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Bridget Johnson


May 9, 2014 - 12:01 am

The puppacita held by a shelter worker as I finalized her adoption three years ago.

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.


Squeegee the parrotlet

I’ve written here about my sweet kakariki Poukai. She sadly died on Easter of egg binding. I knew that I had enough experience working with parrots by this point to adopt a bird, and began checking with shelters to no avail. The local bird rescue requires prospective adopters to put in volunteer time, then they’ll pick out which bird should eventually go home with you if you pass muster and pay the fees. Go figure that the same parrots from this rescue have been on Petfinder for as long as I can remember.

So I started perusing Craigslist. Craigslist ads have some patterns: the family that bought the cute little bearded dragon in the pet store only to find that it grew up to need a 55-gallon tank, the purebred bought for its cuteness that the owner learns is more work than a toy, the litters from the non-spayed bunny that bred like a rabbit. There are the sad ads: a photo of an iguana shoved in a birdcage with his tail pushed over his back, a macaw and a conure sharing a rusty conure cage, the dog that an owner thinks is just a bad dog when she clearly describes the signs of an untreated UTI.

But there are also earnest owners on there, including military members who need to deploy, wanting to find the perfect home for their pet and not leave it to chance at a shelter or shuffled around in foster limbo. The majority ask for a rehoming fee — some inflated, some just enough to ensure that the pet is going to an owner who will also be wiling to spend money on vet visits and quality food.

I didn’t see any bird ads that would be a good fit, so I headed down to my bunnies’ vet — the best specialist in the area that only sees birds and exotic pets — to see if anyone had posted a parrot that needed a new home. Sure enough, posted among the materials for the bird rescue that extracts slave labor before (if) picking your pet, there was a flier with a picture of a blue parrotlet. Squeegee, 4-year-old male, “used to be hand tame,” says a few words, free to a good home. I called the number.

The owner had a good reason for rehoming Squeegee: they have two hyper puppies and Squeegee made a sound just like a dog’s squeaky toy. So he’d been in a safe room for a while, not getting to interact with the family. The puppacita doesn’t play with toys, so no threat here. The owner only put up a flier in the vet’s office, with no ad posted anywhere else. Still, a humane society representative saw the flier, called and asked the owner to surrender the bird. The owner tried to explain that there was no hurry in finding the bird a new home, that they wanted to screen prospective adopters and didn’t want him scared in a noisy shelter.

That adopter turned out to be me. Squeegee has been settling into his new home since Sunday, has been happily climbing on me and my Macbook while I work, and is slowly learning how to say “hola.” He was treated very well by his previous owner, but when I picked up him the owner told me that the humane society had called yet again, asking for a surrender.

What unsettled me about this whole situation is that the humane society could have reaped a nice adoption fee from a parrot that goes for about $200, with no spay/neuter/shots expenses on their end. The owner, though, wasn’t interested in turning a profit and only placed an ad in a location where experienced bird lovers would look. Squeegee has a forever home.

If a forever home is the goal for all of the other pets out there, animal rescues should consider practices that protect pets while not turning off people who earnestly want to provide a loving home for a pet in need.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Top Rated Comments   
Fourteen years ago, on a lousy, rainy afternoon this little girl showed up at our door. My wife closed the door on her. She didn't want a pet. So. She ran around to the back door and didn't stop barking (it WAS raining). At the time, she must have been 3 or so months old. "She" was a dirty matted bundle of fur that needed TWO baths just to get most of the dirt off. We discovered a ShiTzu mix that was a classic black and white brindle with one blue eye.
I promised my wife that I would find the owner as she was too beautiful to be a feral stray. I didn't look very hard. Within three days, no more than a week at best, she had us whipped into shape and we were lost. Since then she's been MY little girl and inseparable. I even took her to work. To this day she is my best friend and CONSTANT companion. Never more than three feet from me. She's under my desk now. She's trained us well. The more we learn what her needs and wants are the better friend she becomes. I guess WE were HER forever adoption. We were blessed.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree with the direction of this article. I have an elderly blind small min pin dog and was looking for a 2nd dog for her to help with her guard duties (smile) and some companionship for her, in addition to sitting on the coach with me. I went through the rescue process for one similar dog. I filled out a form and spent about 20 minutes in a phone interview. My impression was that everything was ok. I got a call a week later letting me know I had been rejected without explanation. The most galling part of the process was the lack of explanation after the amount of time I put into the process and my openness to such things as a future visit to my home to qualify it and the surprise fee of $250 plus $ for whatever. Being that I have owned three dogs and the current dog has been with me for about 6 years, some of the questions were kind of dumb as well - Do you know that you can expect to pay x$ a year to maintain a dog? (No - had no clue, really?)

