This “Ask Me Anything” series is answering the questions and topics that you said you want to read about on the blog. As we move forward, please feel free to leave additional questions in the comments section of answer posts or regular posts. Today’s question has two parts, which I will be answering one after the other:
Do you think it’s better to rigorously screen all potential adopters in order to make sure that each pup is adopted into exactly the right home for him/her? Or is it more important to get as many dogs out of shelters and into homes as possible, even if a portion of them then end up getting returned?
This is a really great question. If you ask the entire animal welfare community, the opinions on how much we should screen adopters would probably be pretty split. Some people think any home is better than the shelter, and some people think you must make the absolute perfect match for your animals, not lowering your standards one bit.
In this day and age, progressive shelters (note that I say shelters, not rescues – rescues are generally a little different than shelters) are moving more towards having open conversations with adopters, rather than a “prove to me why we should give you this dog” approach. I LOVE that. Lots of shelters are doing away with the traditional “home visit” and spending more time talking with adopters and getting a feel for if the animal is a right fit or not. Many people, especially who have been in this field for a long time, do not feel comfortable with letting go of home visits. They are worried we’ll be sending pets to hoarders or dog fighters (I’m sorry I just have to roll my eyes here, but that’s for a different post). But the truth is that we can’t control every single little detail of an animal’s new home. Furthermore, we have to put some trust in our adopters that they will do what is right to help make the transition smooth and give the animal the best life possible.
I know a lot of you are shaking your head thinking, “but all the animals I have seen returned because the adopter gave up!” I agree with you. I agree that there are adopters out there who are just duds and who do not want to try their hardest to make it work with the animal. But there’s a good chance that there was an opportunity to either uncover that or work through it during the pre-adoption “counseling” session. Humans tend to be pretty transparent, and if you have an honest conversation with someone it is likely that you’ll be able to get a sense if they are interested in a particular pet for the right reasons. There will also be situations where that would happen no matter how much screening you did or did not do. It’s just life.
To answer the individual question directly: I think there should be a balance. I have lots of experience in “choosing” homes for each of my fosters. Because they were my fosters and I know them very well, I was able to tell someone right off the bat if they could possibly be the right fit or not. I had to be very careful, however, that I was not being too picky. It’s tough to do when you love your animals so, so much and you want the best for them and you think you have the best picked out in your mind – but the truth is that life is not perfect and somewhere something has to give if you don’t want to keep your foster pets forever (I see you, foster failures ;-)). None of my adopters have looked “perfect” on paper, but there’s so much more to the big picture than that. Besides, now all of their new families absolutely are perfect for them. What if I hadn’t given them that chance?
I tell them I feel their pain! I think it totally sucks when shelters or rescue groups make adopters jump through flaming hoops. I agree that there should be standards and pets should not be adopted to just anyone, but I think we are doing ourselves a huge disservice when we make it easier to buy a dog than adopt one. I sit here and preach about how people should look into breed-specific rescues, but then the rescue groups laugh in their face when they inquire about adopting because they do not meet the group’s “standards.” No, not all groups are like this. There are some really fabulous, flexible ones out there. But there are also some pretty rude, stuck up ones, which I think is a huge shame.
The bottom line is that I think it’s time we start putting a little more power in the hands of our adopters. Instead of trying to make it impossible for someone to adopt a dog, how about we pair them with a good match and then give them the resources to succeed! This is huge – I think we would have less returns if we made post-adoption help more readily available, including health advice, training resources and even just someone being available to walk them through the transition, should they need it.
Shelter workers are looking to put ourselves out of business. We are never going to do that though if we have the outlook that it is a privilege for people to adopt from us. Sending good matches out the door (note: “good” means the pair is safe for the community!) with resources should take priority over sending perfect matches out the door, in my opinion. It doesn’t take much to turn good into perfect before long anyway!