Not Good Enough

September 13, 2009 at 7:22 pm 10 comments

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.

Silly me.

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.

Entry filed under: dogs, rescue. Tags: , .

Dorsey the Mail Dog Disaster Averted

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. how to train a dog blog  |  September 13, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Very true. I live in an apartment and I dare you to find a dog that is treated better than mine haha I loved the write up. Do you write professionally? Seems as it.

  • 2. FrogDogz  |  September 14, 2009 at 1:16 am

    Oh, we can form a club. Last year, a shelter turned me down when I applied to adopt a mastiff mix because I own intact dogs. Never mind that the dog in question is neutered. Never mind that, all told, I have 40 years of experience with mastiffs (I got my first at age 5, and my Gran bred them for 36 years). Never mind that I have fenced yards, vet references, own my own home, can take my dogs to work with me, and am the local contact person for mastiff rescue.

    Nope, I own intact dogs, and I am a breeder, and – in their words – “If people like you didn’t breed dogs, there would be no dogs in shelters”.

  • 3. SmartDogs  |  September 14, 2009 at 1:22 am


  • 4. LabRat  |  September 14, 2009 at 2:36 am

    Yep. I just spent the last six months watching a dear friend- and fantastic dog owner- burn out entirely on rescue, especially breed rescue, due to this exact phenomenon, after a lifetime of owning rescued dogs that essentially “just turned up”. She is now first deposit on a litter of purebred rat terriers…

  • 5. tammy  |  September 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I think it’s awful that good people get turned away by rescue groups. But I also know how scary it is to send your foster dog home with a new family, no matter how much you interview, reference, and homecheck. Because I’ve known a beautiful little Staffy Bull get adopted by what seemed to be a great family, only to be left alone in the backyard for a day and drown in their pool that they had promised to never leave her unattended by. A horrible tragedy, but it’s one of the things that can happen if we make a wrong choice when sending a dog home. It makes me, a rescuer, burn out on people. How do we know…. how can we risk this dog’s life that we worked so hard to save…. I’m not excusing rescue groups for having crazy regulations that make it impossible for a normal, great dog owner to adopt. I’m just trying to explain why…. we’re crazy. And I wish there was a better way. Maybe a short foster-to-adopt period with mandatory phone/email check-ins with a mentor? I don’t know.

  • 6. Dani  |  September 14, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I was turned down about a year ago because I have a Jack Russell. The rescue was concerned because they “know that Jack Russell’s are very dog aggressive.” No questions about whether my Jack is dog aggressive (he is not) or really anything about him at all, just the rejection. When I mentioned that he is good with other dogs and that I had taken him through puppy class and obedience 1 at the local obedience club, asked if they would like to speak with either instructor (both were on my references), or the pet sitter who comes to let him out at noon and take him for a short walk (also a reference) she said no, they have had bad experiences with Jack’s in the past so they try to not place dogs with people who have them.

    I thought that was sad and short sighted.

  • 7. SarahHSUS  |  September 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    I can totally understand how frustrating and insulting it can be. And major kudos to you for trying 4 times! (Most people stop after try 1 or 2). I work at the Humane Society of the United States, but also have volunteered with a rescue for years. I can’t count how many times people have told me they were haven’t heard back from a shelter or rescue, or they had to wait 6 weeks only to be told they aren’t the right match. As a foster parent, what’s been helpful for me is being open minded and a bit more trusting of people’s intentions. One thing the rescue I work with does is give a ‘trial period’ of two weeks, where if it turns out the family isn’t the best match they bring us back the dog and can work with us to find a better match, or get their adoption fee refunded.
    In addition though to my personal experience, the HSUS’ Animal Sheltering magazine has published multiple articles encouraging shelters to reexamine their adoption policies and customer service to make sure that the approaches they’re taking aren’t driving adopters away. The most prominent of these pieces can be found in our Sep-Oct 2007 cover story, “Judgment Calls,” a collection of essays examining how shelters may be evaluating potential adopters too harshly and suggesting they reevaluate their requirements. We followed that up with an essay called “Opening Up” in Mar-Apr 2008; inspired by the earlier pieces, a reader detailed how her shelter’s move toward open adoptions had been a huge success.

    It’s unfortunate that you had so many bad experiences with shelters, but it sounds like your pup was lucky to find such a great home!

  • 8. Mireille Goulet  |  September 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Your name should have been enough of a reference:) I went through an even longer period of refusals. In the course of the summer, I applied with over 60 shelters in Canada and the States – and was accepted by 5 shelters. I provided detailed description, home pictures, dog trainer reference letters even. Reasons invoked: I rent an apartment, I don’t have a backyard, Canada has BSL (?), local homes only, no same-day adoption and no consecutive days either (travel twice to us with your dog), bring your own cat to cat-test the dog (SPCA), wait 3 months before you adopt a second dog, and I forget others… I had set my limit to September 1 before turning to breeders but finally succeeded: one female pittie from Miss Linda’s in Tennessee and one male pitte from Peace for Pits in Maine. Not many people will try that long!

  • 9. H. Houlahan  |  September 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I couldn’t adopt a neutered cat because I owned an intact dog.

    What kind of miscegenation did they think was going to result?

    And do you know how bloody easy it is to get a really nice kitten for free on Craig’s list?

    The last shelter we adopted a cat from, in suburban Boston, got donations from us every year for about fifteen years.

    The Pittsburgh shelters that shit on us lost not only an adoption and future financial consideration, but a long-time foster and outreach volunteer.

    Ain’t gonna play Sun City.

  • 10. DogDoors  |  October 1, 2009 at 3:50 am

    There have been a huge number of successful adoptions caused by the website, an estimated ten million in the twelve years. Many of the pounds and shelters report that Pet Finder has doubled the number of people seeking to adopt. Thanks for sharing!

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