Adoption Process

How adoption works

Our friendly adoption staff will work with you to find the right dog, cat, small pet or barn pet for your home. Get started by checking our online adoption listings (updated every 15 minutes) or stop by one of our adoption locations in the Des Moines metro area.

It's important that you spend time getting to know prospective pets to ensure that they are a good fit for your family and lifestyle. If you have questions or wish to visit with an animal, just ask a staff member or volunteer for assistance. 

Once you have visited with a pet and decide you'd like to adopt, you will work one-on-one with an adoption staff member to complete your adoption! The ARL's adoptions are first-come, first served, so if you wish to adopt an animal, you must be present at an ARL adoption location. We will not put animals on hold via a phone or email request.  

As part of the adoption process, you will complete an interview with an ARL adoption counselor. Our staff will also go over the pet's medical and behavioral records, explain ARL policies, discuss services available to adopters, and help you choose the right supplies for your new family member. After an adoption fee is collected, you can head home with your new, lovable pet!

Things to note

  • Adopters must be 18 years or older, have a valid driver’s license or picture ID, provide proof of address, and sign an adoption contract.
  • We recommend (and sometimes require) that pets be introduced to children living in the home and that dogs be introduced to any resident canines before adoption. We recommend bringing any children and dogs (if appropriate) to visit when you come to adopt. All adults living in the home must also know about the pet and agree that it can live there.
  • For safety reasons, the ARL requires that you take your pet home with a leash/collar (dogs) or carrier (cats and small pets). You may purchase these items in advance or purchase them at the time of adoption at the ARL for a reduced price.
  • Please allow at least one to two hours to complete the adoption process. It may be longer or shorter depending on how busy we are at the time.
  • All adoption services end 30 minutes before the ARL closes, so please plan to arrive at least one hour before closing if you plan to visit with the animals.
  • The ARL may require other information or require that other steps be taken prior to adoption to ensure a pet is the right match for your family. The ARL only adopts animals as family pets, not for consumption or research. The ARL reserves the right to deny any adoption for any reason.

Adoption fees

Thousands of animals come through the Animal Rescue League of Iowa's doors every year, but no matter how they got here or where they came from, they're provided with shelter, nourishing food, individualized medical treatment, behavioral rehabilitation when necessary, and most important: love.


Your adoption fee includes a general physical exam by our medical staff, spay/neuter surgery, initial vaccinations, deworming, microchip/tag, heartworm testing, free behavior and training advice, 10% off ARL Animal House store purchases for the life of the pet, and 10% off ARL training classes. Cost to do all of the above for a "free" dog or puppy? $300-$400. Adoption promotions/discounts cannot be combined and some restrictions may apply.

A Note About Puppy Adoptions

Because of our high demand for puppies, we have developed a system that gives more people an opportunity to adopt while being fair to all potential adopters. Whenever possible, we use one (or more) of the following opportunities to make puppy adoptions accessible to the public: 1) Adoptable puppies are announced on social media or our website the night before or several hours before they become available, giving potential adopters a heads up so they can make plans to visit if they're very interested. 2) Events such as “Puppy Parties,” or “Cuddle Breaks,” etc. give participants an opportunity to interact with puppies at the event and also earn the first opportunity to adopt. Potential adopters can visit the puppies and indicate interest in adopting within the time period announced. If multiple people are interested in adopting, we will draw names at random to determine who has first chance to adopt. If there are multiple puppies and multiple parties are interested in adopting, we will continue drawing names at random until all the puppies are adopted. Our normal adoption counseling process still applies. If no one happens to come out to adopt within the allotted time frame, puppies become available first-come, first-served, like any of our other pets. 

  • Puppies under 6 months old: Fees vary (not eligible for discounts)
  • Dogs 6 months to 5 years and under 25 lbs: $200 (Bonded Buddy pair: $225)
  • Dogs 6 months to 5 years and over 25 lbs: $125 (Bonded Buddy pair: $150)
  • Dogs 6 years or older: $60 (Bonded Buddy pair where one or more dogs is 6 years or older: $85)
  • Dogs in the Shelter Dog Getaway Program: $60


Your adoption fee includes a general physical exam by our medical staff, spay/neuter surgery, initial vaccinations, deworming, fecal testing, microchip/tag, feline leukemia testing, dental surgery/cleaning (if needed), and 10% off ARL Animal House store purchases for the life of the pet. Cost to do all of the above for a "free" cat or kitten? $670 minimum. Adoption promotions/discounts cannot be combined and some restrictions may apply.

  • Kittens under 6 months: $125 (same-litter pair, or kitten and mom: $200 for both)
  • Cats 6 months - 7 years: $100 (2 cats: $125 for both)
  • Cats 8 years and older: $50 (2 cats: $75 for both)
  • Cats in Shelter Cat Getaway program: $50 (2 cats: $75/both)
  • Cats in Camp Purr barn cat program: $25 each (must adopt at least 2)

Small Pets

Fees vary. The ARL cares for hundreds of small pets every year, including rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, chinchillas, and more. We also care for a variety of reptiles, amphibians and fish, as well as birds of all sizes, from parakeets and cockatiels to large exotics such as Amazons and parrots.

To see our currently available small pets, visit our Pet List.

Horses & Other Barn Pets

Fees vary. Click here for more information.

Adoption programs


We know that when adding a new pet to your family, you intend to give your pet a home for life, but you also want to make sure it's the right fit before you fully commit. The best way to find out if a pet is a good match for your family is to take them home and spend time together, without any pressure. The ARL's Rent-A-Pet program allows adopters to have peace of mind when adopting a pet of any species from the ARL. If after adopting, a family finds within the first 30 days that the pet is not a good fit, they can either bring the pet back for a full refund or exchange the pet for another of the same age group and species. The program gives the pet and all human and animal family members time to get to know each other to ensure that everyone is set up for success. If it's not going well at first, our team can help. In the end, if it ends up not being a good match - no problem - the pet still got to enjoy a break from the shelter and the additional information you'll be able to share with us upon their return will allow us to find a better fit for the pet the next time around. Plus, you can choose another pet to try!

(Note: An even exchange is valid for pets of the same age group and species on the date of return of the first pet. Adopters have the option to pay the difference if they choose to adopt a pet of a different species or age group.)

Pets for Seniors

The Pets for the Elderly Foundation believes in the positive power of pet companionship for seniors, so they have partnered with the ARL to make pet ownership more affordable. Through the PFE program, individuals ages 60 and older can get $50 off the adoption fee of a cat of any age or dog 6+ months. The ARL's normal adoption process still applies, and adoptions cannot be combined with other offers. This program is offered at ARL Main and ARL West as funds are available.

Happy Cat Prescription Program

Take two and you won't need to call us in the morning! Through the Happy Cat Prescription Program, adopters can adopt one cat for a regular adoption fee and adopt a second cat for just $25. Both cats must be 6 months or older and live in the same household upon adoption. The ARL has historically encouraged adopting cats/kittens in pairs or multiples because it is emotionally healthy for them to have feline friends. We have found some behavior issues can easily be solved or never occur when a cat has another cat to bond with. 

Paws for Patriots

Through this program, all U.S. veterans can adopt a dog or cat for half the normal adoption fee and get 25% off ARL dog training classes. Thank you to all who serve and have served our country!