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« Winograd Interviews and more No Kill News | Main | "Boom-dog" finds his forever home »

June 01, 2010


Jennie Bailey

I'm confused. Both systems are exactly the same. Seriously. I've been at shelters that do both and it's the SAME system, just laid out differently. Had that 4 month old been at the shelter that matches by color codes, the older woman would never have seen the 4 month old puppy because it wouldn't have matched her sheet. Thus, she would only have been shown dogs that didn't require her relatives to walk them and were of an appropriate for her (that's how the color matching works). Either way, she wouldn't have left with a puppy. While I admit the second way is better because it keeps the public from falling in love with a dog that fit their lifestyle because they're aren't allowed to see every single dog, it's essentially the same system - finding the right match for the right home. It's simply done differently. The second way seems more effective because there aren't any hurt feelings and it's easier to educate someone without insulting them. As someone whose 75 year old aunt was just allowed to walk out of a shelter with an energetic puppy after claiming the rest of us would surely walk this dog for her, she returned him last week. None of us live close enough to go over everyday and we have children and pets of our own. Based on my experience, if I worked at the first shelter, I would not have even shown that woman the puppy. If I worked at the shelter, she wouldn't have seen the puppy because it wouldn't have matched her to it (and they aren't shown dogs that don't match their dot system - that's the way the system is designed, walk them quickly past any dog that doesn't match their color). I don't blame the first shelter for denying the woman. Who wants a year old staffie back with NO training? Much harder to rehome that dog than get the puppy in the correct home. The mistake was even showing her the puppy to begin with. While I admit there are some exceptions and you really need to do the adoptions individually (have guidelines not set in stone rules - for example, APBTs aren't good first time pets but they were first pet MY family ever owned and a lot of families do them successfully for the first time), I also think you need to make a good match and not just try to throw dogs into homes so your numbers look good. I just quit volunteering at a private shelter that has been doing that and then euthanizing the dogs when they come back (while lecturing the volunteers that they are NOT to question the staff about the dogs walking back in the door but not appearing in the kennel runs) so they can still claim that they are "no kill." I can't say whether the first shelter was right or wrong because I wasn't there to actually meet the woman. If they had simply turned her away and denied her any dog, I would have had an issue with their handling of the situation. However, they did try to offer her other dogs that were more suited to her lifestyle. They would have the exact same results if they switched to the second system - the lady still wouldn't have the puppy but she would not have ever seen the puppy in the first place and this wouldn't be an issue. Same system, different approach. Just my two cents having worked at shelters that utilize both systems.

H Houlahan

I don't think it's unreasonable to decline an application for a high-energy bully-breed puppy that comes from someone:

* With no bull-breed experience
* Who has not raised a puppy in 15 years
* Who is in her 70's
* Who is not physically powerful, and will not become more physically powerful

As well, there may be many other factors that bear on this lady's capacity to meet the needs of that specific puppy that the shelter declined to air in public.

This is what applications and screening are all about.

The shelter has an obligation to the dog and the community to ensure that the placement will be a good one.

Imagine the outcry if that placement went south, "The shelter adopted out that pit bull to a little old lady who had no idea what she was getting into, and now it's GONE AND EATEN SARAH PALIN."

Sometimes dogs who seem "easy to place" because they are very visually appealing can be hard to place WELL because they come with challenges that the shelter staff identifies. A good shelter or rescue is aware of that and doesn't take the attitude "You want it? Great -- it's your problem now."

I didn't see anything indicating that these two shelters had drastically different save rates. And really, the second shelter's "meet your match" system -- does that mean that the potential adopters just don't see inappropriate (for them) dogs? Which is fine, but no less paternalistic than denying an application that is inappropriate, and possibly stops even more adoptions. (Because the public doesn't want to give up a lot of personal information before taking a gander at the goods, see.)


I'm with the two commenters above me.
When I place a dog I foster, I hope to get a good match between the adopters and the dog- some adopters can be great dog owners, but just for that particular dog I have at the moment.

I'm not looking for a "perfect" home, but a good enough home that the dog will (hopefully) spend the rest of it's life with.

However, I do take into account the other options for that dog- if a dog will be put in "death row" if it isn't adopted, I will take more chances with the potential home.

