By Dr. Andrew Jones
Have you got the feeling that it may be easier to adopt a child than adopt a pet from an animal shelter? Well you’re not alone, as thousands of pet owners are running in to problems with shelters. This is all happening in spite of the millions of dogs and cats currently in animal shelters in North America. Dog and Cat Rescue organizations are demanding high standards from potential pet owners, but these are at times unreasonable, leaving potential pet owners unhappy. At the same time animals that could have been adopted may remain in a shelter, and at times have even ended up euthanized.
Currently 7 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters very year in Canada and the United States. Estimates put pet shelter euthanasia at 3 million to 4 million, meaning more than ½ of the animals that are relinquished to animal shelters are euthanized. Animals that have been prevented from adoption by unreasonable shelter requirements have ultimately resulted in the death of that dog or cat.
The process of adopting a pet through a shelter can be very disconcerting. “ They asked all these unreasonable questions, and made me feel very judged”, said Michael Jones of Courtenay B.C. The rescue organizations want to ensure that the pets go to quality, safe homes, but in many cases they have gone over the top. These very strict standards such as having a fenced yard, or adequate sized home, have meant that animals are not being adopted.
Animal shelters and rescue organizations can ask an array of vastly personal questions to see if you can ‘qualify ‘ as an adoptee. Here are just a few of the questions that can be asked: What is your annual income? How long at present address? Do you plan to move soon? Can you provide a reference from your veterinarian? Are all your own animals current on vaccinations, heartworm medication? If no, please explain why not . Where will the dog be kept when left alone? How long? Do you have a fenced yard? What type? How high? Is the fence in good condition? What would you do if your dog bit a child? How will you transport your dog when in a vehicle? If you move in the future, what would you do with this animal?
Clearly there are reasons for the shelters for being so strict, as the shelters are wanting these animals to remain in their adopted homes. Many of the dogs and cats have been relinquished, some have been abused, and the shelter staff want to ensure this never happens again. Some people should never be pet owners, and I am glad that the shelters screen out these unfit adoptees.
After being personally involved with founding and running an animal shelter, I have seen this go to far. I even had one of my staff ( an assistant at my veterinary clinic) be turned down for adoption. She was told by the shelter director that “her apartment was not suitable” for the dog she wanted to adopt. She was a dedicated and responsible animal owner, who wanted to take on the adoption of an older ‘unadoptable’ dog, yet told that she wasn’t qualified.
Then there was the Ellen Degeneres adoption fiasco. She broke down sobbing on her television show, after here recently adopted dog was repossessed. She broke the contract with the pet adoption agency by giving the dog to her hairdresser. According to Ellen the dog and her cats didn’t get along. “I’m sorry I did the wrong thing,” DeGeneres pleaded. “Just give [the dog] back to the family. Please, please, please.”
Should Ellen have given the dog away? Of course not. But did the animal shelter director need to make a big public scene and repossess the dog? Of course not either. I for one am a big advocate of animal shelters, and the millions of animals they adopt. By in large these are performed by very selfless people who are doing this with no money, and have the animal’s interest at heart. But there is need for some common sense to be returned to the entire animal shelter adoption process.
In the words of a former shelter director: “The animals come first- it’s not about the people.” But I would argue that in a number of cases, it becomes more about the interview, the questions, and whether or not the people can qualify as adoptees. The unfortunate result is needless euthanization of homeless pets. And that is something I could never support.
Dr Andrew Jones
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