Not Good Enough
We sent our wonderful Aussie girl, Roo across the bridge almost seven years ago. A bright, athletic and somewhat pugnacious soul, she was the perfect counterpoint to our Leonbergers. Not long after we lost her my husband was transferred to the Twin Cities area so, while we were eager to add a new dog to our pack, we decided it would be prudent to wait until we’d settled into a new home before we started our search.
A year and a half later we moved into our home in Red Wing. After taking a couple of months to settle in, I started surfing the websites of local rescue groups and PetFinder ads to find a suitable dog. Since I’m an experienced professional dog trainer, I work from home and have been known to spend what some might find to be ridiculous sums of money on pet care I foolishly assumed that getting approved to adopt a dog – any dog - would be a slam dunk.
Here’s the score:
Two groups turned me down because my yard was not yet fenced. The fact that it was February in Minnesota and the ground was frozen to a depth of at least three feet, making fence building impossible did not sway them. Neither did the fact that I had a 50×50 foot, heated indoor area to exercise a dog in. Or receipts showing that I had already made a down payment on having not one - but two – fenced yards installed in the spring.
One group turned me down because I had lived in my current home for less than a year. They didn’t care that I’d lived in the previous one for a decade, that my husband had worked for the same company for fifteen years or that we had more than enough assets to pay off our currant mortgage if we chose to.
One group turned me down because I would not sign an agreement that specified exactly how I would feed, house and train a dog I rented ‘adopted’ from them. An agreement that gave them the right to take the dog back at any time without notice if they felt that I in any way failed to follow these explicit (and IME ridiculous) instructions.
After strike four, I decided that I was apparently not worthy to adopt a dog. So I gave up, found a breeder and bought an adorably cute Australian Kelpie puppy. Poor Zip. Because I failed as an adoptive home she’s forced to live in this hell hole. Look how sad the poor girl is [hangs head in shame]:
It seems I’m in good company. Earlier this week Nathan Winograd blogged about problems he recently faced when trying to adopt a dog. In the post he nails the all-too-common rescue elitest philosophy:
Unfortunately, too many shelters go too far with fixed, arbitrary rules—dictated by national organizations—that turn away good homes under the theory that people aren’t trustworthy, that few people are good enough, and that animals are better off dead. Since leaving the Tompkins County SPCA, I’ve seen the same attitude within rescue groups. But the motivations of rescue groups differ from those of the bureaucrat I ended up firing in Tompkins County. Rescue groups love animals, but they have been schooled by HSUS to be unreasonably—indeed, absurdly—suspicious of the public. Consequently, they make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to adopt their rescued animals.
The qualities that make a person (not a house or a fence or a dog door) a good home for a dog can’t be measured in a rigidly quantifiable way. I’ve met wonderful pet owners who lived in urban apartments and RVs. And I’ve met people I wouldn’t trust to properly care for a tapeworm who lived on farms or in spacious suburban estates complete with immaculate indoor/outdoor kennels and dog doors. Being a good pet owner, like being a good parent, is a skill. A skill developed from practice that sometimes - inevitably – includes mistakes. The goal of shelters and rescue groups should be to make a mindful individual evaluations of each pet and each potential adopter when making these important decisions. While this takes more time than reviewing a checklist, it could allow these groups to get more pets into good homes — and isn’t that the goal?
Open-minded, individual evaluations could also provide opportunities for shelter and rescue staff to educate pet owners on husbandry skills – and to be educated on them as well (hey, contrary to what some people might want you to believe - nobody knows everything). We need more of the kind of open-minded discussion that helps us allto be better pet owners and less of the arrogant, closed-minded, “we know better than you” posturing that drives adopters away.
I am a rescue / foster volunteer. And as a dog trainer I also get a lot of calls from people who want to get rid of inconvenient dogs. I understand the frustration, the anger, and the burnout a person can feel when they’re bombarded with regular doses of weapons-grade stupidity – but the fact that some people are clueless or heartless doesn’t justify treating every pet owner and potential adopter as an animal abuser in training.
Read Nathan Winograd’s post over at the No Kill Blog (just added to our blogroll) for some fascinating and disturbing background information on the history of the “not good enough” philosophy of pet adoption.