Q: Why don't some of your adoptable animals have photos or descriptions?
Once an animal is available for adoption, it is immediately placed on our website. Five times each week, volunteers take photos and write descriptions of the adoptable animals and update the website.

If you see an animal is available for adoption that you would like more information on, you can always visit the location it is at for more information. Adoptions are on a first-come basis. Unfortunately due to the large number of animals in adoption, we cannot usually answer phone calls about adoptable animals.

Q: If I’m looking for a certain dog breed or appearance, what are the best steps?
A: The dogs that we receive at the ARL are representative of popular dogs in our community – so we get dogs of all kinds!  If you’re looking for a dog that is a certain breed, appearance, or size, here are the best steps:

  1.  All of the available dogs are listed on our website and are updated every 30 minutes.  If viewing from a mobile device, make sure to check out our apps for Android and iOS for easier viewing.
  2. To be notified when a pet is available, you can sign up for our pet notifications on our smart phone app, click here for instructions. The notifications allow you to choose species, breed, gender, and age. When a pet matching your preferences becomes available, you’ll receive a phone notification that will lead you to their web profile where you can view more information. If those basic details sound like something you’re interested in, we encourage you to come meet the pet to learn more about them. Since adoptions are on a first-come basis, if you wait for a description or photo to be added (usually within 48 hours), the pet may have already been adopted.
  3. We work with dozens of rescue partners across the state and Midwest to place dogs who aren’t quite ready for adoption into their program. Check out our Transfer Partners to view each of these and the animals they have available for adoption.
  4. While the ARL is one of the best places to adopt a pet, there are many other great pets available for adoption through other groups.  Most of these list their adoptable pets on PetFinder, so if you’re not finding what you’re looking for at the ARL, make sure to check out this site for other pets who may fit what you are looking for.

Q: How do I narrow down the selection of cats to find one that fits our household and lifestyle?
A: Finding the right cat when we have so many wonderful ones to choose from, can be overwhelming, so we've made it simple to fall in love...simply fill out our Meet Your Match survey, describing your "ideal match" and we will send you suggestions of cats that would fit what you're looking for to help you narrow down the search.

Q: I am writing a paper for a school project about the ARL - who do I contact?
We frequently get requests for interviews or information from students that are writing school papers, doing class speeches or working on projects. We are thrilled that so many students are making presentations and doing papers on animal welfare issues. To make it easy for students and as efficient as possible in meeting these requests, we have the following recommendations and procedures:

  1. Review our website. Much of the information you may be looking for about our history and programs can be found on our website.
  2. Requests should go to the appropriate person related to the topic being covered as laid out below.
  3. Questions should be submitted at the time the request is made. ARL staff will answer your questions via phone or in-person interview. Questions may be answered in written form by email if a phone or in-person interview is not possible.
  4. Please allow a minimum of one week for response from staff at the ARL.

Questions relating to:

Animal Care | Statistics
Mick McAuliffe
ARL Operations Manager
(515) 473-9114

Animal Control | Cruelty Intervention
Josh Colvin
ARL ACC Operations Manager &
Cruelty Intervention Coordinator
(515) 284-6905

Behavior | Training
(515) 473-9131

Educational Programs
Tracey Dolphin Drees
Humane Education Coordinator
(515) 473-9128

Organizational | Careers
Tom Colvin
ARL Executive Director
Requests for meetings should be
directed to Justin Zerfas at:
(515) 473-9104

Kevin Burton
Volunteer Coordinator
(515) 473-9110

*All other questions can be submitted here.


Q: How is the ARL governed?
 The Animal Rescue League staff report to the Executive Director who reports to 13 Board of Directors.  Additionally, 20 Advisory Council members serve as a community advisory board and is non-fiduciary.  Both the Board of Directors and Advisory Council members are volunteers. They receive no compensation for their service to the organization.  Our animal care and veterinary practices are overseen by 3 veterinarians and are further reviewed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship and are subject to random inspection at any time.  A full audit is performed on our financials on an annual basis by an independent auditor.