If a dog is "highly adoptable" (for example, a light colored pup from a popular breed), I'll be more strict in finding the match.

It's a balancing act, and I'm sure I have made mistakes (both ways- placing dogs in homes that turned out to be pretty bad homes, and not placing dogs in potentially good homes).

It should be noted that being in Israel, my situation is somewhat different- here there truly is a pet over population problem, where spay/neuter are not as common as in the US (or Europe), and the shelters/rescues I work with literally get litters of puppies on a near daily basis. And as far as I can tell from here, the requirements even the most strict rescue groups have here are way lower than many groups in the USA.


Until we get the number of healthy/treatable pets being killed in shelters down to about zero, I say we err on the side of getting pets into good homes homes vs. making an ideal match. I have no bully breed experience for example, but I would hope that I would be approved to adopt one of the many MANY bully breeds/mixes being needlessly killed in shelters in this country every year. An ideal match is just that - an ideal. Then there's the real world. And the reality is that when adopters are denied, they often sour on adoption and go to other sources - the kind we hate. I'm not saying anything extreme like "put any pet anywhere with anyone" - just that we need to focus our energies on getting pets into good homes and keeping them there rather than holding out for that perfect adopter to come along.

TriColour Mama

KC, I thought your post did an excellent job of highlighting a fundamental problem in the animal welfare world...I call it 'Adopter Profiling' - unfortunately, I've experienced it first hand.

When I decided to adopt my first dog, I knew I wanted a rescue. I was a 20-something, single female, in school, without dog experience, new to the city, living in a rented apartment. I certainly wasn't 'ideal' on paper. It didn't matter that I explained to rescues and the local humane society that I had done breed research, I understood the commitment I was making, I planned to attend obedience training and participate in dog sports, I had researched high-quality diets, etc., etc. I would explain that I wasn't afraid of a challenge and was looking for a high energy, medium to large dog, who could keep up with my active, outdoorsy lifestyle. Instead, I kept getting offered tiny, fluffy ones. (Don't all single women want a dog they can dress in frilly outfits?) I had officially been profiled and no one was listening to what I was actually saying.

I ended up turning my search to the internet, and found Kirby, a Border/Aussie on Kijiji. He was a Christmas puppy, who was unwanted by February. Almost 5 years later, he's a happy, social dog, who does dock diving and agility. Sometimes, I want to do a Pretty Woman move...remember when she goes back to the store that pre-judged her, asks if they work on commission and then twirls around with her thousands of dollars in purchases. After all, Kirby does love to show off his tricks!

Anyway, all this to say...we shouldn't be profiling potential adopters! Listen to what people are saying and get to know them. Don't just see old, young, has children, doesn't have a fenced yard, doesn't have breed experience, etc. and decide based on those factors that they aren't right. You will for sure pass up some excellent homes. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for an adoption process, but the process should involve getting to know someone's pet-ownership-potential, like the Meet Your Match program. The process should never be about just asking some national census-like questions (age, sex, address, occupation, martial status, number of dependents).

If someone really wants a dog, they are going to get way or another. Wouldn't it be better if it was a rescue dog, who comes with the support and guidance of the organization, rather than, for example, a pet store (aka puppy-mill) dog?


I agree with TriColour Mama re: profiling. It's kind of silly to assume that women and older people can only have little fluffy dogs, and all the bullies or other big breeds should go to young, "strong" men.

What really struck me about this story is that the woman in question had fulfilled a lifetime commitment to a large, powerful breed - a German Shepherd. If the dog had just died and was 15, it looks like she must have gotten her previous dog when she was about 60, if it was a puppy when she got it. Wow - maybe she could have been looked at as a woman who has experience with large, powerful breeds and who has proven that she can fulfill a lifetime commitment to a dog.


"If someone really wants a dog, they are going to get way or another. Wouldn't it be better if it was a rescue dog, who comes with the support and guidance of the organization, rather than, for example, a pet store (aka puppy-mill) dog?"


