Ask Me Anything Answers: Adoption Standards

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.

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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?

Adopted1What do you say to people outside the animal rescue community who complain that it’s too difficult or the requirements are too strict to adopt a dog, so they think it’s better just to buy instead?

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.

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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!


Why I <3 Instagram

I love social media. Ask my boyfriend (who happens to absolutely hate it) how much I Facebook, Tweet and Instagram, and he will say way too much. Having a smart phone means we are instantly connected to all these social media platforms and between my job and this blog, I have real reasons to be on each of them. Sure, I probably use them in excess like most other twenty-somethings who grew up with all of these sites, but I also know that they can hold serious value for helping the missions of non-profits and advocacy groups (and even for-profits).

My latest and possibly favorite social media find – and by latest I mean about a year ago – is Instagram (follow me! @julianajean). Instagram is similar to Twitter, except in photo form. You upload photos and can use filters to enhance them, and then you share them with whoever follows you. Most of my photos are of my fosters, and you see a lot of them because they end up on this blog. Similar to Twitter, you use a “hashtag” to tag your photos using different subjects. My most often used hashtags are probably #fosterdog, #pitbull, #socute, #silly, #adoptable, and #lovebug. If you click on a photo’s hashtag, it brings you to all the other photos on Instagram that have been tagged with the same phrase. My favorite is clicking on the #pitbull tag – talk about examples of every day dogs and every day people! I love it! (More gushing about that on a later post.)

As an amateur photographer, it’s pretty clear why Instagram and I are a good fit. Instagram can instantly make photos taken on your phone into something better, something more creative. One of my favorite parts of photography is composition (even though it might not seem that way on this blog, ha), and I’ve learned to love that all of Instagram’s photos require a clean, square crop. I also love post-processing, and Instagram gives you a quick and easy option to apply image enhancing filters.

Working at a shelter, I often need a quick photo of an animal for a variety of reasons, including to put on our social media sites, to send out to rescue groups or to document for future marketing. Instagram makes it so that the photos I take of shelter animals on my phone are actually presentable, and much more eye catching. Here are a few “before and after” shots of different animals that I’ve done through Instagram (the afters are the square cropped ones).

Pictured below is Pooh Bear. She was given up at fifteen years old (don’t get me started). As you can imagine, a fifteen year old dog can be very difficult to locate a foster or forever home for. Often times an adopter is found after rescuers share a dog in need’s photo far and wide, so the photos needed to be attention grabbing. I am happy to report that Pooh Bear is heading to her forever home this weekend thanks to LOTS of networking!

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Cropping, an element of composition, is something I try to be very aware of and use to my advantage. I do my best to cut out as many unnecessary background images as possible without chopping off key parts of an animal. In the photos of Pooh Bear I cropped out my coworkers legs and made sure to still keep Pooh’s paws in the frame.

My next before and after subject is an adorable Miniature Pinscher that was given up to us (ding ding ding, purebred alert!). My coworker wanted to send her out to rescue groups, and needed a decent photo. I again used cropping and filters to make the photo a little nicer than just an out-of-camera shot. She’s pretty adorable to begin with, so it wasn’t too difficult.

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Last but not least is this cutie patootie named Priscilla who has the best underbite I’ve ever seen. She’s got some pretty serious skin issues that we’re in the process of clearing up, and that unfortunately prevent her from photographing well. Nothing a little backdrop improvising can’t help! This is another tip for low-quality photos, especially of adoptable animals: try to control your background. Instagram helps with this because you can blur out the background, but choosing a solid backdrop over a cage or cluttered background can really make a difference. For Priscilla we grabbed a few towels and a Santa pillow, and voila – an adorable makeshift photo session!

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All three of these dogs have been spoken for by rescue groups for either a foster or forever home (yay!). I’m definitely not saying it’s because of the pictures, but we all know what a difference a good photo can make. Because I can’t bring my big camera in every day and take the time editing camera-quality photos, Instagram is the perfect solution. And even when I’m not photographing shelter animals, my Instagram feed is a really fun peek into the lives of some of my blog friends!