Denied!

Photo by David Trawin via Flickr

A recent article in the Washington Post described the hurdles that would-be dog adopters often face when trying to offer good homes to dogs who need them.

I’m ambivalent about this. I think that rescue groups and shelters should ask that potential adopters show that they recognize the needs of a dog and that they are prepared and able to meet those needs. And they should have procedures in place to weed out people who have a history of neglecting or abusing animals. But from stories I have heard and read, many groups may be going too far.

For example, some organizations routinely turn down applicants who do not have a fenced yard. While having a fenced yard is certainly ideal, millions of dog owners (including me, at the moment) live in apartments. We walk our dogs. The dogs are fine. Besides, putting a dog out, alone, in a fenced yard and assuming that that equals meeting the dog’s needs is absurd. Dogs don’t exercise themselves! And they need social interaction — with their people, and maybe with other dogs.

Another criterion that, while ideal, is unrealistic as a requirement is that the owner should work at home. I work at home, but that doesn’t mean I play with my dog all day! And when I’ve worked in offices, I have had a variety of arrangements from dog walkers to friends who provided play dates to going home at lunch to walk the dog.

If an adopter has a multi-person household and/or shows awareness of and a plan for meeting the dog’s needs, that is preferable to leaving the dog languishing in a shelter. And, some of the same organizations who turn down working adults also reject seniors as too old. So … working age is out and old is out. That leaves …? College students? Un- or under-employed people who cannot afford a dog? Busy stay-at-home parents who may already be over-extended? Even if all of those people adopted dogs, there’d be hundreds of thousands more dogs needing homes — and those situations aren’t ideal for all dogs either!

An even bigger problem is that adopters who don’t meet the lofty ideals of a rescue might end up buying a dog from an unscrupulous breeder or front for a puppy mill, since those folks do not ask any questions. So, rather than aiding the dogs who’ve already become victims of a system of unethical breeders, pet stores, and unprepared owners that channels millions of dogs into the rescues each year,  the rescues are actually fueling that economy and, yup, helping to pump more dogs into the rescue and shelter system.

A better approach would be to look at the individual needs of each dog and match them with the needs and lifestyle of the adopters. For the apartment-dwellers who work full-time, maybe the 9-month-old Lab isn’t the best choice, but a smaller, less-active, or older dog might be very happy with two walks a day and a comfy sofa. Sure, shelters are full of young, active dogs. They’re also full of senior dogs, dogs with medical issues, and dogs who are really just fuzzy couch potatoes or lap warmers. Not all dogs have the same needs.

I don’t know what the best answer is, but there has to be a way to place more of the countless dogs and cats who need homes than ruling out good people because of overly idealistic criteria.