A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about open adoption policies and that I was pleased that other mainstream organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, Petsmart Charities, and the ASPCA, were becoming more accepting of open adoption policies. If you are not terribly familiar with what I mean by "open adoptions", please read the link above, it will give you an idea.
Now, to be clear, this doesn't mean that the adoption process is a free-for-all and everyone gets a pet. There are questions asked and a communication had. However, the process is more of a conversation than an interrogation, and the desired result is to try to educate along the way in the hopes that we can build to a "yes" vs a "no" on the adoption.
It doesn't work for all adopters of course, and sometimes it's best to say "no", but for the most part, most people who come to your shelter (or rescue) will be quality people, who want to do right by their pet, and will be a more than adequate home for the adopted pet. However, many of these potential adopters are not already experts in pet care. You are. And they may need and even want your help in doing better by their pet. Give them the advice and help. Don't punish them (by denying adoption) for not know the "right" answers.
Then, last week, Best Friends Animal Society wrote a blog entitled "scaring people away from rescue adoptions" in which they talked about a reporter who's editors were wanting him to do a story about "those kooky, nutty rescue folks. Why do they give yuppies such a hard time during the adoption process?"
Like it or not, the overly harsh criteria put out by many rescues and shelters has become a popular narrative in America -- and it's hurting all of us.
The comments onthe Best Friends blog post (and on their Facebook page) showed a varied spectrum.
On one hand, there were people who complained aobut the reasons they were denied from adopting, which include some amazing stories like:
-- A couple in their mid-60s who were not allowed to adopt because they were "too old" even though they go hiking daily with their other dog.
-- A person who was denied because she had a job, and wouldn't be able to spend enough time with the pet (I also suspect that she would have been denied for NOT having a job, and not being able to afford the pet).
-- Another who was a teacher and the rescue denied her because they didn't think she could afford a pet on a teacher's salary (the average teacher's salary in the US is $56,000 which is above the national average for income).
-- One person was denied because the rescue called her veterinarian reference who noted that she had not been in to see the vet in a couple of years -- which was true, as her pet had died a couple of years earlier and she had failed to inform her vet of her pet's death.
-- One person was denied because they had a doggie door, and by a different resue because they chose to prepare their own cooked meals for their pets vs using commercial food.
-- Another posted told a story of a shelter that wouldn't let her 12 year old son pet a cat because they didn't want him to get too attached to it in case they didn't pass the screening process.
-- And many people who were denied because the did not have a fenced yard even though they wanted a dog to go on daily walks with them.
You get the idea. There was a lot of frustration shared by a lot of people who not only cared enough to want to adopt a pet, also care enough to keep up on animal welfare news from Best Friends.
Meanwhile, there were a vocal few people that were staunchly hanging on to old ideas about heavy adoption requirements, home checks, landlord checks, etc.
There were two main reasons people seemed to think all of the requirements were a good idea:
1) Because it helps ensure that pets don't get returned
While it's true, that the best way to keep a pet from being returned to the shelter is to never adopt it out in the first place, it is also the surest way to be sure it never finds a home.
We've been doing open adoptions at KC Pet Project for nearly 3 years and our return rate is around 6% of adoptions, which is very, very good. While returns are always disappointing, it is impossible for anyone to know everything that will happen in the future. It's a sad reality that people lose jobs, lose homes, lose loved ones, etc, and are no longer able to care for them. This can happen to anyone, regardless of how hard you screen people. Meanwhile, it is no reason to keep a pet out of a home because you fear it may not be there forever. While it's regrettable, the pet at the shelter is already on its (at least) second home, and will have the same ability to adjust if he has to move to a third. Fear of a pet losing it's home is no reason to prevent it from ever getting one.
2) Fear of abuse/neglect
I do get people's concerns about abuse & neglect -- and this is exactly what simple screening standards should be designed to prevent and why some people should get denied from adoption. And (almost) no one is saying that people shouldn't weed out some people based on those concerns.
But just because someone doesn't have a fence, or has a doggie door, or lives in a particular neighborhood, has a job, or doesn't have a job or can't afford the worst case scenerio of what might happen -- doesn't make them an abuser. We have to use common sense for this.
Meanwhile, there is also a certain reality: we cannot predict the future, and thus, we cannot remove all risk. No matter what you do, there may still be a case that turns out less than ideal. But isolated cases should not be the rationale for blanket policies.
Because here's the other reality: While the American shelter system is killing 4 million healthy dogs and cats every year, the single most dangerous place for a pet to be is in a shelter. If you're a rescue, that counts your dogs too, because each adoption you do frees up space for another dog to be pulled from the shelter.
Processing adoptions isn't an exact science. Sometimes it's hard. But there are a lot of good homes out there. There are a lot of people who want to help our organizations. We just need to be sure we're not denying them the opportunity to help: to adopt our pets (vs sending them somewhere else). And we need to be sure we are not denying this pet from a loving home because of policies put in place to protect against the 1 in 1,000,0000 scenario.
We need to change the narrative. We need the narrative to be about how great it is to adopt pets and how shelters work with people to help make that happen and to save lives. We don't want it to be that rescues and shelters are hard to work with, they're impossible to adopt from, etc. That reputation and narrative hurts all of us.