So while I realize that there are just some people that just have to be rejected, it should not be part of normal operations. Instead of looking for reasons to decline people (driving them to other avenues for pets) we have an obligation to try to make most of these situations work -- by educating, providing training, doing follow-up visits, etc. Thinking first "how do I make this work" is going to be a far more effective solution than thinking "why should I reject this person?"

And right Mdog - -this is a woman that had shown an ability to handle a large-breed dog and fullfilled a lifetime committment -- isn't this what everyone should want for their adoptables?

I'm glad someone gave me a chance when I adopted a bully-type dog with no bully experience and no vet reference (first time adult pet owner). It sounds like I could have just as easily be declined...


I don't think it's unreasonable to decline an application for a high-energy bully-breed puppy that comes from someone:

THIS is why so many bullies are dying in shelters because this IS unreasonable.

* With no bull-breed experience

HOW are you supposed to get any experience but from BUYING a pit bull? Pit bull care is not rocket science and you treating them differently is also part of the reson they're dying in shelters. You are saying that the dog could possibly kill someone?? Wow, that kind of hysteria you usually see from people that hate pit bulls!

* Who has not raised a puppy in 15 years

This one made my eye twitch - its a puppy and again not rocket science. I guess she doesn't get to babysit her grandkids either.

* Who is in her 70's

Age descrimination is against Federal Law.

* Who is not physically powerful, and will not become more physically powerful

I saw a 60ish woman walking two Rottweilers this weekend.

"The shelter has an obligation to the dog and the community to ensure that the placement will be a good one." No, the shelter/rescue has a obligation to SAVE LIVES not play God.

Was this dog the best match for this woman? Probably not...but I can't stomach the thought of another dog losing its life and all most people want to talk about is how these "restrictions" are beneficial. Let's ask the ones with needles in their legs what they think...

H Houlahan

Would the "anti-profiling" (except, apparently, when it's good profiling that comes out the way we want it to) commenters please give examples, if any, of characteristics of a potential adopter that WOULD cause them to say "no" to someone applying to adopt a high-energy bull-breed puppy?

No, "history of beating puppies to death" does not count. I mean, reasons to say "no" to a non-dirtbag human who wants that particular puppy.

Or are all dogs and all homes the same, and there is no role for personal knowledge and expertise on the part of the people who are responsible for, and legally own, the dog?

As for focusing our energies into getting pets "into good homes and keeping them there," I can attest from the front lines every single day that "keeping them there" (my job, mostly unpaid these days) is a whole hell of a lot easier when the match was well-considered in the first place.


"reasons to say "no" to a non-dirtbag human who wants that particular puppy"

I think, just the way this is phrased, is EXACTLY where we've gone wrong. We continue to look for reasons to say "no".

Of course there is absolutely a role in educating an owner that different dogs have different personalities so they know what to expect. If they become uncomfortable with what will happen, then directing them to a more appropriate dog.

But when someone is told, this is what to expect and they say cool, that's what I want and this is how I plan to deal with it -- why would I then look for a reason to deny them?

I think over time we have gotten to the point where the animal welfare community keeps finding more and more reasons to deny people homes -- and in the process, continues to drive people away from adopting altogether. I mean, the people who show up at rescue have already stepped forward and are trying to do the 'right thing' as far as adopting, and yet, the AW community continues to find more and more reasons why they shouldn't adopt to people.

In the past 2 years I've seen someone get denied for adoption because he didn't give heartworm treatment to his dog every month (upon following the advice of his vet that his elderly, indoor dog didn't need the treatment during our cold winter months), someone else denied adopting a retired greyhound because he had unaltered dogs in his home (he's a hunter and has hunting Beagles that he breeds every couple of years and wanted the greyhound as a pet instead of a working dog), a father in law that was denied adoption because the long-haired lab-mix he wanted to adopt wasn't suitable to be an "outside dog" - he lives on 40 acres, raises horses, and has 2 well-cared for dogs that sleep in the straw in a well-insulated horse barn with heated water dishes. And someone else who was denied from adopting a high-energy dog because she lived in condo in the city without a fenced in yard even though she loved to work out and wanted a dog as a running partner.

The whole thing has gotten completely out of hand with AW people trying to play god over who can and cannot adopt certain pets -- and it's turning people away from rescue (and to other sources for pets). And in the end, it's the animals that are denied homes that pay the ultimate price.

