I don't know Al Hicks. I would imagine that most people who read this blog don't know Al either.
But if you've worked at a shelter or a rescue, you've met someone that in many ways resembles Al.
There was article in the Lodi (CA) News about Al. Awhile back, Al went into the Lodi Animal Shelter with his eye one a 3 year old dog at the shelter that he wanted to adopt.
Al was denied by the shelter. Al, 73, had a track record. Apparently at one point Al had a "former roommate" that had left a gate open and one of Al's dogs got loose. On a separate occassion, a dog that lived at Al's address was responsible for biting a mailman.
When Al's roomate moved 0ut, Al missed owning a dog, so decided to get a dog of his own. Because of his track record, Al was denied. After he was denied from adopting from his local shelter, he bought an 8 week old puppy for $50 from someone based on seeing a picture of the dog on a flyer.
All I know about Al Hicks is tha the is now the owner of a really cute puppy. He may be a horrible dog owner. The dogs may have really belonged to an irresponsible roommate. There may have been really good reasons why the Lodi shelter denied his adoption application. They may have been entirely out of line.
I'll never know.
But what I do know is that there are a lot of people like Al Hicks in the world. These are the people who come into a shelter to adopt a dog and for some reason or another, are denied adoption.
Maybe they have made an irresponsible decision with a dog in the past.
Maybe they gave someone a bad vibe.
Maybe they lived in the wrong neighborhood. Answered a few questions "wrong". Had an unaltered dog at home. Didn't have a fence. Had a sedentary lifestyle. Had too active a lifestyle. But for some reason, they were denied adopting a dog.
And their response was to buy a puppy.
I don't know if the Lodi shelter made the right decision to deny Al Hicks from adopting a dog. It may have been the right decision.
But what I do know is that Al's reaction was what the majority of people who are denied applications do. They buy a dog.
So I think every person who works at a shelter can learn a lot from Al Hick's story. When we fail adoptors' applications, we do not (in most cases), prevent them from getting a dog. What we do, is prevent them from ADOPTING a dog.
This was a person who came into the shelter to adopt a dog. They would give a homeless dog a home. They would adopt a dog that had been (in most cases) altered and would never produce a litter of puppies. They would adopt an animal from an organization that would get the adoption fees and would have every reason in the world to help educate him on responsible dog ownership.
But he was denied.
So now he bought a dog. Contributed to a back-yard-breeding operation and helped fund and encourage indiscriminate breeding (given that most discriminating breeders I know don't put flyers up in pet shops to sell their puppies, or sell them for $50). His dog is unaltered and may or may not ever get altered. It may or may not produce a litter, or multiple litters of puppies in the future. There will be no support structure in place to help him learn about responsible dog ownership.
Who was helped by the decision to not adopt out the 3 year old shelter dog? The only person I can think of is the person who sold a dog for $50 by posting a flyer at the pet shop.
I think we all can learn a lot from Al Hicks. I think we can see from his story that if someone comes into our shelter, if they want a dog, they will get a dog. It may be our dog. Or it may come from somewhere else. But denying a questionable application will not likely keep this person from getting a dog.
Which is why I think we need to be looking at every application as "what do I need to do to make this home work?" vs "why should I fail this application?" Even if the home is questionable, I'd rather have a dog be altered, from a rescue, and with a rescue helping educate the owner, than one bought for $50 unaltered outside of the local check-cashing place with no support system in place.
Sure, there are some applicants that you can't, under any circumstance, adopt to. But most denied applications could be made into good homes with some work. And that scenerio is far better than the alternative scenerio.
According to some research posted over at Maddie's Fund, about 23.5 million people will bring a pet into their home this year. About 1.5 million are predetermined to get their dog from a breeder (most of these dogs will be show or true working dogs - some will be solely used for pets). 5 million will be adopted from shelters. The other 17 million are 'swing voters' -- people who want a dog, but may adopt or not adopt. They are undecided.
The more of these "undecideds" we convince (or help) to adopt, the more animals we will save from our shelters. Every time we turn one of these "swing voters" to the buy category, we've hurt our cause. And if we are going to stop the killing of animals in our shelters, we can't hurt ourselves by denying a large percentage of the people that come to us to adopt.