While at a doctor’s visit the other day, the doctor mentioned that he had friends who adopted a dog. I replied with “Good for them!” since I am naturally always pro adoption. He then chuckled a bit and noted how the couple stated that adopting a dog was harder than adopting a child. This is a common statement, so I did a brief explanation to him which hopefully helped him understand a bit. He wasn’t anti-pet or anti-adoption by any means (a very nice man), but like most, he just wasn’t educated on pet adoptions via rescue.
It’s common knowledge that rescued animals go through a lot, even if it’s a simple drop off at a shelter by a family who opted to disown the animal for whatever reason. A simple shelter visit (and yes, this includes “check in” while they surrender the dog) is terrifying for the pet, let alone spending days at the shelter. Of course, there’s always the “death via a stranger” aspect to close the shelter deal, but fortunately those in rescue (a small amount in comparison, mind you) escape that outcome. Then, there are others who have gone through additional hardships, even torment, and those that have roamed streets without a kind heart to acknowledge them, therefore never knowing love or kindness. The sum of it all, however, is that any animal who is not cared for or given up by their owner has faced sadness, abandonment, and despair, and some have dealt with horrendous physical torture. This is hard on an animal both physically and emotionally…the same way it weighs heavy on humans.
These animals come into rescue feeling relieved, but still a little unsure of what the future holds. You can’t blame them, for they’ve gone through several unexpected changes in a short time without any knowledge of the situation. For some there are medical conditions that they have to overcome, be it an Upper Respiratory Infection or a major Orthopedic surgery. Then they get attached to their people in the foster homes, their health is regained, they learn to trust and love again, make friends, and sometimes even something simple like learn how to play with a toy. The foster parent learns everything possible about the dogs and help them grow and prosper so they can thrive.
SO – that brings us to the actual “adoption process.” In a shelter setting (vs. rescue) people can go pick out a dog, sign a paper or two and take it home. Most rescues, although not all, have a longer process that requires an application, a home visit, a vet reference, interviews, meet and greets and typically a lot of conversations and/or emails. This takes time, even from a week to a few weeks, depending on the situation. Sounds intense, right? Well, on one hand, yes, it’s in depth. On the other hand, it saves a lot of heartache.
The basic reason we do this is to help both the pet and the family find the right dog and avoid a return. The goal is to place the dog just once in the perfectly matched home. While we do have an occasional return, for the most part we don’t, and the animals do not end up back in a shelter.
In a nutshell:
- We want to make sure the applicant is fully aware of what it takes to care for a dog and that it’s not a fly by night decision that can allow a change of heart if it’s inconvenient. It does no good to place a dog if it’s returned a few months down the road or dumped at a shelter later. This is very difficult for a dog emotionally, and throwing animals in and out of homes would only induce behaviors and depression, and it is unequivocally unkind. Consider how homeless children feel when they are placed in and taken out of multiple foster homes – it’s the same for animals.
- We want to make sure that the applicant is choosing a dog that is suitable for the household and lifestyle. For example, some dogs don’t do as well as others with children or other dogs. Some dogs need a fence or don’t do well in an apartment setting. Some prefer dogs that like to go jogging or hiking – some dogs have no desire or are not “built” for this type of lifestyle.
- We want to inform the applicant on all that we know about the individual animal, ranging from silly antics to health issues to how he/she interacts with other dogs. For instance, it’s common for Great Pyrenees to be gender aggressive. Therefore if an applicant has a female dog and wants a female Pyrenees, it would be irresponsible on our part to place the dog when there could be potential disasters as a result.
- We want to make sure the person can physically handle the large dogs or a special needs animal.
- We want to make sure they are committed to EVERYTHING about pet ownership. This includes medical care, training, working with behaviors, and much more. Again, it’s pointless to place a pet in a home without devotion because the pet will be returned, making all efforts futile and causing hardship on the animal.
- We want to answer all of the applicant’s questions and for them to think about things thoroughly, as well.
While organizations, including PetSmart, Petco, various adoption promoters, etc., like to focus on the NUMBER of pets adopted (and even Hill’s brand pet food uses this as a determinant on providing food to animals in rescues/shelters), the quantity is not the proper goal and demonstrates no progress or accomplishments, as far as I’m concerned. Instead, the focus needs to be on the QUALITY of the placement. You can adopt out 500 dogs in a month, but if the majority of them end up on a chain with no attention, neglected, returned to a kill shelter or even another rescue, left outside to wander off or be hit by a car, or even abused (and yes, abusers will prey on animals from shelters b/c it’s easier [not a knock against shelters b/c they do what they can] ) then what good has been done? You look successful because you’ve placed a lot of dogs, but 75% or more of them are now dead or live crap lives. That’s more of a failure.
Now in their defense, these organizations may not be educated on everything and know this happens. It’s also true that no adoption process is fool proof – returns happen…people aren’t honest with you in the adoption process, or perhaps honest with themselves, regardless of how hard you try. Sometimes they think they can do it and realize they were not realistic. Or, on occasion, something traumatic will happen, such as the passing of the adopter or a family tragedy, or the dog will be unhappy, and the dog will be returned. So yes, things do happen, but for the most part it doesn’t with a thorough adoption process, and you want to avoid it at all costs.
This brings me to a final note: Just because we explain to an inquiry or applicant that it’s not a good match does NOT mean it’s a negative comment toward the individual(s). There are perfectly good owners out there that aren’t the best option for a Great Pyrenees, or a Cattle dog, or a Pug, for example. This can be because of living situations, lifestyle, or inexperience. All sorts of things can factor in to our thoughts of “I don’t think this is the best choice for you.” So, please do not take it personally or think we’re crazy animal people. We’re only trying to be honest with you and help you find the right dog so that you don’t face problems down the road. It’s not a personal attack in the slightest. In fact, I always try to find alternatives for the applicant so that they will have an idea of what might be a good match, simply because I do not want to discourage them from their search and adopting a pet.
The conclusion? Yes, it can be an extended process and we can ask a lot of questions. You might even feel that we expect a lot of you…and that’s because we do. However, through the years we’ve learned that good pet families expect a lot of themselves and respect what we do…even thanking us for being so informative, thorough, and honest. As for us, we feel the same way about the wonderful families that have adopted our pets. You will never know how grateful we are for your commitment and love for your adopted pet. Simply put, you rock.
***REMEMBER: When you adopt a pet, you accomplish two things…you provide a family and love to a homeless pet and save the life of the next one who will take its place in rescue.