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June 09, 2009



Not sure I entirely agree with this (although I do agree we shouldn't be excessively "picky" about homes). Some people will cope well with a puppy who grows up and bonds with them but aren't capable of handling an adult dog with existing "issues".

We should try to support borderline adopters, but you can end up in an awful mess if you promise more help than you can actually give - for example if you have adopters who expect you to go round to help with giving pills, clipping nails etc.


Seems to me, all it would take is some investigation into the citations he received and checking some references. Maybe an hour total worth of phone work. That doesn't seem like too much to ask.

Brent Toellner


I'm not saying we should over-promise our support -- and certainly basic health care needs is more than any rescue should be expected to deliver. But I'm still fascinated by the number of rescue groups that still have blanket fence requirements and things that are arbitrarily keeping them from placing dogs in homes....and driving these could-be adopters to other sources for their animals.


This is a tough one- I agree that many MANY people who get denied from shelter/rescue will buy dogs. But that is not necessarily a reason to adopt to a questionable adopter. I'm sure I don't have enough info to decide that "Al" is a questionable adopter, but I do know that when doing adoptions, I'm in the business of finding a lifetime home for an animal that's already been bounced out of at least one. I can do my very best at screening depending on what kind of shelter I work at (I've worked at the poshest and the poorest), and hope for the best. But to place one of my animals into a home that I don't feel meets my basic criteria for that particular organization fails the animal. I can take responsibility for the future animal it *might* fail if "Al" decides to go out and buy a dog, but the pressing responsibility is to the animal at hand.

I always do my best to try and give people the benefit of the doubt- to work with them, see how a 3 year old dog might fit, how they might prevent past mistakes. But at my current facility in a broke-ass city, there is no way I can spend an hour counseling a potential adopter that doesn't meet our basic criteria. If they're not going to comply, they're not going to comply. I believe people can change and do better by their animals, but I have to make sure that the animals in my care get to the homes that are really going to do that.


What people seem to be missing is that for every day and animal sits in a shelter cage - another animal out there is being killed. It might not be an animal in your shelter but you are contributing to the death of one in another. DEATH fails the animal!

And you know what, why is this "forever home" business the ultimate goal? That is preferrable yes...but let's say the dog gets a few more years to live and then comes back again - FIND IT ANOTHER HOME! That is better than it being dead!

Mary Giuffrida

Our Shelter has recently changed our adoption policy and we are much more open to working with adopters. I have had many adopters who have had a family member leave the gate open and their dog got killed. I don't feel this is a reason not to adopt to them. On the other hand, as a humane society, we are the advocates for these dogs and if we don't feel an adopter is appropriate (i.e., they are going to leave the dog in the back yard all day or refuse to take obedience classes) we can deny their application. What we do is, refer them to a city shelter, since their adoption policies tend to be even more open than ours.


Oh, thank you for this. This is something that's been stuck in my craw for a while now.

Not long ago, I saw a shelter worker bragging about rejecting a potential cat adopter because the woman had said, on her questionnaire, that she'd get the cat declawed. When told that she was being rejected for that, the woman said she thought cats were supposed to be declawed. She was trying to do the right thing, but she just didn't know what the right thing was in that case. Just from the shelter worker's own account, the woman sounded like a great pet owner. All they would have to do was educate her a little.

And it's worse with dogs. I don't have trouble adopting, because I'm a middle aged suburbanite with my own home with yard with a six foot fence. I take great care of my dog. But so did the young Hispanic couple I knew, who lived in an apartment and exercised their APBT, Nitro, with walks and hikes and trips to the dog park and group obedience classes. They loved their dog just like I love mine, and truth be told, that dog got more exercise and socialization than mine. He was certainly better off than most of the middle-class suburban dogs around here, who live in securely fenced backyards and never get to explore or socialize.

But our overcrowded local municipal shelter would turn that couple down for living in an apartment. They might also turn them down for being young, and maybe even for being brown. Or maybe for having a pit bull named Nitro.

This particular shelter is full of bully breeds, some who've been there for many months, if not years. But you not only have to pass the written test and the interview, but you also have to have a home visit to check your fence before you can adopt a 'pit bull' (which is totally arbitrary--apparently they shell out for breed reassignment surgery, as I've seen dogs that used to be pit bulls turn into Lab mixes at that shelter).

But any shelter dog would be lucky to go home with Nitro's family or one of the many other families like them out there.


I completely agree with this post- our shelter emphasizes Education rather than Restriction. We are also not judges of the type of home an animal will be going to. Who's to say that every animal needs a perfect home? Why isn't a good home ok? Or how about an adequate home? Who am i to judge how much an animal is loved based on the lifestyle of their owner? And if the animal comes back, it's not a failed adoption, it's an opportunity to rehome a dog, and it's now a customer that has used two of our service (adoption and surrender). The next time i'm going to help them find a more appropriate match, and they'll be more likely to use our other services such as training classes, or recommend us to their friends, or leave us a bequest in their will. Every customer is a potential adopter, volunteer, and donor. And word of mouth is how we do business.

