TOcrisscrossing Los Angeles, there are thousands of dogs in need of homes, waiting to be adopted at animal shelters run by local governments and nonprofit rescue organizations, including those that are breed-based.

Which means that the path to becoming a dog parent can require dozens of options and many factors to consider. And, as we heard from an LAist reader who asked for advice on ethical dog adoption in Los Angeles, it can be overwhelming.

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

Why dogs end up in shelters and rescues

Although most shelter dogs arrive as strays, there are also hundreds of dogs that owners turn over to shelters and rescues each month.

Many of the organizations we spoke to said the No. 1 factor driving people to give up their dogs is financial: Owners simply can’t cover costs like food and medical bills. The end of Los Angeles’ COVID eviction protection is also affecting renters with pets. We’ve collected resources for dog (and pet) owners to help them care for their beloved animals at the bottom of this article.

Who we spoke to for this piece:

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

Note: The 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 Are adoptions from shelters and rescues ethical? Well, that depends on your values, up to a point. Some people may only want to rescue a dog from a no-kill shelter (more on that later) rather than a shelter that euthanizes dogs due to ability. Some people may want to rescue a dog from a shelter with a high euthanasia rate.

Knowing where or who you are getting your dog from and the level of care and treatment the dog is receiving is important, and that will take a bit of research. Marcia Mayeda, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC), recommends checking with the shelter or rescue organization you’re interested in beforehand. Look at the organization’s website and ask for references from past users.

“There may be people posing as rescues who are actually breeders or who aren’t always honest about the animal’s background because they are trying their best to place them, but they may not give you all the information you need.” Mayeda said.

County and city shelters

Animal shelters are typically operated, funded, and maintained by local governments. County and City of Los Angeles shelters have facilities that are open to the public during regular business hours.

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

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

    • Adoption rate: $100 – $150 (depending on where you’re going and how old the dog is)
    • Adoption process time: Same day unless the dog has not been spayed/neutered. If they haven’t, it could take a few days for the dog to heal and be ready to go to its new home. Making an appointment streamlines the process
    • Requirements for adoptive owners: must be at least 18 years of age.

dog rescue organizations

Nonprofit dog rescue organizations operate through private donations and often take dogs from overcrowded shelters that would otherwise euthanize the animals. Unlike city and county animal shelters, most rescue organizations do not have facilities. Dogs from rescue organizations are usually kept in foster homes until they are adopted. A dog rescue center with 501(c)(3) status may not breed animals or sell them for profit.

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


A breeder is someone who manages to breed a specific breed of dog in order to sell puppies. They are often criticized by ethical animal advocates for bringing more dogs into the world when shelters are already full.

When breeders can’t find homes for the dogs they sell, they often turn them over to shelters. Chloe Lawrence, director of the non-profit rescue organization Dogs Without Borders, recently had to find foster homes for three poodles that were given away by a breeder.

Breeders say they meet the needs of families who want a particular type of dog for reasons such as temperament or the ability to accompany the family on certain activities.

“It’s understandable that people would look at the people who are facilitating this overpopulation and say, well, that’s wrong. That’s terrible,” said Bob Cheslow, a 12-year-old volunteer with Westside German Shepherd Rescue. “There’s another line of thinking that says that part of the wonderful relationship between humans and dogs is that there are all these different breeds that have different characteristics that are comfortable in different types of homes, etc.”

Breeders within Los Angeles must comply with county code section 10.40.200which includes the acquisition of a dog breeding license, annual veterinary exams, 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 make sure their dogs go to a loving home. Then there are “backyard breeders” who do not provide a healthy and safe environment for dogs and puppies and who may outbreed their dogs to earn more money by selling puppies.

Overbreeding is when an animal is bred longer than its body can handle, leading to poor health outcomes for both the puppies and the mother, according to Leah Cohen, communications director for county Animal Care and Control. of the Angels. Dogs that are overbred suffer adverse health consequences like malnutrition, uterine infections, joint problems, and more.

“[Some breeders] I don’t understand how to manage genetic lines, to test each generation for genetically transmitted hereditary diseases,” Cheslow said.

    • Adoption rate: $1,000 – $2,500 (varies by race)
    • Adoption process time: Most breeders allow puppies to go to their new homes once they are 8 weeks old.
    • Requirements for adoptive parents: Varies by breeder, but many require an interview and payment of a deposit.

How to Evaluate Breeders

If you choose to purchase a dog from a breeder, there are a few things to confirm when you visit:

  • You should be able to see where the puppies were born and raised to ensure 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 are treated well.

Breed-Based Rescues

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

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

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

Breed-Based Rescues in Los Angeles

A man stands against an outside wall wearing blue jeans and a blue zip-up sweatshirt and a black baseball cap.  He has white hair and glasses.  He is holding the leash of a German Shepherd.

Westside German Shepherd Rescue volunteer Bob Cheslow with Fiona, one of the dogs they rescued.

Financial assistance for dog owners.

The people we spoke to for this article who work at dog shelters and rescues said the #1 reason people give up their dog is because they can’t afford the cost of caring for it. We have compiled a list of resources available to people who may need help caring for their pets.

Animal Care Foundation (ACF) of Los Angeles County offers resources for people in its service area (unincorporated Los Angeles County and 45 contracted cities) who may have difficulty caring for their pets:

City of Los Angeles Animal Services:

  • Pet Food Pantries, which offer free pet food, are open every Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm Learn more here.
  • Castration discount coupons and free certificates (For qualified residents of the City of Los Angeles whose combined annual household income is below HUD’s low household income limits.)
  • resource guide for pet owners.

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

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

If you are homeless and need help caring for your pet, the nonprofit organization Better Together Forever operates a homeless with pets program. To get started, fill out your 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 depend on to continue operating and help their animals thrive.

What questions do you have about Southern California?