My take on the whole thing is simple - we have a choice and lots of options. A local breeder of min pins of the same breed (guessed) of the rescue dog and my dog, will sell me a 4 year show dog for about the same cost and with 90% less time and hassles.

This is probably unfair, but I believe there are a lot of ideological driven types that seem to want to retain control, but despite their "process" lack self-confidence in their process to "match" a dog to a home. Probably because really, they keep seeking perfection in a very imperfect process.

I will support the breeder who is making a good faith effort to maintain breed standards - that is at least a goal I can understand.
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42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
No question about it.

When we moved out to the country, and wanted a dog, we tried the shelters first. Their requirements were insane! Here's a partial list of their demands and requirements:

Home inspection, to include # of square feet, and a long list of requirements for the dog's living conditions.
Interview with all persons living in the house, OR who would be regular visitors.
Interview with children WITHOUT PARENTS PRESENT. That was emphasized.
Veterinarian of choice to be pre-approved by them.
Food brand to be pre-approved by them.
After adoption, surprise home inspections & interviews, same as above. Any time. No notice.
Dog cannot be euthanized without permission.
Dog cannot be given to anyone else - if you must get rid of the dog, he has to be taken back to the original shelter. Only with their permission, of course.

I called every shelter I could find within about a 2 hour radius. Same stupid story from every one of them.

We bought a puppy from a local breeder.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (89)
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Our local Humane Society shelter has a similar Gestapo-esque reputation. I have inside info from a friend who deals with them through her work at our spay/neuter clinic. Besides the onerous adoption process, they spend far more per animal than does our county shelter. The county also has a 97% no-kill rate, pretty phenomenal for a government run shelter. They have committed, sensible folks running it though, and a large support organization--made up of many animal advocates who are disgusted with the Humane Society shelter. My friend says it is really dependent on the board of directors, so can vary widely from city to city. But obviously some of the private rescues are just as nutty.

On a lighter note, I contacted a shelter yesterday about a hundred miles from me, gave them my story, my vets' info, and they got right back with me. I will likely have a dog tomorrow. I also used my friend's name, which worked a treat, but they have a reputation for finding good homes without acting like lord high commanders.

Bottom line, you can't protect every creature from every eventuality. You use your head, your gut, check references and go forward in faith. For the love, people!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
An acquaintance of our family does "dog sitting" and pet monitoring services for working owners. She's been doing this for a number of years and has built a good business. She was making her rounds recently and entered a house with a number of dogs including a "rescue" German Shepherd. The rescue dog was supposed to be in a kennel, but was loose and attacked her as soon as she entered. She was almost killed. Two broken bones, hundreds of stitches due to bites and severe blood loss. She is now in physical therapy and being treated for PTSD by a psychiatrist. She is planning to continue her business. She is suing the dog's owners who knew he was potentially vicious and had agreed to keep the dog locked up when she visited.

My point is that some rescue dogs are irreparably broken and can be very dangerous. They end up in a shelter for a reason, often that reason is physical abuse.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Been thinking about this. I'll bet this is just an "arms race" of bragging rights about how "well" a given shelter takes care of their animals. Essentially some cat and dog obsessed people one upping each other on who "does the best job".
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is interesting. We adopted two Siamese cats and had to go through quite a lot more than I would have thought to be approved (two references, lots of questions, etc.). I've never had a pet but my wife loves cats so I just assumed it was normal. Still it seemed like a lot given that the idea is to rescue the kitties to keep them from being killed and each slot that clears out brings in another rescue.

