Adopting Shelter Animals: Myth Busting

1 Jun

Previously on Divas, we established that I’m passionate about animal rescue. Today I’m going to talk about why shelters and rescues have some of the policies they do. I’m using ‘shelter ‘ as a catch-all term for any place that has adoptable companion animals: the pound, the Humane Society, the local SPCA, or a private rescue group.

Please keep in mind that every shelter is different. My SPCA may be more or less strict than yours. The local county or city pound is probably less strict. Breed specific rescues and no-kill-shelters are typically the most strict. It is VERY hard to generalize about this, but I am going to try. (Also, the plural of anecdotes is not data. )

Why are they so picky? My house is better than the shelter!


Here are some stories that I personally saw written on surrender paperwork or overheard at my shelter. I’ve been volunteering there for about 4 years, for a few hours a month. The staff have so many stories this entire entry could be horror stories. These people are the assholes that ruin it for everyone.

1. She doesn’t match my new couch. This was the most selfish, bullshit surrender excuse I have ever heard. The pet was a longhair female calico cat.  Very sweet cat, no behavior issues. Nine years old. The former owner got a new white couch. Orange and black cat hair was getting on it. She surrendered her companion of nine years for a couch.

2. This cat attacked my daughter’s feet. I knew this cat before she was adopted. I wasn’t there for the adoption but I was in the lobby when he returned her. The cat was absolutely sweet and approved for homes with children. Did the cat go batshit crazy? No. Attack without warning? No. His daughter was in bed, with her feet under the sheet. The cat saw them move and pounced on them. You know, like cats do when they are playing! “Did it draw blood?” the staff asked him, concerned. “No. No blood, didn’t break the skin. But I can’t have a vicious animal around my daughter.”

3. She doesn’t get along with my new puppy. Yep. Perfectly nice shepherd-mix. Eight years old vs cute adorable new puppy. Don’t bother introducing them to each other first or expending any effort on training or anything. Just dump the ‘used’ model at the shelter and enjoy your puppy. Adopting an animal is just like leasing a car! Who knew?

4And on the potential adopter side: “Do ya’ll have any mean dogs? I wanna get one that will fight.” No, I’m not kidding. Some people are this stupid and will be this flat-out honest about the terrible things they plan to do with an animal. Sending a dog home with this guy? Definitely worse than leaving him at the shelter. At the shelter the dog might be a little bored, a little stir-crazy. But he’s not going to be forced to fight with another dog, incurring injuries or beatings.

Why so much paperwork for an ‘unwanted’ animal? Why do you ask so many questions?

If we just wanted to get rid of them, there would be no paperwork. We would just dump them into a box with a sign that said: “Free Animals!”

What we do want is to re-home the animals. The common phrase is ‘forever home’. We want people who are responsible, have the means to take care of an animal, and understand animals. No animal deserves to go home with an abusive owner, or bounce from ignorant owner to ignorant owner.

1) We ask if you’ve ever given up/surrendered an animal because this tends to become a habit.

Now, rehoming with a good friend/family member is not the same as surrendering at the shelter which is not the same as dumping an animal on the street. However, there are plenty of people out there who have never surrendered or re-homed a pet, regardless of any behavior issues the animal may have had or personal/life issues that the owner had. That said, a history of surrendering isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but you’d better be able to explain yourself in a way that doesn’t make you sound like a total dickbag.

2) We want to know  the size of your your residence and yard/ animal habitat

People adopt large dogs into tiny apartments and don’t walk them or exercise them in any way. They adopt rabbits and jam them into cages so small they can barely turn around. They have eight cats and one littler box.  Now, you may be committed to jogging daily with your new Labrador even though you live in tiny studio apartment. Many people are not this committed when push comes to shove. My rabbit rescue absolutely will not adopt a rabbit to you if you plan to house it outdoors, even if you’ve successfully housed rabbits there before.  This is one of those ‘bad apples spoil it for everyone’ things. Some shelters will not budge on space/habitat requirements. Some will bend a little if you seem committed and otherwise a good fit for the animal. If you have concerns about the size of your living space, ask about this first!

3) We want every family member present, if possible, to meet the animal. That may mean waiting until the next day for everyone to be present.

If you bring this animal home and your wife or son cannot stand it, who are you going to give up? Your wife? Or the dog? What if the dog loves your entire family except your oldest son, whom it growls at? Some of these issues can be resolved with training, but it may tarnish the “Yay! New pet!” vibe. The rabbit rescue recently adopted to a middle-aged woman who was a prior rabbit owner and seemed responsible and caring. The rabbit was returned the next day because her husband wasn’t on board with the idea of a new pet.

4) We prefer animals to live indoors, with the family. Even cats and rabbits.

