Some people feel – with all of the paperwork and questions involved — it is as hard to adopt a dog as it is to adopt a child. Some people believe they are doing the rescue a favor by adopting one of their dogs, and they should not have to go through “the third degree” to adopt.
Why are agencies so strict ? The short answer is “Because Rescues do not want the animals to come back.” Every failure is taken personally by a competent agency, and the dogs suffer the most for it. A rejected dog must depend on humans to find it another “forever home.” It takes a lot of time, resources, and effort to re-home a dog, and no one wants to place the same dog twice.
What kinds of questions do agencies ask? They need to know about the core family and its lifestyle. How many people and children (of what ages) are in the home and what other pets are in the home? Are the pets aggressive, shy or friendly? How many hours will the dog be left home alone while its owners are working or in school? Can they can afford a dog of the size and age they are choosing? In the beginning, pups need many vaccines, plus worming, possibly flea treatments, and neutering. Elderly animals may need extra vet care, but good, socialized dogs can be very much worth the time and expense.
As a recent adopter, I filled out the questionnaire in great detail because I wanted the rescue to help match us up with the “perfect fit.” I mentioned our ages, lifestyle, fencing, past experience, our resident elderly doxy, and our expectations. We thought we wanted to rescue a “mature” lapdog that wouldn’t require a lot of exercise.
Some people resent questions about income, but do they understand the costs of “regular, expected” dog care? With vet visits, food, booster shots, heartworm meds, flea collars, bedding, bowls, collars and leashes, the owner can expect to pay up to $1000 the first year. Of course, if the dog becomes ill or injured, the costs jump much higher. How much are the people willing to invest in an animal that creates unexpected expenses of another $500 to $1500 on top of adoption fees?
Vets are experiencing higher rates of owner-requested euthanasia because of the economy. “Economic euthanasia” is one of the newer realities of pet ownership.
As adopters, we thought we were mentally prepared and budget-ready. We took out pet insurance for the first time in 50 years of pet ownership. Our new dog was diagnosed with cystitis within the first week after we got him home, and our old dog was just diagnosed with cancer. Without the pet insurance, we might have faced serious financial hardship.
Besides the “expected and usual” questions, some rescues require fencing for their breed. Some require a continuation of booster shots and medications like the K-9 influenza virus vaccine and heartworm medicine, depending on the geographical area.
Matching a particular dog to a particular home requires matchmaking skills. If the dog is known to have separation anxiety, the group might ask for a home where someone is home most of the day – like bedridden people, stay-at-home moms, or handicapped people. If someone uses a walker, wheelchair, or other walking-aids, the agency might feel a specific dog is not right for that home. They know their dogs and must make the call. Adopters should respect that. They are trying as hard to make a successful placement as the family is on finding a new member to add to the home.
Many rescues do not allow their dogs to be kept outdoors. Dogs have emotional needs as being part of a human pack family and are not meant to be guard dogs or “accessories” to be seen and heard, but not really homed.
Some rescues will try to help a family financially if a dog has special needs – like monthly allergy shots, diabetic needs, or needs for special equipment like a dolly for the hind legs. Sometimes the animals need hip or eye surgery that can become prohibitively expensive. For a known problem, the rescue may be able to have their vets do the surgery and split costs with the adopters. As a dog rescuer, I helped a family for a dog on seizure medications, another for major dental problems, and another with diagnostic allergy tests so the adopters could afford the dog for its future lifetime.
Why are dogs in rescues to begin with?
1. Very few dogs are actually strays; many of those are almost feral, sickly, aggressive, un-socialized, etc. They are usually euthanized because most agencies can’t afford them and cannot take legal responsibility for re-homing them.
2. Older dogs that need new homes. Some older dogs that come from fine homes have been completely socialized and are ready-to-go to new homes. Their elderly caretakers may have died or moved into elder care homes that do not allow pets. Some younger families are in divorce situations where nothing is stable anymore; no one can take the dog to a no-dogs-allowed apartment; and all parties involved find that they can’t afford the extra expense anymore. Besides, all adults are working 8-hour-days and the dog is now being crated all day without family interaction or stimulation. Sometimes a family member is allergic and the doctor warns them to get rid of all pets.
3. Returns. Why are dogs returned to rescues? Adopters often do not understand the need for consistency and training while the dog is new and young. Some owners are not experienced with dogs and simply don’t realize the amount of time, money, grooming needs, vet care, training needs, and amount of commitment required. If they don’t properly housetrain a dog while it’s young, they often decide they can’t deal with the dog. It is harder than ever to re-train a dog that did not “get it right” the first time.
4. Some dogs become overly aggressive. People allow unlimited puppy-biting and playfulness to go to extremes. A puppy might jump up on people or bark loudly and persistently. A puppy might become food- or toy-possessive and start to bite family members who try to feed them or take the toys away. All of these puppy behaviors might be acceptable to some people, but when those dogs become full-grown adults – shepherds, Danes, mastiffs, Rottweilers, etc. – the owners become overwhelmed with how to control the dog and they return it. By now, the kids have lost interest anyway.
Most reputable rescues temperament-test their potential adoptees for aggression. By law in many states (PA is one), they cannot adopt out a known biter. Many groups have volunteer dog trainers and foster homes to prepare a dog for a new family. Such dogs deserve a second chance.
Rescuers try to “get it right” the first time because failure is upsetting to them, the adopters, and the dogs. They want responsible owners who will take time to train their animals and make them part of a permanent-family situation. People who try to bypass the rules and hedge on answering questions are probably not going to be committed dog owners.
As adopters, I disclosed that we are a semi-retired couple (running an in-home business) with an adult daughter living at home who can help with care. We walk 5 miles a day. We do not travel except for one-hour motorcycle rides near home. We have fencing. We have had past dog experience with several small dogs like poodles and dachshunds.
The rescuer helped us choose a corgi/border collie — about 4 months old and 12+ pounds – which should mature at 24 pounds. We had wanted an older dog that would definitely stay small, but the rescuers decided our old doxy preferred a younger pup.
The group brought us four potential dog companions and our old dog liked this one best. They also recommended against two other dogs we asked to see because they felt their energy and aggression levels wouldn’t work out with our older dog.
They felt our long walks would be enough exercise for the corgi part, but we seemed to have gotten the border collie part. At 6 months, he is now over his estimated 24-pound, mature weight. He likes to walk 5 to 9 miles a day, and he carries a backpack to get his energy levels down. Now, our predicament is that we have an elderly dog with lymphoma that is not expected to live much longer, and we will have a young dog that might need another companion.
None of our past dog experiences and adoption “readiness” could have prepared us for this turn of events.
All relationships require a bit of trust and openness on the part of both sides. Rescuers should explain the need for some questions – like income, number of hours away from home, theoretical “What would you do if…” situations — and the potential adopters should accept that they are doing it for the right reasons. Rescuers are not on power trips, and most questions have a real purpose behind them.
When you are looking for the “perfect pet” for your family, trust the rescuer to guide you in the right direction. Don’t choose a dog only for its “cuteness” or “small size” which it may outgrow. Always take along all family members and other dogs for a one-on-one visit to see how everything goes. Your other dog(s) may help choose the new family member, too. If they really don’t like a certain dog, respect that choice.
If the rescuer recommends against a certain dog, keep looking. They have an intuitive sense about the “right” match for the energy of the family members and the other dogs.
I have experienced both positions: adoption and adopting. Both require responsibility, and everyone must work together on behalf of the animals that cannot speak for themselves. Rescuers want to find the right dog for you just as much as you do.
Source: Self as head of dog rescue for four years and recent dog adopter.