And then people sit back and say "There aren't enough homes" even though they've turned countless potential homes away.

Unfortunately, too many people are looking for "reasons to say no" vs finding ways to make it work...

TriColour Mama

I'm not sure if this is the type of example you're looking for H Houlahan, but I think a good example of prohibitive profiling is when organizations require adopters to have a fenced yard, as a pre-condition of adoption. What does that accomplish? Do people with a fenced yard inherently make better dogs owners? Having a yard certainly cannot not substitute regular walks or off-leash socializing with other dogs - I'd much rather hear a potential adopter be committed to that...rather than simply fencing in their yard!

If the intention is to avoid the dog being tied up outside for long periods of time, then simple questions like "how will the dog get exercise?" or "where will the dog alleviate itself?" or "how will the dog be left outside when unattended?" - with carefully listened to answers - will help the organization understand what the potential adopters plans are...without pre-deciding that no fenced yard = not fit to adopt!

There are always going to be reasons to say no...if a dog has a history of aggression towards children, then absolutely it should not go to a home with children. But if the profiling is simply based on a characteristic - "you're an older person, not a strong young man, and therefore you can't handle a powerful breed dog"...well that attitude just puts more dogs needlessly on death row and I can't accept that as in the best interests of the dog.

H Houlahan

I didn't ask for all the terrible reasons people are denied adoptions. I've got enough examples myself.

I am asking you, is there ANY reason you would say no to a person who "falls in love" with an active pit bull puppy and applies to adopt her? (A dog that you legally own, and whose success in her new home you are responsible for -- not one out in interwebz land that you can bloviate about and never have to step up and do follow-up and perhaps take back in ten months.)

Or is "I want her" the only criteria for making that match? And then whatever happens, happens? Not my problem anymore?

Jennie Bailey

Here's the thing - at both shelters I worked at, we never looked for a reason to say no. Ever. We looked for the best match for the home that came in. If we had "outdoor dog" come up numerous times in the conversation, an attempt was made to educate them on WHY the dog should sleep inside the house. They still got a dog...that we got back two, three, four years later when they moved and didn't take their "outdoor dog" with them. We then had an unsocialized dog that we had to spend time socializing to try to get him adoptable again. Not an easy task.

The idea isn't to turn down adopters at either place. The idea is to point the owner in the right direction while educating them. My 75 year old aunt can't walk my very well trained, well behaved pit bulls. It doesn't matter that she had a large breed dog in her past. She doesn't walk fast enough. Her neighbor, also in her 70s, was just given a brittney spaniel by a rescue a year ago. That poor dog is tearing up their entire yard and house out of frustration. The woman is entirely too slow for that breed despite the dog being five years old. It has gained so much weight it looks like a sausage roll. They have only ever owned brittney spaniels so she knew the breed. They had just lost theirs after 14 years. But the last four, the dog hardly moved so that isn't a good argument at that for her "handling" this same breed. They don't have money for a dog walker because they are on a fixed income. But the dog is in a home living a fate worse than death for an active breed that gets NO stimulation. She won't walk him anymore 'because he pulls.' The last time I was down there, I walked him. He does NOT pull because I walk at an average pace. This was not a good match and the dog is suffering. But it's okay, because the dog has a home, right? It doesn't have to be a happy home or a stimulating home? It just has to be a home? That is failing the dogs. Like I said in my previous post, I would never have shown this woman a puppy in the first place. The color dot system would not have either (which is the one the article holds up as the "right" way to do it).

TriColour - if you had come into our shelter and written all that down on paper, you would have walked out with that dog. THAT is the way the match program is designed to work. EVERYONE gets a dog. NO ONE gets rejected. They just get the dog that fits their lifestyle best. It's not a perfect system, but there are less returns that way because it's a better chance of success. Everyone gets a dog with few exceptions but the shelter works hard at tailoring the dog walk thru to the home. It's horrible that the system didn't work the way it was designed for you. That is a problem.