Brent Toellner

I'm so glad to hear that it sounds like many shelters are adjusting their policies. We have many here with blanket fencing requirements...even though one of the largest growth areas in the city is young professionals and empty nesters moving into new downtown condos. Many want dogs and are frequently denied.

Themacanator, I don't understand the idea of not spending an hour with someone who wants to adopt a dog that doesn't meet your criteria. Within 2 days, you'll have lost that hour back, caring for that dog, feeding it, and cleaning up after it. That hour working with a potential adoptor would have been time very well spent IMO.

One other thing that bugs me is the people who screen because they 'want to be sure it's a home where I won't get the animal back'. While I 'get' this argument, sort of, the numbers don't add up. If selective shelter adopts out 10 dogs to the "best" owners, let's say they do a good job of screening, and 9 stay in homes and only 1 comes back. They would call this a huge success. However, if a separate shelter took more chances, and let's say they adopted out 20 animals in the same time period because they didn't deny as many applications. And because they didn't screen as heavily, they saw 6 of the animals come back. At the end of the day, they still placed 5 more dogs in homes in the same time period -- a 55% increase in dogs in homes over the first shelter.

Yes, certainly we don't want to send a dog off to a potentially abusive situation. But I just hear way too many stories about people being denied dogs for rather frivolous reasons, and it makes me cringe. Because these people are going to get a dog -- you just made sure it wasn't going to be a shelter dog. And that's too bad.


hey brent,

"Themacanator, I don't understand the idea of not spending an hour with someone who wants to adopt a dog that doesn't meet your criteria. Within 2 days, you'll have lost that hour back, caring for that dog, feeding it, and cleaning up after it. That hour working with a potential adoptor would have been time very well spent IMO."

i think maybe you haven't worked in a busy animal control facility that also does adoptions? mary knows where i work (hi mary!) and knows that we're often juggling more than 18 things at once. i have worked at a facility where i literally spent 2 months with one family and one dog- i would love the option to do that now. but i'll just give you an example of yesterday at the counter- in the first 30 minutes, i was attempting to process 9 cats, 3 dogs, and a turtle- all coming in as surrenders and strays, as well as issue 2 licenses and work with two different people on different parts of the adoption process. that was just me. my coworker (the only other person at the counter) was doing other things. i only have two hadns and one mouth- i'm a great multitasker, but i *don't* have an hour to do adoption counselling. i wish i did. our volunteers are invaluable, but we had a grand total of one in the shelter yesterday, and she was doing triage at the front desk with us. thank dawg. i'm all for education, all the time. but we're talking luxury when we get to an hour, or turning some adopters into "yes" adopters.

in terms of the question of lifetime placement, tha'ts a great question- i think i'm thinking more lowest common denominator at this point- i don't want to get a call out to a house for ANY complaint (i also work the field) and find out it's a house that i adopted to. that is heart breaking. my animals came from these situations, i dont' want them to go back there. and should the home be forever? well, yeah, i hope so. why shouldn't we wish that for them? that, to me, is the end goal, whether the ends justify the means, is a separate question.

as a side note, the animal in a cage for another day=dead animal equation bugs me. that's just not how it works, mathematically, unless someone can prove to me otherwise.


The math is easy. No empty cages + 2 animals thru the door = Time to clean out a couple cages.

No empty cages - 2 adoptions + 2 animals thru the door = 2 saved animals.

"i.e., they are going to leave the dog in the back yard all day or refuse to take obedience classes" - WOW, 90% of the people that work in rescue don't take their dogs to obedience class. And those same people leave their dogs in a crate all day.


Lodi is heralded for its track record with adoption success by Maddie's Fund.'s%20Pet%20Rescue%20in%20Lodi

This guy's red flags were worth noting. Multiple citations? C'mon. Anytime we decline a home, we may be sending them to a breeder. But that doesn't mean we should pass out dogs to everyone in hopes that it works out.

One of our reps just declined a home that raised some concerns - His problem? He was too perfect. Turns out that he is a registered pedophile and there was some indication that he used his former bull breed to lure children to his home.

We are obligated to give our animals our best, and that includes following our gut when something feels off base with a home. Maybe Al Hicks would be a fine home for a pit bull - but Lodi had every reason to believe there were unresolved containment issues at that home, and containment issues are bad news for dogs - pit bulls especially. I have to commend them for their proven track record with adoptions as well as their concern in this situation.

Brent Toellner


Again, I don't know the situation in Lodi -- and they may very well have made the right decision. I thought I'd made that very clear.

My only point here was that every time a shelter denies an application, there is a very good likelihood that that person will still get a dog...just not our dog.

Yes, there are still always going to be pedifiles, dog abusers, completely neglegent owners, etc that no responsible shelter would adopt to.

That's fine.

But you've done this long enough to know that there are a lot of other reasons rescues deny applications that are far more strict than don't be a pedifile.