Q: What’s the difference between a licensed shelter and a licensed rescue? 
A: Licensed Animal Shelter*:
According to IDALS: “Animal shelter” means a facility which is used to house or contain dogs or cats, or both, and which is owned, operated, or maintained by an incorporated humane society, animal welfare society, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, or other nonprofit organization devoted to the welfare, protection, and humane treatment of such animals.

Licensed Animal Rescue: There is no definition for animal rescue in the state of Iowa, so many rescue groups are licensed as an “Animal Dealer”.

Licensed Animal Dealer*: According to IDALS: “Dealer” means any person who is engaged in the business of buying for resale or selling or exchanging dogs or cats, or both, as a principal or agent, or who claims to be so engaged.

Licensed 501(c)(3) Non-Profit**: According to the IRS: To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS): https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/code/162.pdf
Internal Revenue Service (IRS): https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/exemption-requirements-section-501-c-3-organizations


Q: What are your adoption fees?
View the ARL Adoption Fees. The ARL also has many adoption programs.

Q: How old do you have to be to adopt a pet from the ARL?
Minimum of 18 years old.

Q: How do I go about adopting a pet from the ARL?
The first thing to do is to evaluate the needs, wants and constraints of your home and family to determine what kind of pet is right for you. The ARL can help you with this.

Then, when you decide what you would like, a dog, cat, or small animal, come out to one of the ARL adoption locations and visit with the animals. When you find the pet you like, an ARL staff member or volunteer will help you interact with it. Then, if you decide you would like to take the pet home, you will be asked to fill out an adoption application.

On the application, the ARL will ask how you plan to care for the pet and make sure that you understand the needs of the pet. Approval for adoption is done by one of the ARL's adoption counselors.

If you’re interested in adopting an animal from our Second Chance Ranch, schedule an appointment by contacting rescueranch@arl-iowa.org or (515) 473-9112.

View pets currently in adoption at the ARL.

Q: Do you ever have purebred pets?
Yes, often.

Q: How many animals does the ARL take in each year?
Please refer to our latest Impact Report.

The ARL is working hard to reduce the number of animals entering the shelter system by encouraging the public to help control the crisis pet overpopulation by spaying or neutering and by making lifetime commitments to their pets, in addition to a variety of other programs.

Q: How long does the ARL keep animals?
The ARL has no set time limit for keeping animals as long as an animal is safe and not suffering. An animal will stay in our care for as long as it take to find them a home. After six weeks in our care, or if they are not coping well in the shelter environment, we try to place the pet in a foster home to give them a break from the shelter until they are adopted.

Q: Does the ARL have a veterinarian on staff?
A: Yes, in fact, we have three full time veterinarians. They spay and neuter thousands of pets each year. In addition, they provide general health care and emergency care for the ARL's pets.

Q: Why are there so many “pit bulls” in adoption?
A: Short answer: “Pit bulls” are popular family dogs in Iowa, times are tough, and affordable housing is limited so that’s why we get “pit bulls” surrendered to us – and labs, beagles, mutts, etc.

Supporting Information:

  • Dogs visually identified as “pit bull” are the #5 most popular family dog in Iowa – nationally “pit bull” dogs are in the top ten most popular family dogs in 47 of 50 states.
  • The ARL’s dog population is representative of the dog community in our area (a lot of X breed in the community equals that same breed being found in the shelters).
  • The lack of pet-friendly housing is the #2 reason why we receive dogs each year – that applies to all breeds (it is nearly impossible to find an affordable rental in the metro for dogs over 20 lbs).
  • Times are tough and many people are finding themselves without jobs, homes, or other resources that force them to turn to the ARL as the last resort to find a home for their beloved pet.

“Pit bulls” are just dogs and all dogs are individuals. We encourage adopters to look at each dog as an individual to see if it fits their lifestyle and family’s expectations of a canine companion. Because of this, some individual dogs are harder to adopt than others, but that is not a breed thing, it’s about that do as an individual. So far this year we’ve averaged a “pit bull” dog adoption every three days which only further demonstrates their popularity.