Matching a young, energetic puppy with my brother's family wouldn't work because they are lazy and can barely parent children. They shouldn't have a puppy so they can wreck it for a year and return it unadoptable. A large breed dog with no manners is much harder to rehome than a cute puppy. The puppy in this story did get a home. The old woman could have gone with a dog a few years old that was also large breed and more mellow so if she was mistaken about her relatives helping (like my aunt was - I'm not driving two hours one way to walk your puppy), the dog didn't have to suffer like my aunt's neighbors brittney clearly is.


Houlihan why don't you answer why someone with no breed experience can't have a pit bull? This kind of attitude is why we have BSL.

The rescue world needs to GET OVER the fact that human beings will sometimes fail you and fail their pets - like you said Jennie, you're brother is failing his own kids and yet we have higher standards for adopting a pet. This particular case aside, there are TOO MANY exceptions creating the RULES when it comes to adoption. Killing them in the shelter is not an acceptable alternative to them possibly being returned at some point in the future.


H. I'm sure there probably is -- depending on the dog and the potential owner. I'm sure there is a scenerio where I wouldn't want to adopt out a large, unruly dog -- or a dog with extremely high prety drive - to an inexperienced owner with toddler-aged children. I probably would deny someone from adopting a Yorkie who was insistant that the dog should be an outside farm dog.

But I think most people are fairly realistic when they come to adopt a dog (again, they've already stepped up to make one good choice) and when given the realities of a given dog are likely to choose something else. But the denials should be exceptions -- not the regular, every-day occurrance. And in far too many shelters, it is not at all uncommon for people to be denied because they are looking for reasons to deny first, vs ways to make it work.

Ted Moore

I knew, eventually, MichelleD would put up posts I could agree with without reservation.

It's simple, really, if you believe the average potential owner is, much more often than not, a better judge of what kind of dog will suit him or her and his or her family and lifestyle than any well-intentioned shelter adoption counselor or rescue manager.

Holding this view doesn't imply one can't be responsible when working with potential adopters. After all, nobody wants a headline that reads, "ESCAPED SHELTER DOG EATS BARACK OBAMA". (Well...) But the kind of clubby, "we know best" arrogance routinely encountered by prospective adopters, especially at breed rescues, is counterproductive to all concerned, especially the dog who watches the perfectly suited, but not suited perfectly, family drive off to the breeder or pet store, where they WILL get their next dog.

Enter the transaction seeking ways to make it work. Follow up after the dog is placed and be as helpful as time and resources permit. And if the dog comes back, so what? It got a shot at a real home, which is what it would be asking you for, if it could.


It sounds like the puppy wasn't in any danger of being euthed, and in fact had more than one applicant. It's hard to know if the shelter was being too picky without meeting the senior woman or the dog, but essentially, looks like they did the right thing by selecting the best match they could from a number of applications. That doesn't sound so awful.

I have a hard time with the idea of giving dogs to anyone ("first come, first served") just because they want them. Our training classes are full of dogs in crisis because of shakey "get'em out the door" adoption matches. It's an exhausting process to help prevent surrenders when someone clearly has a dog that is beyond their abilities. While many bad matches sort themselves out with support and training, a good many don't, and the ones that don't usually end up dead.

In this current climate, owner surrendered pit bulls are usually SOL, especially if they come in the door with any fight wounds or dog intolerance issues that they didn't go home with. That's a big failure on the part of the shelter, not a "so what?" return.

Protecting the most vulnerable dogs in our community has to include going the extra mile to ensure decent adoption matches.
But if you want to skip a few steps in order to move dogs, then you better have a rock solid safety net in place for the dogs that hit a rocky adolescence, as well as good behavior mod programs *inside* the shelters to work out issues that returned dogs can bring after being mismanaged in inexperienced homes.


I certainly see both sides of this issues as both a past adopter and current foster parent of bully breed dogs. I think the rescue community needs to be more tactful and constructive in their rejections of people, as I have heard from many past potential adopters who have been rudely rejected for various reasons without giving them any option to fix the rescue's complains so instead the adopter goes to craig's list or worse a breeder. I know the rescue community wants what's best for their pups, but being a jerk to people that honestly might not know something doesn't help the cause :(


Donna - -I agree that based on the one incident it is hard to tell whether they were being too picky or whether they just chose what they thought would be "the best" home from multiple applications. But the story itself mentions that they frequenty deny adoptors -- which leads me to believe this isn't just a one-off -- which is why I wrote this.

