When we first moved to Berlin, I was in wonder at everything this new world had to offer. The free museums, the quirkiness, the street food! But there was one notable exception to our happiness. We had left behind our cat (temporarily) and our apartment just didn't feel like home without a furry friend.
After moping around and skyping the cat from across an ocean, we came to the decision to add to our household with its first German member, a rabbit. Never one for pet shops or breeders, my first step was finding an animal shelter. But before that I needed to find the word for animal shelter. A little research provided us the answer, Tierheim.
Here is everything you need to know if you want to adopt a pet in Germany.
German Animal Shelters
Most major German cities have a Tierheim which also functions as a Tierschutzverein (animal protection union). This means they not only offer care for common domestic pets like cats and dogs, but provide a shelter for all animals in need, periodically fostering everything from monkeys to pigs.
Tierheims are the ideal place to adopt a pet, but German animal shelters also provide services for lost and found pets, pet sitters, vet services and vaccinations, emergency room for livestock, and even pet cemeteries.
Berlin's main Tierheim, opened in 2001, is located outside of the city - not the easiest journey by public transport. We stepped off the bus in what looked like the middle of nowhere.
Following basic road signs, we located the massive modern complex. All giant hexagonal cement blocks and sprawling gravel walkways, this site was even the setting for the futuristic film, Aeon Flux. The filmmakers were so impressed by the site's inventive design and the work of architect Dietrich Bangert that they helped raise funds for the shelter.
The Tierheim is separated into different buildings based on the animals it houses. We went straight to the "Bugs Bunny" house, but there is also an area for cats, dogs, and a variety of other cuddly animals. Note that ownership of some animals, like Kampfhunde (fighting dog) breeds like Pitbull-Terriers, Staffordshire-Bull terriers, American Staffordshire-Terriers, Bull terriers , etc., are restricted in Germany.
Curious faces stare up from behind pristine glass cases and employees politely ignored you (German customer service) until approached with questions. Volunteers and employees are knowledgeable and helpful and can help you through the process of adoption.
How to Adopt a Pet in Germany
The process for adoption is fairly simple:
- Arrive at a Tierheim (bring a carrier if you are ready to pick up that day)
- Observe the animals and read the information displayed on the case
- Decide which animal is joining your household and talk to the staff
- Fill-out paperwork (basic contact information, bring ID and Anmeldung)
- Pay the adoption fee (In Berlin, this is up to €205 for dogs, €65-85 for cats, €20 for rabbits and between €5-25 for small animals. These fees cover the care, vaccinations, microchipping as well as spay/neuter services). Each animal comes with a pet passport and information about vaccinations.
- For some animals, like dogs, a house visit may be necessary before the adoption is approved.
- Provide a loving, forever home for your new pet.
Not all animals on display will be available. For example, some animals will be waiting to be spayed or neutered and will only be available afterwards. Also note that information is usually only available in German, as well as paperwork. If you are not comfortable in German, bring someone to translate.
What to Know Before Adopting a Pet in Germany
Adopting a rabbit was an easy, same-day process for us. But before adopting a pet you should give it careful consideration. Taking an animal into your home is a serious commitment, one that may be hard to uphold if you are in transit or only in Germany for a few years. That said, pets adopted in Germany come with a pet passport and microchip so they are ready to accompany you no matter where you go.
Also consider your housing situation. Does your lease allow for animals? Do you have insurance? Dogs in Germany also need to be licensed and you are responsible for a Hundesteuer (dog tax).
Once you have answered all of these questions, you are ready to find a Tierheim in your area with this list of animal shelters in Germany. There are also usually smaller shelters dedicated to a specific animal, like cat shelters. They may offer information through social media, like this group for cats in Berlin.
If you are ever in need of emergency care, you can find vet services by calling 030-11880.