often take dogs from overpopulated shelters that would otherwise euthanize the animals. Unlike city and county animal shelters, most rescue organizations don’t have facilities. Rescue organization dogs are typically kept in foster homes until they are adopted. A dog rescue with a 501(c)(3) status can’t breed animals or sell them for profit.

    • Adoption fee: $150 - $500
    • Adoption process time: 3 days - 2 weeks
    • Requirements for adoptive owners: Varies by the organization but many require an interview, a home inspection and/or an adoption trial.


    A breeder is someone who manages the reproduction of a specific dog breed to then sell puppies. They are often criticized by advocates for ethical treatment of animals because they bring more dogs into the world when shelters are already full.

    When breeders can’t find homes for the dogs they’re selling, they often surrender them to shelters. Chloe Lawrence, director of the nonprofit rescue Dogs Without Borders, recently had to find foster homes for three poodles that were surrendered by a breeder.

    Breeders say that they meet the needs of families that want a specific type of dog for reasons such as temperament or ability to join the family in certain activities.

    “It's understandable that people would look at the people facilitating this overpopulation and say, 'Well, that's wrong. That's terrible,'” said Bob Cheslow, a 12-year volunteer at Westside German Shepherd Rescue. “There's another train of thought that says part of the wonderful relationship between humans and dogs is that there are all of these different breeds that have different characteristics that are comfortable in different sorts of homes and so on.”

    Breeders within L.A. must adhere to county code section 10.40.200, which includes acquiring a dog breeding license, annual veterinary examinations, housing requirements and other health and safety measures.

    The reality is that there is a range of breeders. Some treat their dogs and puppies humanely and ensure their dogs go to a loving home. Then there are “backyard breeders,” who do not provide a healthy, safe environment for the dogs and puppies and who may overbreed their dogs to make more money selling puppies.

    Overbreeding is when an animal is bred more than its body can handle, which leads to poor health outcomes for both the puppies and mother, according to Leah Cohen, communications director for L.A. County’s Animal Care and Control. Dogs that are overbred suffer adverse health consequences like malnutrition, uterine infections, joint issues and more.

    “[Some breeders] don't understand how to manage genetic lines, to test every generation for genetically transmitted heritable diseases,” Cheslow said.

      • Adoption fee: $1,000 - $2,500 (ranges depending on the breed)
      • Adoption process time: Most breeders allow puppies to go to their new home once they’re 8 weeks old.
      • Requirements for adoptive parents: Varies by breeder but many require an interview and a deposit payment.

    How to evaluate breeders

    If you choose to acquire a dog from a breeder, there are some things you should confirm when you visit:

    • You should be able to see where the puppies were born and raised to make sure the environment is clean and humane.
    • They should be able to show you vaccination records. 
    • You should be able to see the parents of the litter and make sure they’re being treated well. 

      Breed-based rescues

      If you want to adopt a specific dog breed and don’t want to go to a breeder, you can check out breed-based rescues.

      Breed-based rescues are like other nonprofit dog rescue organizations, except they specialize in rescuing and finding homes for specific dog breeds.

        • Adoption fee: $125 - $600
        • Adoption process time: 2 days – 2 weeks
        • Requirements for adoptive parents: Varies by breeder but many require an interview, a home inspection and/or an adoption trial.

        Breed-based rescues around LA

        A man stands against an exterior wall in blue jeans and a blue zip-up hoodie, wearing a black baseball cap. He has white hair and glasses. He is holding the leash of a German Shepherd.
        Bob Cheslow, a volunteer at Westside German Shepherd Rescue, with Fiona, one of the dogs they rescued.
        (Ryanne Mena

        Financial assistance for dog owners

        The people we spoke to for this article who work at dog shelters and rescues said that the No. 1 reason people surrender their dog is because they cannot afford the cost of caring for them. We’ve compiled a list of resources available for folks who may need assistance taking care of their pets.

        L.A. County’s Animal Care Foundation (ACF) offers resources for people in its service area (unincorporated L.A. County & 45 contract cities) who may be struggling to care for their pet:

        The City of Los Angeles’ Animal Services:

        • Pet food pantries, which offers free pet food, are open every Sunday from 1-4 p.m. Find out more here
        • Spay/neuter discount coupons and free certificates (for qualified L.A. City residents whose annual combined household income is below HUD's Household Low Income limits).
        • Resource guide for pet owners.

        To find the animal care center that serves your area, visit the county’s shelter locator.

        If you live anywhere else within the state of California, SpayCalifornia can connect you to low-cost spay/neuter services.

        If you’re experiencing homelessness and need help taking care of your pet, the nonprofit Better Together Forever operates an Unsheltered People with Pets program. To get started, fill out their online form.

        How to help

        If you can’t adopt a dog but would still like to help, here are some places to volunteer:

        All of these organizations accept donations, which they rely on to keep operating and to continue helping their animals thrive.

        What questions do you have about Southern California?

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