Training classes SHOULD be available for people who are struggling with their dogs. Aren't these the 'safety net' we provide for the adopters that may need more help than others? Not everyone is perfect from the get-go.

And yes, some don't work out - which is bad. However, in the vast majority of the shelters across the country, we know how it ends up for the dog if it doesn't get placed. There is a pretty gray line between "protecting the most vulnerable dogs" by being sure they don't come back to the shelter and 'protecting them by never allowing them to get into homes because we overscreen our adopters'and deny too many potential homes -- and I feel like the trend in much of the US is on the latter end of that spectrum.


"It sounds like the puppy wasn't in any danger of being euthed, and in fact had more than one applicant."

Donna, c'mon - you know better than anyone if that dog wasn't killed - the space it took up in the shelter lead to the death of another. EVERY SINGLE day a dog/cat sits in a shelter means it takes up space another pet in need can't utilize. This article mentions the shelter being full of pits. Again, its more the general attitude than the rejection of the one woman.

"First come, first served" - Who said that? No one and I can't get the all or nothing attitude. And BadRap's mission isn't to save as many lives as possible its to create ambassadors. I appreciate that because I think you are talking the talk, walking the walk on that. Unlike a lot of other pit rescues that SAY they want to create ambassadors but are just picky assholes that won't adopt to anyone. And either way it means not as many dogs are adopted and more dogs are killed. And where are folks going to get their blue pits from if they can't get it from a rescue? AT LEAST they are getting an altered dog!

"Our training classes are full of dogs in crisis " Yeah, and that is exactly what is supposed to happen! People with problems should seek out assistance and as animal welfare advocates we should provide it!

Chat board after chat board is full of complaints about the crappy service people are getting from rescues/shelters so this is NOT an isolated incidence.


What do seem to work very well are systems where the adopter enters criteria into a database and matches are presented by the computer (i.e. the adopter "owns" the matching process and the animals aren't directly chosen for them by the staff).

That means it's less likely s/he will fall in love with an animal who really isn't suitable for their circumstances and they aren't left with suspicions that the shelter has loads of suitable animals who aren't being offered for devious reasons.



I'm not of the mind that shelters should adopt out liberally and expect local trainers to clean up any issues that crop up after the fact. If pit bulls weren't in the cross hairs -- sure, that's one way we can get more out the door. But we're not there yet.

In the meantime, a portion of our classes are filled with people who have f-cked up big time with their pets; many are only there as a court requirement. Many of those end up loosing them despite everyone's best efforts.

And while cleaning up people's mistakes after the fact is one way to go about getting adoption numbers up, it's not ideal in the slightest. Especially when creating decent matches in front of the problems takes much less work and fewer community resources.

Congrats on Boomer's adoption, btw. I'm beyond thrilled to see your news!!!!


re: Heather: "please give examples, if any, of characteristics of a potential adopter that WOULD cause them to say "no" to someone applying to adopt a high-energy bull-breed puppy? No, "history of beating puppies to death" does not count."

Actually, no. I can't think of any characteristic that would automatically make me say no. I've seen too many unlikely pet owners in too many "bad-on-paper" situations who were making it work just fine (and where the animals were better off in less-than-ideal situations than in a shelter or dead).


And also, what is so bad about a dog coming back to the shelter from a failed adoption? Why is it considered so much worse than, say, sending them to a foster home for a little while? Because it's stressful for them? Shelter life is always stressful. Because they learned bad habits? They can learn bad habits right there in the shelter.

I'd rather have a person try and fail with a dog than not have them try at all.


On the flip side Donna, we've put so many restrictions on adopting out 'pit bulls' that now a lot of places are trying to curb the created pit bull euthanasia problem with mandatory spay/neuter for pit bulls laws that are furthering the problem. The dogs are in the cross-hairs regardless...

Are most of the people in your training classes with seriously f-d up dogs really getting them from rescues? I know the type of neighborhoods you do outreach into and the types of folks you help -- and I can't imagine anyone even marginal being able to adopt around here...

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