I actually brought this up with the lady who pretty well runs the Siamese Rescue, particularly sine she comes across as very sensible and rational. Her justification was that compared to other domestic cats, Siamese and to a lesser degree Siamese mixes are a real handful, and they have compiled a general list of adopter characteristics which result in a failed adoption. If a cat comes back suddenly it can cause real issues with planned rescues. They embed these questions amid ones that are just the basic background stuff that one might reasonably ask. If someone comes back with a common deal breaker they tell them the issue and suggest a more normal domestic shorthair. Once you have a successful adoption they clear you from then on out.

This is particularly important as breeders are currently trying to eliminate some characteristics like crossed eyes. These are quite common in Siamese and result in some of the most beautiful purebred Sealpoint Siamese being sent to shelters.

I only write this, because although I am sure the author is quite correct in many, and perhaps most cases, there may occasionally be some method to the madness. For those who, like me have always resisted having animals, you might consider cats. Ours have become important to me in ways I would never have imagined. Also cat people who haven't should check out the very amusing Jackson Galaxy's "My Cat From Hell". Cats are far less domesticated than dogs, so their behavior is far simpler and easier to understand. Once you know your place, it is quite simple and rewarding to be owned by a cat.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It took far less time for a colleague to adopt a child from Bulgaria than it took me to write my essay and clean my house from top to bottom. I have provided many loving homes for animals which is more than that woman did for that child. The second child was adopted with far less trouble. He has since been returned and has been re-adopted by another family. tHE ;acl of care exhibited by the Amercan (religious) adoption agency boggled my mind.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
We got our latest from a rescue. Now what we have in Canada are rescues that drive down to kill shelters in the US, pick up a dog for $10 and sell it for l$400 up here. This lady(term loosely applied) allowed us to come to her rescue and pick a dog. Every second word she used was F.... She also sold raw food and I heard her screaming at a client using terms like id*ot and f'king moron etc. We fell in love with a dog and had a run down of everything she expected of us. She spoke a million miles an hour to prove how smart she was and how dumb we were and slashed and checked the adoption sheet and wrote in big, bold letters "No Vaccines!" I took the dog to the vet for a check up and handed the vet this paper. He promptly ignored it and gave the dog a vaccine. Well the rescue person went ballistic on me. She was sorry she gave me a dog. I was useless. It just went on and on. I will never rescue another dog again.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Several years ago I adopted a kitten out of the local SPCA and the whole process impressed me as a bit burdensome and pushy for a process intended to find permanent homes for animals that otherwise would probably be euthanized. I had to sign one of their silly contracts and pay for the neutering which they would not release the kitten without, and the vet exam and shots set me back several hundred bucks and I thought at the time gee is this really a bargain compared to a pet store? Still I don't regret doing it.

And I suppose I'm just an old Cynic, but it does seem to me that these private eleemosynary organizations do get a bit self righteous and full of themselves at times. I've had that unhappy feeling more than once when volunteering with them. Everything must be just so and we just can't have volunteers out of control, you DO understand?

42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I had, fortunately, a good experience with adopting a rescue through I did note though having to jump through a few hoops, answering probing personal questions, such as vet's info, type of yard (fence was required but we have one), type of flea treatment we use & other health-care queries & requirements. No visits to our home or other such nonsense; dog was four hours away & adoption fee only $100. He is well worth all the fuss. I still think rescue is the way to go, as there are way too many homeless pets out there.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
We used to have a border collie 'rescue' here in our neighborhood. 15-20 dogs running in a 1/4 acre fenced yard barking like mad at all hours. I used to see some of the dogs on Pet Finder, but always the same ones. After many complaints, the people and dogs moved. I wonder what happened to them.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bridget, this appears common, from our experience. A year or so ago we considered adopting a younger dog [lab mix or similar] to join our pack of 2, who enjoy life on a hobby farm with large fenced yard, shade, screened porch, etc. absent inclement weather. The local adoption groups, aside from demanding the inspection, etc., wouldn't consider adopting out a large, outdoorsy dog to a home where the pup wouldn't spend days inside with a resident adult. Insane.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Anonymous19459, perhaps they thought keeping a large dog indoors so it can grow fat, lazy & sick is best for the dog...I would have HAD to ask that question...I can't keep my mouth shut in the face of insanity!!
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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