Thursday, June 10, 2010

Screening prospective adopters

There's a lot of argument about how far rescue organisations should go in screening potential animal adopters. On the one hand, it's possible that good homes might be lost if the procedure drives away prospective adopters who feel it's too intrusive or if the criteria are too rigid. On the other there are a few people who are not "abusive" but who simply will not go along with reasonable safety instructions (such as keeping a new cat indoors for long enough to ensure bonding to a new house, or not letting dogs out in the street alone).

Arguably anyone who is rejected can always go out and purchase an animal, so that being excessively fussy about adopters simply denies homes to animals in need without actually saving any from incompetent owners. I'm not sure this is entirely valid, because owners who couldn't cope with a large adult dog in need of training might well not have any difficulties if they purchased a puppy belonging to a small, docile breed. If they're not capable of understanding that an adult shelter dog won't be bonded to them initially and almost certainly will run off and get lost if they simply let him out in an unfenced garden or off the lead in a public area they may be perfectly fine with a pup who more obviously needs constant attention.

Some animal rescuers may not have ideal personalities to front rehoming drives if they love animals but can't get along with people, or if they're unwilling to accept that adopters may have differing views about some aspects of caring for animals. These are the kind of people who are so obsessed with pet overpopulation and the need for neutering that they absolutely will not rehome a spayed bitch to a home with a resident dog who hasn't been castrated, or who won't believe an adopter might be telling the truth when she says she's arranged a dog-sitter to call in while she's out at work. These same people may well be the ones who are prepared to put in 80 hour weeks for the rescue and it can be very difficult and traumatic to get them to take more of a back seat with rehoming, especially if they genuinely believe that altered policies are going to result in animals they've devotedly cared for being hurt or even killed.

I think we need to discuss what is or isn't reasonable to expect of adopters. It ought to be reasonable to expect them to be normal, good, animal-loving pet owners. It probably isn't reasonable or sensible to insist that they love animals as much as those of us who've re-arranged our lives to a frankly bonkers extent in order to care for them. So, it probably is reasonable to insist that adopters should keep up vaccinations and either insure their pets or be in a position to register for treatment via the RSPCA, PDSA or Blue Cross. It isn't reasonable to insist that they should be willing to spend all their savings on veterinary treatment.

If you think a rescue organisation has unreasonable adoption policies and want to get them changed, please do a bit of research before you start.
  • Are the policies actually being set by the organisation's governing body, or is a single individual being unreasonable or excessively rigid?
  • Do you know for sure that lots of adopters are being rejected for no good reason, or are the complaints from isolated people?
  • Does the organisation actually have suitable animals available? It may be that adopters are being turned away simply because they want a particular type (e.g. poodle) and the rescue doesn't have any.
  • If you volunteer your help to improve the rate of adopting, is it accepted?
If you just dive in and start a public campaign to force the organisation to change its policies you may be doing harm by discouraging adopters and you will certainly put everyone in the organisation on the defensive. If you are wrong and the organisation isn't being unreasonable about the people it screens out, you will have diverted effort that should have been spent helping animals into countering your campaign.

The PEDIGREE Adoption Drive website includes a neat "Dog Adoption Tool" which encourages potential adopters to think through what kind of dog would fit their lifestyle.

1 comment:

  1. You make some very good points here. I've heard numerous stories about people being 'put off' organisations because they were turned down for - what seemed to them - spurious reasons. If a rescue has sufficient well-trained sensible homecheckers, they can often get a feel very quickly of whether there may be potential issues or not. Very often these issues are entirely surmountable, just things that potential adopters haven't considered. Equally prevalent are the stories of animals being adopted out to ultimately unsuitable homes, so its 'damned if you do, damned if you don't!' really!

    The issue of customer facing staff and volunteers being 'public-friendly' is one that I can fully sympathise with, having been on the end of some extremely unpleasant, unsympathetic and frankly - unfriendly - people as my first point of call for some rescues (not at the local RSPCA I hasten to add!). Often potential adopters are very anxious and nervous about adopting a new animal; it may be their first pet, or they may have been recently bereaved of a much loved pet, they want to talk things through and discuss concerns but equally don't want to be judged. I was very lucky to get an extremely pleasant RSPCA homechecker, who later helped to train me. Prior to this I had a couple of phone conversations with a local rescue which almost convinced me to look in the small ads for a puppy, I so desperately wanted to avoid such hostile cross-examination and dismissal in future!