There are as many reasons for denying pet adoptions as there are shelters and rescues. You walk into a shelter, your heart set on adopting a new family member, and, for one reason or another, your application is denied. There are a host of reasons, differing from organization to organization, why people are denied the opportunity. But there is a relatively new movement in animal rescue – open adoption – which can simplify and humanize the process.
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WHAT OPEN ADOPTION IS AND WHAT IT ISN’T
There have been numerous articles written by shelter professionals which come down decisively against open adoption. The fear is that animals who have already been rescued from a bad situation will be placed in yet another. On reading these articles, however, the problem seems to be with the definition of open adoption.
Open adoption does NOT mean that anyone who walks into a shelter will walk out with a pet. It does NOT mean that no background checks will be done. It does NOT mean that families who are struggling financially will be given the extra burden of another family member.
What is DOES mean is that many of the hard and fast rules of adoption will be scrapped in favor of an actual conversation. Owning a dog or cat should not be only for the well-to-do. Families who do not have the money to pay thousands of dollars for cancer treatment for their pets, for example, should not be denied on that alone.
And, for every one article written disagreeing with open adoption policies, there are several reliable ones that support it.
SOME REASONS FOR DENYING PET ADOPTIONS
There are as many reasons for denying pet adoption applications as there are shelters and rescues. Generally speaking, euthanizing facilities will have fewer barriers, private rescues (not shelters) will have more. Below is a sampling of reasons I’ve heard for denying a potential adopter:
TRAINING AND HOME ENVIRONMENT
- You have a doggie door. Some shelters are fine with this since it allows access to the yard for your pet. Others reject doggie doors saying that wild animals could enter the home and hurt your pet. Or there is no supervision of your dog in the yard, etc. Although this does happen, instances are rare and policy should not be made on a one in several thousand chance of something horrible happening. You can’t regulate real life.
- You don’t want to crate train. Although crate training works very well in many instances, some people don’t feel comfortable locking up a dog during working hours or at night. I don’t have a problem with crate training – I’ve seen it work very well. But I’ve never crate trained any of my dogs and haven’t had a problem. On the other hand, I know of rescues who will deny you automatically if you DO intend to crate train.
- You won’t agree to months of expensive dog training with a trainer of the shelter’s choosing. Every family has a different level of tolerance for dog obedience. Some people are just fine as long as the dog comes when called and can sit for a treat. Others want a dog who is obedient in all situations. Have a conversation about this. It’s a chance to educate an adopter, as well as a chance to understand a family better. If the family is perfectly fine with a goofy dog who has only basic obedience skills, this shouldn’t be a barrier to adoption.
- You work outside the home. Yes, this is often a reason for denying pet adoptions. While a puppy requires a lot of consistent time and attention, there are plenty of businesses out there who will provide walks and companionship a couple of times a day. As for dogs older than six months, the requirement that someone be home all or most of the time limits potential adopters to ridiculously low levels.
- You’re pregnant. There is a sound reasoning behind this one, but it doesn’t affect every adopter. “Had a baby” is a major reason for dog rehoming, and rescues want to make sure this won’t happen with your family. Attitudes and expectations can be explored with a conversation, not a blanket denial.
- You have children under six years old. I’m a firm believer in not adopting toy dogs to a home with children under six. Larger dogs, however, often do very well with the kids. If a large dog is fairly energetic, shelters worry that small ones will be knocked down during play. This is also an opportunity for a conversation. No one goes through childhood without being knocked down, or falling, or any of the other scrapes and bruises which are signs of a well-rounded youth. Parents need to understand that it’s their job to supervise play between their children and the family dog or cat and that an accident involving a dog, (without aggression, of course) is a normal part of life. If they do, there is no reason not to allow small children the health and emotional benefits of having a pet.
I believe that many shelters and rescues need to do a better job of evaluating prospective adopters, but there ARE certain reasons for denying pet adoptions which are non-negotiable.
- Landlord okay. Getting a pet can be an exciting time – so exciting that certain practicalities are forgotten. It is very sad to see a pet brought back to the shelter because there is a no pet clause in the lease. Shelters and rescues need to be diligent in checking with the landlord, before adopting a pet out.
- Homeowner’s insurance. I have rarely seen this addressed in adoption questionnaires or interviews. But it’s important. Certain breeds of dog will cause some insurance companies to increase your premiums. Some insurance companies may refuse to insure you altogether. Shelters should be aware of this and encourage adopters to do their research BEFORE taking their new dog home.
- Veterinary records. Veterinary records should be checked on each and every applicant. Rabies, distemper, leptospirosis, parvo vaccinations are all extremely important. If the adopter has not had their previous pets given these shots, there is no reason to believe they will do so with their new ones. Still, shelters need to ask a few more questions rather than the standard “have they had these shots?”. Some dogs are allergic to one or more, some elderly dogs with medical issues have a veterinarian’s dispensation from getting all shots. (Be aware, however, that rabies shots are ALWAYS mandatory). If an adopter’s current pet is missing one or more of the vital vaccinations, find out why.
- Personal references. These are somewhat problematic, especially if they are from family members. However, in today’s busy world, there may not be many people who are not related to an adopter who have seen a person’s relationship with their pet. Questions need to be added to any interview with references about basic character.
- Past history with pets. If a potential adopter has rehomed several pets in the past, this is a big red flag. At best, there is no understanding of animal behaviors, at worst a sign of “dog flipping”.
“DON’T LET THE PERFECT BECOME THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD”
There is no such thing as a perfect home – not for humans or animals. But there are many different ways to be a good home. “One size fits all” doesn’t apply to pets or to people. Get to know your adopters, and, more importantly, remain available to them even after the adoption if they need help. Statistics have shown that these techniques do not result in more returns than standard application methods.
LOOKING FOR REASONS TO SAY “YES”
The main goal of the open adoption movement is to look for reasons to say “yes”, rather than using a checklist to find a reason to say “no”. Talking to adopters makes them feel comfortable, and offers the rescue world with real opportunity to provide coaching and education. The more animals which are successfully adopted, the fewer who are euthanized. And isn’t that what animal rescue is all about?
ADVICE FOR POTENTIAL ADOPTERS
- Don’t take a belligerent attitude. You know from personal experience that, if someone comes on strong with you, your instinct is to dig in your heels. Shelter and rescue people are human, too, and they will automatically have the same response.
- Be willing to bend a little. If you’ve never had your dogs vaccinated against bordetella because you never board them, but that’s a requirement of the shelter, have it done.
- Do some research on the rescue before you go. Read the Facebook reviews (throw out the one stars and the five stars, and you’ll get a pretty good understanding of the organization). Read the shelter’s website in detail. The website will be more informative than the Facebook page, since shelter’s use social media mostly to promote their adoptable animals and for fundraising. If there’s something in the adoption requirements which you can’t live with, turn to another rescue.
- Know the adoption fees before you go in. Shelters won’t negotiate. Fees will be higher depending on how thoroughly the pet has been vetted, whether the rescue takes in mostly hard-to-adopt animals, and whether the facility is euthanizing or non-euthanizing. Purebred rescue will be even higher. Make sure the adoption fee (some rescues call this a “donation”, but it’s required, so it’s actually a “fee”) is something you can afford and are willing to pay.
- If you aren’t getting anywhere with a conversation, thank the rescue staff and move on. If you’re a diligent pet parent, have made sure your pets are taken to the veterinarian on regular occasions, keep them inside as a member of the family, and don’t breed your animals, there is a pet for you somewhere. Just keep looking!