Are adoption rules sheltering too many strays from good homes?
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org January 22, 2013 10:40PM
Anderson Animal Shelter has had Precious, a pit bull, for the past three years and no one will adopt. Yet she is the most lovable dog in the shelter, says Executive Director Jack Graff. And in fact, when buses of kids come to view the shelter, it's Precious they bring out and let the kids crawl all over. January 15, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:34AM
After acquiring two pets — a mutt and a cat — from a DeKalb shelter over a span of seven years, I figured I had this whole adoption thing pretty much figured out. Go in, pay a fee and take home the newest member of the family.
That’s why I was surprised when my daughter fell in love with another kitten at Aurora Animal Control — at barely 2 pounds, Kobe was the runt of a litter born under a porch — and we were told every member of the household had to come in to visit the cat before we could take him home.
Everybody? For an actual visit? Phone chats don’t count? Are you serious?
After significant grousing on my part, Animal Control Manager Susan Knight explained this long-standing rule was put into place by the Aurora shelter to cut down on the number of animals being returned. Intrigued by just what it takes to adopt a stray these days, I made more phone calls and learned the Aurora shelter rules are not as strict as other places.
For example, at Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin, families with children under age 2 are prohibited from adopting kittens because both tend to be too rough, which is not good for child or pet.
I get the reasoning behind these rules. But how do you explain these mandatory visits to a large family with crazy schedules? Or the toddler ban to a mom who feels the rule is questioning her parenting abilities?
After more research into the issue — including input from co-workers with their own adoption stories — I realized some places have even stricter rules in place, especially rescue groups. Some include mandatory personal references, home visits, and a lengthy list of deal-breakers such as required fenced yard, a ban on crating, and limits on other pets. Some groups will even disqualify you if you plead guilty to having ever lost a cat (which would have thrown us out of the running for Kobe).
All of which begs the question: With millions of animals getting euthanized in shelters each year, isn’t it enough to provide a pet’s basic need for food, shelter and companionship?
Local groups say it’s all about finding the right balance.
“Restrictions come and go,” says Anderson Executive Director Jack Graff, and how tight rules are depends on who is in charge. Some adoption counselors tend to be conservative, while he considers himself “more flexible.” That’s why Graff personally thinks the kitten restriction should be revisited, and admits to making exceptions in some cases.
Angie Wood, executive director of the Naperville Area Humane Society, says she’s actually seen places relax rules over the years. Shelters used to be the only game in town, but with the proliferation of breed-specific rescue groups — that tend to get more funding and volunteers — “we can’t afford to turn people away” with too many rules. “If you want to find homes for these stray cats and dogs,” she insisted, “you have to trust the public and give them the benefit of the doubt.”
Robin Sweeney, who runs a golden retriever rescue group out of DuPage County, admits some breed-specific organizations put lots of rules in place but likes to think “Good as Gold” lands somewhere in the middle. For example, there are no rules about fences or backyards because they have found that apartment dwellers often make more of an effort to take their dogs on stimulating walks than just turning them loose to run in a backyard.
While it’s all about finding the right match, she noted, it’s also about common sense. And part of that common sense, local shelter leaders agree, means providing the public with positive customer service even when trying to meet “reasonable expectations” in the matchmaking process.
In other words, educate the public about responsible ownership but don’t get too preachy about it. If the rules get too tough, after all, people will find their pets elsewhere.
The good news is, these experts say, more people are adopting strays.
“But if we continue to tell them no,” said Wood, “they will not only turn to puppy mills, they will tell their friends to do the same.”