Everyone knows that I’m an advocate of pet adoption. But lately I’ve been questioning whether many animal rescues are defeating the purpose and driving prospective pet parents into the arms of breeders.
I didn’t really think much of the motives and modus operandi of rescues until after I adopted my chihuahua, Chi-Chi aka the puppacita. I found her at one of the last old-school pounds in the area. The shelter staff handed her to me, I asked a couple of questions about her history, and a minute later signed a spay contract, waited while they microchipped her, handed over a $70 check and was on my way to PetSmart to spoil the puppa with whatever she wanted.
No counselor screening, no adoptive matchmaking, no home visits, no drama (though I fully acknowledge people can pick a dog that’s wrong for their situation without some guidance). And puppacita’s perfect. And she knows it. I did the things a rescue might do: spaying, shots, dental extractions, and house-training. Rescue groups often note that for the price you pay you get a shelter dog that’s been fixed up, so to speak, with the necessary vet work and training.
I started to meet other dog owners after the puppacita and I became attached at the hip. When I’d take her to the pet store on what happened to be one of those crowded adoption days, people would ask me which rescue I got her from. She’s a pound puppy, I still proudly say. I like the fact that puppa and I picked each other without whatever screening committee might have been at a rescue. Still, it’s befuddling when rescue groups ask me if I want another chihuahua when it’s clear that the puppacita isn’t into other dogs.
One of the neighbors I met had a big, beautiful dog that was a foster with one of these rescue groups. The neighbor eventually confessed that she couldn’t afford the care that would be required if she adopted the dog, but if she continued to foster him she’d get the paid vet visits and some food. When one couple expressed interested in adopting the dog, she indicated that she’d discourage this adoption from her end if she could. Months later, I still saw her with the dog.
When my bunny Napoleon Bunaparte needed a buddy, I first approached the local rabbit rescues. One of them would only adopt out bunnies that bore microchips listing the rescue’s contact information instead of the new owner’s. Some didn’t even respond. So I went to a local city shelter that let me match Napoleon with his favorite: a spayed French angora, Josephine. The application process was perfectly reasonable: questions about pen size, how much out-of-cage time she would get, how much I expected to spend on food and vet visits each year, other pets and whether or not I’d surrendered pets in the past. It’s great if a shelter asks the basic questions to know if a person will be committed to a pet and knows optimal care.
I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues over the years, though, wondering if they were denied for adoption because they answered a question wrong on a rescue’s application. Emily Yoffe at Slate confessed, in a piece worth reading in its entirety, to buying a puppy after not clearing any of the adoption inquisitions, and got a lot of solidarity from other pet owners:
Ari Schwartz, a business development manager from Tarrytown, N.Y., and his wife, Lisa, a medical student, ran up against these Jeopardy-like quizzes when they went looking for a shelter dog. After filling out a multi-page online application from a local group, they got a follow-up phone call from a representative who noted they hadn’t given the name of their veterinarian. That was because the couple didn’t have a dog, Lisa replied. In Joseph Heller-esque fashion, the rep said that in order to adopt, a referral from a veterinarian was necessary. The representative went on to note the group preferred that one owner be home full-time. They also didn’t like to give dogs to people who lived in apartments, like the Schwartzes. The couple was told to get a cat. “My wife is deadly allergic to cats,” Ari notes. So—surprise!—they decided to go to a breeder. They now have a Shiba Inu named Tofu. “We absolutely love him,” Ari says.
If an applicant manages to get approved, the adoption papers should be read carefully before signing. It turns out the contract often specifies the adopter is not the actual owner of the animal. Sure you’re responsible for the pet’s food, shelter, training, and veterinary care, but the organization might retain “superior title in said animal.” This means the group can drop in unannounced at any time for the rest of your pet’s life and seize Fluffy if it doesn’t like what it sees.