By virtue of running an animal sanctuary, your organization will most likely take in the majority of your residents from people and organizations who cannot properly care for them. In an ideal world, they would send the animal to your sanctuary, your new resident would be able to enjoy their forever home with you in peace and contentment, and the previous guardian of the animal would change their ways so that other animals would not fall into a similar predicament in the future.
Unfortunately, the world we live in is seldom ideal, and you need to take care to protect your organization when it comes to establishing a surrender policy for new residents. We have heard far too many stories of organizations and former guardians demanding that animals that were surrendered to sanctuaries be returned, either because they’ve had a change of heart or a change of circumstances and a desire to reclaim the animal they’ve surrendered into sanctuary care. We’ve even heard reports of previous surrenderers threatening sanctuaries with litigation, or worse, harassment and intimidation.
Although no written contract is immune to legal challenge, it’s critical that you develop and implement surrender documentation into your new resident intake policies at your sanctuary. The documentation should detail:
- The name, species, and descriptive information of the animal
- The history of the animal and previous care information, and reason for surrender
- Any special healthcare considerations for the animal
- The contact information for the animal’s veterinarian
- A signed, dated, and addressed clause that establishes the terms of surrender and transfer of guardianship along with a witness signature
- An appendix of any legal or medical documentation for the animal
The following is an example of verbiage for the surrender clause that you could implement into your document:
I hereby certify that I am the rightful guardian of the animal(s) who is/are the subject of this Animal Surrender Form, hereinafter referred to as “the animal(s).” I hereby surrender any and all property rights to the animal(s) to [The Sanctuary]. I certify that no other person has a right of property to the animal(s). I have disclosed all material information regarding the medical and behavioral history of the animal(s). I will willfully surrender all medical records and information pertaining to the animal(s). I have granted permission to contact my veterinarian for any necessary information pertaining to the animal(s) and I hereby consent to the release of any and all medical information by any medical provider. I understand that once I relinquish the animal, the animal will not be available to be returned and [The Sanctuary] has no obligation to follow up with information about the animal(s).
I hereby release and forever discharge [The Sanctuary] from any and all rights, claims, obligations, liabilities, and causes of action whatsoever arising out of or relating to the ownership, possession, or disposition of the Animal(s), and I agree to indemnify and hold harmless [The Sanctuary] from and against any and all such rights, claims, obligations, liabilities, and causes of action which may be asserted by third parties. I have fully read and understand this Surrender Agreement. I accept and agree to abide by its terms.
In some circumstances, such as when the previous owner of the animal is unknown or unavailable, it may not be possible to get such an agreement down on paper. In this case, you should have whoever has brought the animal to you release them through documentation. The slight discomfort you may feel asking someone to sign over an animal through contract is vastly preferable to a legal battle or public spectacle!
Hopefully, the signed documentation will be filed away safely, never to be called into question or reviewed by a lawyer, but this is one small step to protect you and your organization from a slew of potential headaches!