Fencing requirements
Not having another dog of the same gender it he home
Not having a child in the home
Having an unaltered dog at home

to a bit tougher ones like:
Had a dog get loose once and hit by a car

I could find a dozen rescue groups in about 10 minutes who don't allow same sex placements -- even though the majority of their volunteers and fosters have multiple dogs of the same gender living under the same roof. And another dozen in another 10 minutes that have fencing requirements even though they are in urban areas with a lot of people who live in condos or apartments and cannot possibly have a fence.

Each time any of those people is denied, we are likely sending them off to a breeder to get the dog.

This wasn't a post about condemming Lodi.I don't have nearly enough information on them or Al Hicks to know if they made the right decision -- it was merely acknowledging that most times when we deny an adopter, they will still end up with a dog. Just not our dog.

And we have a lot of foolish reasons why people are failing adopters going on out there.


hey michelleD- i guess i have had the fortune never to work in a shelter like that. and i've worked in gritty shelters. there are always tough decisions to make, but never "oh, a dog didnt' get adopted, we have to euth to make space for the 10 coming in the door." it's not that black and white.


theMac - I get URGENT pleas every day from people saying "we are beyond full and can't take this dog - please help!" Some are from rescues some are from shelters...many shelter simply clean out when the time is up - that dog doesn't go home with someone it dies. The shelter in Lee's Summit would keep 1/2 the cages empty so they'd be easier to clean - I don't know if that is still policy with the new shelter but it was at the old.

Do you work at a no kill open admission shelter? You are never forced to "make space" or kill when a dogs time is up? Not being accusatory of anything (tone lost in typed words ;-) but that's just not the way it is in KC and a lot of places...if there is no place for an animal to go it ends up dead.

We need to remember that people that are trying to adopt have already given us reason to believe they want to do the right thing. Who would put up with all this bullshit when you can find a $50 (often free) dog on every other street corner? If Al Hicks is as irresponsible as we believe he may be we'll be seeing his dog and the subsequent litter of puppies in another year. Plus at his age the dog very well might outlive him. It would be really interesting to see a follow up story in a year.

And this isn't about the Lodi shelter - this is a common and TOUGH situation that ALL shelters/rescues have to deal with. There is nothing wrong with discussion or dissent - it helps us all do our jobs as animal welfare advocates BETTER!


I should have said: "And this isn't about the Lodi shelter - ITS ABOUT SAVING ANIMALS LIVES!" :-)


michelle- i don't work at "no kill open admission shelter" at all. i don't know that "no kill" exists, and i definitely haven't heard of a "no kill open admission" shelter. i do know that shelters like you talk about exist, but i don't work where we have to euthanise to create space in such a black and white sense. we do have criteria for what "adoptability" means, and in that sense we create space by limiting what goes up for adoption. sometimes, when space is tight, the more borderline choices become a little more pressing. in my experience, this is when those "urgent" emails get sent out, and sometimes i think teh wording on those emails is a little hyperbolic. however, it's not accurate to say that "we're full, animals are going to die" in such a 1+1 way (in any shelter i've worked at). it's we're full, we can't be so generous with an animal who maybe is underage, senior, has behavior issues, etc. in many cases, these animals would probably be better suited in rescue groups with more resources than an open door shelter anyway.

when you say "a dog's time is up" what do you mean? do you mean his disposition date? or do you have in mind some official "length of stay" taht a shelter has designated?


This is very timely post. The humane shelter in my city is experiencing some major problems not least among them being how potential adopters are treated: yelled at, publicly humiliated, kicked out - much of it done by the guy who runs the place. His behaviour is atrocious not only in just how disrespectful he is to the public, turning many off the shelter experience forever, but also in how it helps feed the illicit breeders and puppy millers. There are no numbers, but anecdotally, many people have said they go straight from the shelter, where they are denied even a look at the caged dogs because of some perceived infraction (wrong collar type on their own dog, for example), to the pet store.

Yeah, I realize this is an extreme case, whereas you guys are debating more nuanced adoption criteria, but it's an example of how, I think, even the most stringent of rescues and shelters don't want to be treating their potential adopters.

Brent Toellner


There are quite a few shelters now that have gotten themselves to be no-kill, open admission shelters. It wasn't easy for them -- and came only with a lot of hard work, but they have made it happen. For some good reading on how one community did it in Reno Nevada, I recommend you read this:

The 1+1 scenerio sounds like it very much takes place in your shelter. If you are "full", and you "can't be so generous with an animal who is underage, senior, has behavior issus, etc" -- you are making the decision that you are "full", so an animal, most likely one that is harder to adopt, has to be killed to make room for the next one.

That's not at all unusual for a typical shelter. If you are "too busy because of all the animals" to spend an hour with a potential adopter, then there is a problem. And if you are denying adopters, and yet killing animals, then you are making the decision that death is a better proposition for one animal than living with the adopter that you denied is for another.

And sometimes it is. But not usually. Regardless of whether it only applies to the elderly , behaviorally challenged dogs, or on a true 1 in 1 out basis.


I think we're playing a game of symantics here. Killing an animal that is not suffering or vicious is black and white.


To clarify...Killing an animal that is not suffering or vicious versus it being allowed to live is black and white.

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