Q:  What about BSL (Breed Specific Legislation)?
A: People often think BSL is more prevalent than it actually is.  Nationally less than 4% of cities have bans and less than 10% of cities have regulations. In the Metro, the only cities who have regulations on owning dogs visually identified as “pit bulls” are Des Moines proper, Altoona, and Pleasant Hill. These cities just require some additional leashing and licensing requirements. None of the other cities in the metro have any special regulations – they look at all dogs as dogs. Additionally there are no breed bans in the Metro. 


Q: How old do I have to be to volunteer?
A: To handle animals, volunteers must be 10 years old. Volunteers under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Q: How do I become a volunteer at the ARL?
A: To become a volunteer, you must complete the ARL's volunteer orientation. ARL volunteer orientation is held monthly at the ARL's main shelter at 5452 NE 22nd St., Des Moines, IA. The orientation is 1.5 hours. View our events calendar to sign up for an upcoming orientation. If you have questions, please call the ARL's volunteer coordinator at (515) 473-9110.

Pet Behavior

Q: Do you offer pet training classes?
A: Yes, the ARL offers classes from puppy and beginner levels to advanced. All classes are taught highly trained ARL volunteers under the direction of the ARL's Pet Behavior & Enrichment department. Click here for more information.

ARL training classes emphasize positive reinforcement through clicker training.

Q: Does the ARL declaw cats?
A: The ARL does not recommend declawing cats, but we do offer alternatives. We have a cat behavior expert who can give you tips on how to redirect any inappropriate scratching your cat may be doing. Having a scratching post for your cat can give it a positive place to scratch, which is a natural behavior for cats.

Unfortunately declawing a cat can lead to physical, emotional, and behavioral complications - like avoiding their litterbox because it can be painful for a cat to scratch in their litter after they have been declawed.

If you'd like to speak to the ARL's Cat Behaviorist and you live in Central Iowa, call our Free Cat Behavior Helpline at 262-9503, and when the recorded greeting begins, enter extension 311. Leave a message with your name, phone number, and behavior concern and we will return your call.

The ARL's Animal House Store at ARL Main sells a variety of toys and scratching posts to encourage appropriate scratching. The store is open during regular ARL hours, seven days a week.  

If you live in an apartment, we also have a list of pet-friendly housing on our website, some of which do not require that cats be declawed.

Humane Education

Q: What is Humane Education and why is it important?
A: Humane education encourages empathy and an understanding of the need for compassion and respect for people, animals, and the environment and recognizing the connections among these. A primary goal of each program is to identify animals as being worthy of kindness and to encourage people to act responsibly and be compassionate to their own pets and other animals they may encounter.

Research has repeatedly shown that children who are unkind to animals or who are raised in homes where animals are abused are particularly likely to be abusive to animals and to humans over time. In providing humane education programs, the ARL hopes to model an appropriate, respectful, and mutually rewarding relationship between humans and animals. 

Q: Are there any restrictions/guidelines for bringing a group to the ARL for a shelter tour?
A: Children must be at least seven years old to attend a shelter tour.

Space is limited once we enter the shelter. In order for participants to have the best experience at the ARL, groups are limited to 15 people at a time. Groups larger than 15 people will be split and will tour separately. Please allow an additional 20 minutes for these groups and please give at least two weeks notice. To register your group for a tour, click here.

Q: What kinds of animals will we see if we come for a tour?
A: The ARL receives cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, birds, ferrets, iguanas, and many other species of animals. Many of these types of animals are regularly available for adoption. It should be explained to children that we are different from a pet store in that we don't "stock" animals for "sale." We receive and care for homeless animals in hopes of finding them new, forever, loving homes to "adopt" them. Because the population of the ARL changes daily, the ARL can not guarantee which species will be available in adoption on any particular day. Most every day, cats, dogs, and rabbits are available for adoption.

Q: If we come for a tour, will we get to pet the animals?
A: During the tour, groups will see all of the animals in adoption, but for safety reasons, we will not be taking animals out of the cages or handling them.

Q: How much does a tour cost?
A: To offset the cost of staff time, materials, and mileage, we ask for a minimum $20 donation. Groups larger than 15 participants will be split into two groups and charged an additional $1 per person over the initial 15. To register your group for a tour, click here.

