rescue adoptions: one group’s perspective

We are fostering Gonzo through a different group than we went through for Lollie, so we are in the middle of a steep learning curve of rescue philosophy. It’s been interesting for me, because my natural inclination is more aligned with the “no-kill nation” philosophy of getting as many animals into seemingly good homes as possible, than with the more common rescue group approach of searching very carefully for the most perfect home possible. Both approaches have their points, but the debate between them is not the subject of this post.

Many rescue groups — including Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW), through which we are fostering Gonzo, ascribe to the latter of the two approaches above.  In many cases the dogs taken in by rescues have been victims of irresponsible dog ownership, which makes a rescue that much more discerning in reviewing potential adopters.  PAW devotes a lot of time and money to the dogs it selects, through foster care, extensive vet treatment (including major medical — one of the few groups in the DC area to take dogs who need serious surgery), training, and PR.  Because of the rather large investment, PAW feels a responsibility and a right to be very selective and thorough in picking exactly the right home for a dog.  Whereas most any responsible adult can go to a shelter and adopt a great dog, adopting through some rescues is a much more involved process — one with a number of steps and a lot more scrutiny, but with a payoff: arguably greater peace of mind, because in adopting from a rescue and out of foster care, a family can know much more about the dog’s personality, preferences, medical history.

Through the process of fostering Gonzo with Partnership for Animal Welfare, we have learned a lot about how applications are picked, which are considered “strong,” and which are not. Here are a few guidelines that I have observed based on recent applications for Gonzo.   They may offer a bit of insight into what rescue groups look for, but specific qualifications will vary a lot from dog to dog and from group to group.

1. Pet as family member. Sometimes I am amazed at the seeming lack of care with which people fill out their applications, or the different standards people have for what is normal. People who plan to keep the dog outside or in the basement, or admit to going to the vet “only in emergencies” are going to be tossed aside pretty quickly.

2. A compatible family composition. People who live alone and travel extensively for work will raise red flags. Dogs are very adaptable, but having to stay at the kennel or at mom’s house every other week while an owner travels is not ideal. Likewise, if the dog is a bit snappy, growly, or very energetic, it probably isn’t best for a family with a young child. If the dog is very timid, it won’t go well with a family with several tweens. If the dog is dog-reactive or thinks of cats as snacks, an application with other pets in the home will probably be declined.

3. Stabiliy. Many pets are given up to shelters when an owner or family moves, divorces, loses a job, moves in with a new partner, etc. Most of these are impossible to predict, but there are some signs that rescues may look for — a very young adopter in his early 20s, or somebody in the military who may be placed overseas, is not seen as the strongest candidate for a rescue adoption.

4. Housing constraints. We foster pit bull type dogs, which means they can’t be adopted by somebody who lives in a county with breed-specific legislation (aka BSL, or a ban on particular breeds like pit bulls) or an apartment or house with similar constraints. Many people are surprised to learn that their apartment does not allow bullies, but it’s unfortunately a very common rule. If a dog is a fence jumper, it can’t go to a house with a 3′ chain link fence, unless the family is committed to building a taller fence or only walking the dog on leash.

5. The vet check. Most rescues will call the current or prior vet used by a prospective adopter to find out the record of shots, vaccines, and medicines. If an applicant is overdue for several important vaccines or tests, the application may be declined — although you can be a perfectly responsible pet owner and accidentally miss a vet appointment now and then, missing vet checkups doesn’t reflect well.

6. Experience level. Some dogs are much better suited for people who have substantial dog experience, while others are easy and care-free, and could be great for a first-time dog owner. Our first foster Lollie needed an experienced dog family who was willing to work with her, while Gonzo is easy, and would make an ok first. But still– many rescues feel more comfortable placing dogs in the hands of experienced dog people, even for easy dogs.

7. Lifestyle issues. Gonzo, for example, does not like to be alone. All dogs are social, but Gonzo really does seem to suffer from a higher level of stress than others. When he is with us and/or our Chick, he is a different dog. Mellow, happy, and relaxed. When he is alone, he worries. Extensively. So for him, the best kind of family will be one where somebody is at home a lot, or there is another pet in the house. Singles or couples who live alone and are away for a standard 8 to 7 workday would make wonderful dog parents to many dogs, but probably not to Gonzo — this little fella just needs more.

After considering all of these issues, it’s easy to see why a dog in rescue care could receive a number of applications before being matched with an adopter who truly is a perfect fit. And if I ever have the opportunity, I like to remind people who are interested in, but not able to adopt Gonzo — he sure is cute, but he really isn’t unique. Our shelters and rescues (including, in our area, MCHS, WHS, and WARL) are full of wonderful dogs with big warm hearts and cute, expressive ears, who deserve nice homes just as much as our foster. He happens to be lucky to be an internet star with his own blog, but that doesn’t make him any more worthy of a good family’s love. In fact, all of those dogs who spend their days in a cold, barren cage with nobody taking cute pictures probably need their attention more than our Gonzo does.

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