AUTHOR’S NOTE: I do my very best to write in such a way that’s inclusive and objective no matter what my opinion on the matter. And I do what I can to separate my biases and frustrations from the information I bring to this website. To date, this was easily the hardest article for me to write because of my experience as an adoption counselor and my current experience looking to bring home another dog.
I had the opportunity to work at an amazingly successful shelter. The community appreciated our services, as evidenced by their endless support. People came from all over to adopt our very well cared for animals. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the shelter workers and volunteers, our facilities were pristine and not a single animal went without love and eventually a loving family.
We worked hard to build relationships with each adoptive family by chatting with them about what they were looking for in a pet. From our conversations, we the adoption counselors would fill out their applications for them. We’d give each family room to breath while they met with our animals and were happy to answer questions based on both their intake forms and our own experiences.
The only adopters we turned down didn’t meet our one non-negotiable. That was no “yard dogs,” because all our animals deserved a place in their homes. For all other specifications, like landlord and family approval, we took adopters at their word. That kind of trust is still what makes Greenville Humane Society an amazing place to adopt from and is why they’re a cornerstone of the Greenville community. My bar is high, but it’s not insurmountable.
Practices That Drive Away Adopters
Our family has been looking to bring home another dog for some time now. After bringing home a dog that just didn’t fit in with our family we have been pretty gun-shy and have adopted an even more patient outlook on adding to the family.
In working with different shelters and rescue groups, I‘ve noticed a lot of distrust in the adoption process. Some of the questions that make up the long applications seemed to be rooted in not being able to take the applicant at their word. I started to wonder if I was feeling defensive because of some personal issue, or if the requirements and questions were just plain intrusive. In order to not make a snap judgment, I dug deeper into the issue. I found that the ASPCA actively tries to encourage more trusting adoption processes. I’ve made a list of things I’ve found offensive in our search and I’m relieved to know that the ASPCA agrees with me on many of them.
I know that on the surface this seems like a no-brainer. You either have permission to have the animal or you don’t. While that can be the case for some renters, it isn’t always set in stone. By requiring a landlord check, rescues give applicants the sense that they don’t trust them. Potential adopters might be turned off to working with this shelter in the future if they feel they can’t be taken for their word. This study found that adoptions were no less successful after this requirement was lifted.
Proof of Veterinary Care
Veterinary care is an important part of being a pet owner, but the vetting of previous pets doesn’t tell a rescue much about the vetting of future pets. The adoption process should be looked at as a way to educate adopters about the importance of the various vaccines and regular check-ups. Most importantly, the love and friendship of a dog or cat aren’t just for people who can afford vet premiums. The cost of veterinary care is on the rise. With exam fees costing $55 or more and sky-high markups on routine vaccinations and tests, it’s no wonder why people struggle to bring their pets in for annual wellness visits. Rescues should promote organizations that offer low-cost vaccinations and low-cost clinics as alternatives to people who may have struggled in the past.
Requiring Dog-Dog Introductions
I understand why some people do this (strictly on paper), but in practice, it doesn’t give an accurate picture. It’s stressful to both the owner and all dogs involved and gives no picture of how accepting they’ll be of each other when you welcome the new dog home. A better way for shelters and rescues to handle this is to inform the adopters of the best ways to introduce the new animal to their existing pets. The same study I referenced earlier showed no change in adoption success when this requirement was lifted.
Requiring the Entire Family
It’s become commonplace for the entire household to have to be present for an adoption. Like the landlord issue, it is another requirement that instills a sense of distrust between the rescue and the adopter. For many families, this can be nearly impossible without taking time off work. This kind of requirement doesn’t help build a positive and lasting relationship.
Requiring a Fenced Yard
Do you know anyone that has a dog that doesn’t have a fence? I do. They take long walks and frequent the dog park a lot more than we do! To keep someone from adopting a certain dog because they lack their own outdoor space limits the number of people who can adopt, especially adopters living in cities. Having a fence doesn’t make owners any better or worse at owning and caring for their dog. Fences are thought to provide a safe place to do business and play, but dogs can easily go under or over them. Rescues also like fences because they keep owners from tethering their dogs, but this still leaves the dog in the undesirable situation of being a “yard dog”.
Age Restrictions on Family Members
How many profiles of adoptable animals have you read that have age restrictions on the family they go home to? More than half of the profiles I’ve sifted through weeds out many families before they even get to meet the pet. It doesn’t matter how much experience the family has, the application is dismissed. Age restrictions drastically limit the pool of potential adopters for many pets and end up keep animals in the shelter longer. Longer shelter stays are known to exacerbate behavior problems, furthering the idea that age restrictions are needed. This one really is a vicious cycle. Open conversations with families about the training needs for both the pet and children are a way to highlight responsible care and send pets to loving homes.
Long Winded Applications and Processing Times
Applications are getting longer and longer. These long applications end up replacing conversation time with potential adopters and don’t necessarily get honest answers. The questions that make up a five-page application can get in the weeds and can feel intrusive on the adopter’s privacy. Asking the same questions in a conversational way can have much better results than handing someone a clipboard full of paper. Asking the right questions is more important than asking a lot of them.
A five-page application can be difficult to process, so it’s no wonder that the processing time for many rescues can exceed 3 (business) days! This delay increases the time animals spend in shelters which adds to their emotional distress, behavior problems, and potential for infection. Reducing the time these animals spend in the shelter should be a priority. These kinds of processing times can limit the adoption pool of their animals by inadvertently sending adopters elsewhere.
Apply Before Asking
This one kills me! Many rescues require that you apply before they’ll answer any questions about the animals. As I just mentioned, those applications can take you upwards of an hour to complete and days to hear back about! Many questions potential adopters have will be the deciding factors of whether or not they pursue adopting the animal! By requiring an application just to answer those questions, rescues lose out on good homes that don’t have time for all that paperwork or just want a bit of entry-level information about the animal.
Outrageous Adoption Fees
When we adopted Gremlin his adoption fee was $95. The shelter I worked for had an adult fee of $50 (now lowered to $25) and a puppy fee of $95 (now increased to $125). During my search, I saw adoption fees as high as $600! The average, though lower, was still very high at around $300! These kinds of fees limit adoption to people in certain socioeconomic classes and that just isn’t right.
I know private rescues have a hard time getting low-cost veterinary care for their animals which can account for such expensive fees, but I’ve seen similarly high fees at local shelters. I know the idea is if adopters can’t afford the adoption fee they likely won’t be able to afford the proper care of the animal, but an inability/desire to pay a large adoption fee isn’t an indicator of a person’s ability to provide proper vet care. Instead of turning people away with high fees, this is a way to teach people about proper and affordable care.
When people look to adopt, they’re already making a good decision. Rescue organizations and shelters should applaud this decision and do everything they can to work with adopters to help them bring home a new family member. These kinds of restrictions can push potential adopters into becoming buyers and that’s something we should all want to avoid.
Adopters don’t all look the same and we don’t all come from the same background. We are all individuals and we’re all looking to love someone. These policies only serve to harshly question that love. Shelters should look to form lasting relationships with adopters through outreach, education, and respect. These policies and restrictions are negatively impacting adoption.