Q: How much does it cost to have an educator visit a day care or preschool?
A: The ARL will send a humane educator to day cares and preschools in the Des Moines area for an age appropriate lesson in bite prevention. Presentations will focus on safety, respect, and kindness toward our animal friends. Each presentation includes opportunities for listeners to get up close and personal with either a dog or a kitten.

Presentations must be arranged at least two weeks in advance through the online registration form. Registration is handled on a first come, first served basis. Our programs fill quickly so please plan ahead when scheduling your group. Cost is $50 for up to a 45 minute program. Mileage charges apply for locations further than 15 miles from ARL Main. 

Q: How can I schedule a time to have an educator present to my K-12 classroom?
The ARL will send a humane educator to your classroom for a lesson tailored to your students’ grade level and topic of interest. The primary goal of our classroom programs is to provide engaging content that educates students about issues related to pet responsibility and animal welfare. While some programs include an appearance by a companion animal, participants should not expect significant animal contact as part of these presentations. All programs are 45-60 minutes unless otherwise specified. We do require that groups provide a classroom presentation space, a small table for presenter's materials, internet access, and a screen for presentation. Programs can accommodate up to 50 students, however, programs can be scheduled back-to-back to accommodate larger groups. To register your classroom for a presentation, click here


Q: How long does the ARL keep animals?
The ARL has no set time limit for keeping animals as long as an animal is safe and not suffering. An animal will stay in our care for as long as it take to find them a home. After six weeks in our care, we try to place the pet in a foster home to give them a break from the shelter until they are adopted.

Q: Is the ARL a no-kill shelter?
A:  In 2016, we had a Live Release Rate of 93% for barn animals, 90% for small animals, 90% for dogs, and 80% cats. However, we do not refer to ourselves a "no-kill" shelter because that term is unregulated and loosely defined, and creates divisiveness among animal shelters. 

We only euthanize animals that are dangerous or suffering, and that is only after we have exhausted all other humane and responsible options.  We do not euthanize for space.  

Every decision we make is based on the globally accepted Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare Under Human Control.  Ending suffering and enhancing public safety is a responsibility we take seriously.

1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

2. Freedom from Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from Pain, Injury, and Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal's own kind.

5. Freedom from Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

Through our expanded community spay/neuter programs, our growing foster program, our creative adoption promotions, and financial support from individuals like you, we have not had to euthanize a healthy, adoptable animal for many years. Every day we pull out all of the stops to keep this record, but it continues to be a daily challenge. Pet homelessness and overpopulation is a community problem that needs a community solution. It is not up to the shelters alone to make this happen, it is up to every individual and until people commit to adopt their pet from a shelter or rescue, spay or neuter their pet, and keep their pet for life, shelters will remain full.

Q: Does the ARL send pets that are not adopted to research?
A: No. The ARL has never sent pets for research and will not in the future.

Animal Abuse/Neglect

Q: What constitutes animal abuse/neglect.
A: When helping animals in abuse or neglect situations, it is important to first know and understand what constitutes animal abuse, neglect or torture under Iowa law. Many people have different standards of care for their pets. While someone may not love and care for their pet like you do, it may not be an abuse situation. Ultimately, it will be up to law enforcement, prosecutors, veterinarians and a judge to determine if a particular case is animal abuse/neglect or not, but the following is a basic guideline by Iowa law. View information on cruelty intervention.

Q: What should I do if I see someone neglecting or abusing an animal?
A: If you see someone abusing an animal, you may want to run over and tell the person to stop. Unless you know that confronting the person will change their behavior and not risk any harm to yourself, don't do it. You may be putting yourself at risk as well as the animal. Instead take photographs or videotape if you can. This evidence will be invaluable to investigators.

In the case of a child or children abusing an animal, the parent(s) may be unaware of the behavior. Animal abuse has been linked with other types of abuse in the home (child abuse, domestic violence). It is better to let law enforcement investigate.

If you are not successful contacting local law enforcement at (515) 283-4811, contact the ARL's cruelty intervention coordinator at (515) 284-6905.

Remember, it's important to report animal abuse/neglect. If you don't, who will? Helpless animals depend on you.