Shelters and rescues — are you driving away adopters and supporters?

Time and again, people who tried to adopt from a shelter or rescue have told mtA that they were turned away for bizarre reasons. These are both disturbing and counter-productive to the mission of finding good homes for animals. For example:

• A family is denied a dog because they have a child (or children) with special needs. Their previous dog lived a good long life and died of cancer. This was a potential good home. A call from the rescue to this family’s veterinarian would confirm this.

• An older woman and her daughter visit an adoption center east of Indianapolis, wanting to meet a dog in full view that attracts their attention. They are denied because “The dog’s napping now and we can’t wake it up.” When the daughter asked, “When will it not be napping?” she is told, “I don’t know, you’ll just have to come back when it’s not.” This was a potential good home.

• This same woman and daughter visit another local shelter that has many dogs and cats, but are allowed to look at only one dog. They leave. This was a potential good home for an animal in need.

• A family is denied a dog because they don’t have a fenced-in yard. Their previous dog, who had died of old age, was always leashed when outside and was taken for daily walks and/or runs. This was a potential good home. A call to this family’s DVM would confirm this.

• A family visits a local humane society and enters the area of puppies and small dogs who are available for adoption. When inquiring about a particular dog, they are told that none of these dogs are available for adoption. This was a potential good home.

Where do these people turn? To a breeder or pet store, often spending $3,000 – $5,000 for a dog who may well be the product of a puppy mill, while dogs in need die in shelters. Hello? Is anybody home?

Shelters and rescues MUST have guidelines to protect animals from unscrupulous people, and we acknowledge (and applaud!) legitimate concern for the animal’s welfare and safety. But individual circumstances must also be taken into account. Has the child interacted well with other pets? Has the adopter demonstrated responsibility in protecting a dog without a fenced yard? Rules cannot be so rigid that they defeat the purpose.

Volunteers are also rejected

This may be the saddest tale of all.

A woman is drawn to a fearful dog on a humane organization’s website. She would like to visit and read to the dog in her cage. When she comes to the facility and offers her help, she is refused access to the dog…but before she leaves, she is asked for a donation. Here is her account:

One dog in particular had caught my attention: a young female Mastiff mix, “Lola”, was in desperate need of socialization. Her interactions with humans had been few, and she was described as “terrified” and hiding in her kennel. (Doesn’t that description pull at your heart?)

My daughter had adopted a German Shepherd mix who had previously been labeled as “fearful”. A woman who specializes in fearful dogs had fostered her for almost a year before placing her with our daughter. I remember that “Allie” came into our family with a myriad of issues, but after a LONG time, she has acclimated to being a wonderful, and smart, family pet. I shudder to think what would have happened to Allie if someone hadn’t taken the time with her…..

So, armed with a bag of treats and a novel to read, I approached the “Society”. My intent was to volunteer to spend time with Lola 4-5 times weekly for 6 weeks, if she hadn’t yet been adopted. A very low-key attempt to socialize a terrified dog.

I approached the receptionist at the desk and explained why I was there. She looked up Lola on her computer and stated, “That dog is in our Canine Treatment Center, and is unavailable to the public.” I knew that Lola had returned from a one-week foster situation, so I inquired what was the issue? I was told she had a respiratory problem, and again, that she was “not available to the public”.

At that, a very awkward pause ensued. I was not asked if I would be willing to help elsewhere, or if I wanted to see another dog, or if there was anything else I could do. I stammered out that I would leave the bag of treats as a contribution, and made my exit. I definitely felt unwelcome, and that I was an intruder. Silly me, I had thought that the “Society” would welcome any help, and that there was always a need for volunteers.

So, was it me? Did I approach it wrong? Should I have done something differently? I know that the Society wants my money, just maybe not ME, as my mailbox has received several solicitations from them for money.

Occurrences like these leave animals who need homes held hostage by myopic policies and practices that drive supporters and adopters away.

Is your rescue, shelter or humane society failing to project a fundamental spirit of customer service and hospitality? Is there a lack of urgency to make a match that will move a homeless animal into a good home and make room for another? If you answer “yes” to either of these questions, it’s time to ask what the TRUE purpose is. Is turning away a potentially good adopter what that animal wants? Or is it what your organization wants?

Do you want to support pet stores, puppy mills and breeders? Or do you want to support the animals in your care who desperately need a forever home?

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