Adopting an Animal from a Rescue: How To Increase Adoptions and Find Good Homes!

A friend who runs a rescue recently posted a story and a few questions on Facebook. A friend of hers was looking to adopt, and became very frustrated at the rescue process. In general, she asked a few questions about if it is unreasonable for rescues to insist on things like home visits, references, etc., and how rescues can improve the process.

There were a lot of posts on her status, ranging from her friend doesn't deserve a dog to solid discussion on how to solve these problems. It caused me to think for quite a while, because I understand both sides of the equation. I understand why rescues screen people like they do, as you never quite know. I also understand why people opt to buy or go to a shelter that doesn't take the time to check references and such--rescue policies can seem very intrusive and can turn off people to the whole rescue concept.

For those who don't know, I understand her friend's feeling about "here's the money, let me adopt a dog," because, to some extent, that was my frustration when we were looking to adopt! My story is below, and if you've heard it before, you can skip to under the italicized text for my thoughts on improving the rescue concept!

When we were looking to adopt, we reached out to our local SPCA, and had a bad experience. Mac was still at school a few days a week, so getting of us together for a home visit would have been a bit tricky.

Our local SPCA had a husky that had been surrendered by her owners because they were moving. I ventured down there to see her, and decided I wanted to interact with her. I was told that I wasn't allowed to interact with her unless I completed an adoption application. I insisted that I didn't know if I wanted to adopt her, and certainly wasn't going to make that decision without checking with Mac, but to even see if her personality meshed with us, I had to complete an application. 

I filled out the adoption application, and was told that the director had to review it, because they'd previously had a woman who adopted 2 huskies from them. She'd left them outside, in a fenced yard, all day, every day, because she "didn't realize they needed mental stimulation." The dogs got bored, and because of their prey drive, the neighbor's little dog who was running around looked like it would be fun. They hopped the fence, and killed the neighbor's dog. Then, they ended up being euthanized.

I can understand the director wanting to approve husky adopters after that. It makes sense. Because we were renting at the time, they called our landlord to be sure that we could have a dog. We could, and they asked about a fence... We didn't have a fence, so our application was denied for a husky, because we didn't have a fenced yard. Now, mind you, the woman left them in a fenced yard all day figuring they'd amuse themselves... The fenced yard was part of the problem!

Never mind that our new dog, even if we had a fenced yard, wasn't going to be allowed outside unattended. That didn't matter... All that mattered was that we didn't have a fenced yard. I understand the reasoning for fenced yards to some extent, but fenced yards far too often lead to a false sense of security. Had the director called me to discuss this, I'd have explained that part of the reasoning for wanting a husky was that I wanted a dog that required lots of exercise, including lots of long walks every day, and would have explained that a fenced yard wouldn't necessarily give the dog all of the exercise she needed, so I wasn't worried about it. 

We ended up finding a shelter in rural WV, about an hour from Pittsburgh, who not only does amazing things at stretching their tiny budget to care for as many dogs for as long as possible, but who really understood that good is not the enemy of perfect. A good home is better than no home, and you too often pass up on a good home, while waiting for that great home to materialize. The problem is, those perfect homes don't materialize.

That little shelter in rural WV, Brooke County Animal Shelter, allowed us to adopt Cobaka, simply by paying the adoption fee and completing their application. We left with Cobaka the day we set eyes on her. We didn't have everything we needed for a dog right then, but they didn't judge us and insist that without out, we weren't fit furparents! We simply stopped with her, at PetSmart, and took her shopping! Yes, Cobaka probably thought she was in heaven, because she got a doggy shopping spree that evening, in addition to a new home! 

Also, thanks to all of that, we adopted Geno 20 months later. We started fostering him 18 months after we adopted Cobaka, and 2 months after that, made it official. Without the issues at the SPCA, we'd never have noticed Geno!

I think the first step to improving the rescue policy issues is to recognize that most of those who try to adopt from a rescue are trying to do something positive! Those who are trying to do something positive don't expect to be investigated, treated like a criminal, or be asked to display their life for strangers! Thank those who express an interest in helping.

The second step should be to explain not just the process, but why the rescue has the process it does. This doesn't mean to go into graphic detail about the abuses one sees, but simply a, "We try to be sure that all of our dogs end up in homes that are matched well to their personalities and the owner's lifestyle, while ensuring that they'll have great lives. Obviously, we don't want to match a couch potato of a dog to someone who is looking for a running companion, nor do we want to match a dog who can run 10 miles/day and still have lots of energy to an owner who wants a couch potato of a dog. We'd like to be sure that we find the right dog for you, but need to really know what you want in a dog for that to happen."

Most, if not all of the questions most rescues need to have answered can be answered via a discussion with the potential owners, rather than asking them to fill out a form! I understand that there needs to be an adoption application and/or contract, but both of those can be pretty short documents! In looking at an application recently, I was amazed at some of the questions. The application could take a few hours to complete, which seems ridiculous, especially because then, the rescue is going to call the applicant, review everything, and have a discussion anyway!

This is also where rescues need to discount their hard and fast adoption policies. A home without a fence may be great for an active dog, if the owner is very active. A home where the owner followed their vet's recommendations perfectly is usually great, even if their vet recommended not giving a senior dog all vaccinations! Asking why a potential adopter feels they are a good candidate goes a long way too. Ask the potential adopter about anything that raises a red flag.

The third step, if there is a home visit required, is to explain why a home visit is necessary, but without accusing the potential adopter of hoarding dogs or running a backyard puppy mill. Just explain that a home visit is required so that you, or a volunteer, can check and make sure the house doesn't have any hazards for the new dog, like rat poison on the floor. Also explain that it ensures that a rescue isn't placing a 100-pound Rottie with arthritis who can't walk up/down steps, with a family who has 30 steps to get to the grass. 

After that, if the application is approved, and the home visit checks out, then if there is a meet and greet, one can explain about that, and how that's so the adopter has a better idea of the dog's personality, and then explain any final steps to adopting the dog.

The point is that communication with potential adopters, including just having a discussion with them, to figure out what type of dog they want, and how they intend on exercising the dog, taking care of the dog, and training the dog, can go a long way to finding good homes for many more dogs.

Good is not the enemy of the perfect! A good home is far better than killing a dog because of a lack of space. Likewise, good homes can often turn into great homes, given a bit of guidance or conversation!


  1. When I got Abby from the Love of Labs people in Indiana I told them, that not only did I have two residences (I have a small townhouse in another city during a 4 day work week). Neither had a fence. But I also aid, and my friends they interviewed attested to the fact that my former dog Barkley, got LOTS of playtime and walks including time to run free in a friends fenced yard when he had "play dates" with their dog, under our supervision. We sent photos of both places so they could see the set up and thankfully approved Every dog is unique as is each adoptive family. I'm glad there are rescue organizations that will take the time for a proper match. I got a dog who loved car rides and walks on a leash, and she got someone who loves her labs very much. LB Johnson (Barkley's Mom)


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