About a decade ago, long before we ever conceived of the idea of KC Pet Project, or running a shelter, or writing this blog, or me ever being much involved in the idea of advocating for animals, I had several run-ins with some of the challenges people often have in adopting from shelters or rescues.
And over the course of many of these run-ins, I had an epiphany about shelters, rescues, and how many of them were actually hurting the animals they were claiming to help, by actually preventing them from going into homes that were readily available to them.
During a fairly short amount of time:
1) My father-in law was denied from adopting. He lives in the country, and has horses. He spends most of the daylight hours outside tending to his land and horses and was looking for a dog to be his partner in his work. The dog would spend all day with him at the farm, and would sleep at night in the heated horse barn after a long day of running free. He was denied because he wanted an "outside dog".
2) Some friends of ours were asked if their last dog (a Cocker Spaniel that died at the age of 19 after a great life) was kept up-to-date on all of its shots. He said "no", and that at the advice of his vet, quit giving his elderly dog shots because as an inside dog the shots would be more harmful to the dog than the likelyhood of her getting a major disease. He was denied for not providing proper vetting to his previous pet.
3) Another friend was an avid runner. He lived in an apartment, but ran a couple of times per day and was looking for a running partner that he would give plenty of exercise to and would help make sure he stayed motivate to run every day. He was denied adoption because the rescue didn't believe a high-energy dog shouldn't live in an apartment.
4) Another friend was denied adopting because she didn't have a fenced in yard, and her upscale historic neighborhood wouldn't allow people to put up a fence.
5) Another person we met, a very successful, young professional woman, was denied from adopting because the rescue thought her job as a lawyer would be too demanding and that she wouldn't be able to have time to properly care for the dog.
6) One rescue group I volunteered with for awhile completely refused to ever do same-sex adoptions, even though nearly every foster home for this group had 3 or more dogs in the home and were able to manage those same sex dogs just fine.
You get the idea. Even as someone who was barely involved in rescue (or maybe because of that), I saw the strangeness of claims that animals were dying in shelters because no one wanted them, and then realizing that many homes that seemed like great homes (and a couple that I knew for a fact were great homes) were unable to adopt because they were getting denied adoption.
Then, a few years later, I was at the Best Friends Conference in Las Vegas, and one of the speakers was talking about the idea of open-adoptions. That speaker (and for the life of me I can't remember who it was) said something that really resonated with me. She noted that when they approach adoptions, they looked for ways to turn people into good homes, instead of trying to look for reasons why they should be denied from adoption.
Over the years, I've attended a lot of sessions and read a lot of materials about open adoptions, and the overwhelming theme is that all shelters have a diversity of animals in them, and that the needs of those animals is as diverse as the adopters that come in. So making appropriate matches is what is important.
It is also important to note people who come to your shelter to adopt have already made a decision that they want to do a good thing by adopting. If we make that an unpleasant experience, it is no good for the adopter, no good for the animal who needs a home, and no good for the concept of adopting as a whole. And if you turn an adopter away, they will still most likely get a pet from somewhere, but you are making sure that it most likely won't be from a shelter (and definitely not your shelter), and may or may not come vaccinated, altered, etc. And in the process, you are pushing people who WANT to adopt to buying dogs, which increases the demand, and revenue, for bred dogs.
Now let me clarify one more thing about how I describe "open adoptions". This doesn't mean that every person who wants to adopt a pet gets a pet. Most shelters that practice open adoptions do deny adopters who just have no business owning a pet. But those people are going to be a very small minority of the people who come to your shelter.
While many people may not know a lot about pets when they come there (that's why they came to you, YOU"RE the expert on pets, not them), they genuinely want to do the right thing (that's why they came in the first place) and with a little help are going to be pretty good pet owners.
Open adoptions means that you look for ways to get to 'Yes" instead of reasons to say no. It means educating (when necessary) instead of interogating. It means understanding that most people want to do the right thing, and want your help in doing it. It means removing blanket adoption restrictions that artificially minimize the pool of potential adopters and treating each adopter and adoption on an individual basis. It means that "no, adoption is not for you" should be a rarity.
Last year at the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Conference, Dr. Ellen Jefferson of Austin Pets Alive made a great statement -- and I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like this: "If I'm in a pond and there are a lot of animals drowning in the pond, I'm going to jump in and start giving those animals to the people who come to the shore to help me. I'm not going to ask the guy trying to help me if he has a fence or if I can do a home check first, I'm going to get him the pet and save the next one as soon as possible."
Folks, the pond is our American Shelter System. And animals are drowing in our shelters. We have the power and ability to save them, but we need to quit turning away the people who come to help us.
For a long time, I've felt like Open Adoptions were, for reasons I can't quite understand, one of the most controversial parts of the No Kill Equation. However, recently, a lot of more mainstream organizations have begun to open up to the idea and are even now promoting it.
Last month, HSUS held it's annual sheltering conference. While I've oft been critical of HSUS having to be drug into more modern thinking by other outside influences, I've heard from several people who were at the HSUS Conference this year that it was a completely different tone and feel and that it was by far the most progressive HSUS conference thus far.
One of the sessions was about open adoptions. The session included speakers from HSUS, the ASPCA and from Petsmart Charities. I think it's a very good sign for the movement to have these three major organizations pushing for more open shelter (and rescue) adoption policies. Such policies will find more animals homes, and thus, cause fewer to die in shelters.
Here's that presentation in its entirety. It's an hour long, but make sure you take the time to watch. Because it's solid. It talks about how there is no "we" and "them" -- but that We are them. It talks about "free" adoptions. Pets as gifts? What happens when policies are replaced with dialogue? There is also a lot of great research here about people in under-served communities -- only 3% of whom adopt from shelters (compared to 30% of pet owners nationally) and are open to the adoption/rescue message. This section on adopting to low-income pet owners is particularly insightful and valuable (it's the 2nd half of the presentation).
Open adoptions are what all of us (shelters and rescues) need to be doing to ensure that more animals are finding homes instead of drowning in our shelters. People want to help us. And we should let them.