Strictly indoor cats live longer than cats that are indoor/outdoor or outdoor only. Dogs are much happier living in the home as a family member. Dogs left outside can get lonely and bark incessantly. Then they get returned because the neighbor is complaining. Doggy-doors are an acceptable solution, provided you have a secure yard that the dog can’t escape from. Dogs typically don’t wander as far as indoor/outdoor cats do. Rabbits are prone to several illnesses that are transmitted by mites and mosquitoes. In addition, they are very sensitive to heat as well as temperature fluctuations.

Being indoors with the family means more time spent with their humans. This typically means a more relaxed and content pet.

Why won’t you adopt to families with small children?
I don’t mean that we won’t adopt to families with children. What I mean is that many shelter animals are rated as appropriate for ages 8+, 10+, 12+. This is the biggest complaint at the shelter where I volunteer. Very few animals, especially dogs, are rated as “all ages”. Conversely, kittens are nearly always rated for “all ages”. There are a few reasons.

1) The animal is too shy or too nervous.

Kids will want to play with their new pet. They are excited! Pets are cute and fuzzy and funny to watch. An animal that is shy or nervous, or an animal who is startled by loud noises etc. is going to be miserable in a house with young (under 10) children. They will hide,  cower, growl or snap, possibly even bite or scratch. Then they wind up back at the shelter again.

2) The animal is too active, jumpy, or rambunctious while playing.

This is more common with dogs than cats. The jumpy 75-pound yellow lab WILL knock over your three-year old. This is not out of malice, but out of having a high level of energy and not enough training. This is most common in younger dogs. Jumping can be corrected but it takes time. Baseline energy level is harder to alter or redirect. Your kids will want to play with their new pet. The new pet will run into them, knock them over in exhuberence, accidentally chomp some fingers instead of the ball your child is holding. If your child gets hurt, you aren’t getting rid of the child, you’re going to get rid of the dog.

3) The animal is too possessive.

Again, more dogs than cats. Some dogs are very food and toy possessive and will growl or snap at anyone coming near ‘their’ stuff. This can sometimes be corrected. Small children love to play with dog food, dog toys etc. With a food or toy-possessive dog this is a chomp waiting to happen.
4) Not a good breed/type for children

Rabbits and birds are typically not a good match for small children (under eight years). Why? They are delicate animals that don’t ‘play’ in the manner that kids want pets to play. Birds have very delicate bones and need a very specific diet. They don’t do well with rough-handling and random snacks shoved into their cages.

Rabbits are also delicate, to a degree. Many of them dislike being held and they can break their spines by struggling too hard against a tight grip. Rabbits also have nasty claws and aren’t afraid to “bunny kick” with their back feet when they want ‘down’. I have many more scratches on my person from my two years of handling rabbits than I do from years of living with cats! The rabbit rescue typically suggests children be eight or older to own a rabbit.

The SPCA on the other hand will wiggle a little bit on recommended ages if we meet the kids and the interactions with a specific animal are good. This can go the other way as well. I supervised a visit of a relatively shy kitten and a mom with a preschool-aged daughter. The daughter was shrieking and screaming and darting around the room. The kitten was absolutely terrified and cowered in a corner the whole time. I suggested looking for a braver and more outgoing kitten, but mom really wanted “an orange one”* and this was the only orange kitten at the time. They left, but I saw them back a few hours later.

Have you adopted a pet from a shelter or a rescue? Was your experience a good one?

Also if you have any questions regarding policies like these, let me know!

*Choosing an animal based on looks alone is one of the worst ways to pick a companion animal! Also, many black dogs and black cats are overlooked in shelters. We call it BBD: Big Black Dog syndrome Most people want an animal that is a little bit different, that is unique in some way.

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One Response to “Adopting Shelter Animals: Myth Busting”

  1. Brenn June 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    I’m dealing with a new adoptee right now. A month ago we brought home a little poodle/dachshund dog, about two years old. My household includes two humans, a 12 year old Siamese mix, and now Kelly.

    The cat does NOT like dogs, but she’s tolerating him because he’s accepted her as higher in pack order. He leaves her alone as much as he can. I’ve taken to distracting her now and then, and I re-arranged furniture to give her more high places/hiding places of choice, including her food and litter box. She touched noses with him the other day, so she’s getting more accepting.

    Kelly was neutered before he came home, and only had a couple accidents. We walk several times a day, totaling up to about an hour of exercise. He has a sweet and playful personality, and he loves his squeaky toys. Hasn’t de-squeaked any of them yet.

    Our main issue is that of separation anxiety. He bonded quick and hard to me, and does not like being left alone. We’re working on that, going the desensitization route. I started with crate training, but failed quickly when I realized he was fine in the house loose. He’d be on my bed anyways. We’re going back to the crate, just a bit, until we’re past the anxiety.

    Taking him back? nu uh. I got a white comforter because it matched my cat. Turns out the dog I got after that also matched the cat. Go figure. 😉

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