Lots of people complain that adopting a pet today is almost harder than adopting a child! Strict and seemingly bizarre policies by rescue groups turn off many potential adopters. But they don't have to! Here are six tips to help you successfully adopt your next pet. (These are our opinions only and may not be shared with some rescue groups.)
All the best adoption organizations today request a few references and actually check them. Ideally they should ask for two personal references and one from the applicant's veterinarian. The goal here is to screen out people who want a pet, perhaps with the best of intentions, but tend not to take very good care of pets. Of course this is subjective, so good adoption groups are really only screening to prevent a pet being placed in neglectful if not downright abusive situations. If you prefer to do your own vaccinations, or prefer to get titer tests to make sure booster vaccinations are really needed, you can explain that to the adoption rep and it should be acceptable. The personal references are truly just character references. Are you a good person who is kind to animals and cares for them properly? Then don't fear the references because they should be easy enough to pass.
Homes with children, babies and pregnancies
The best adoption groups look for families that are willing to teach their children how to be kind to animals and how to be responsible in their care, for example by not leaving the front door open. Relatively calm, quiet children are fantastic owners for a new pet. However, homes where the applicant is pregnant or has a small baby might want to consider waiting to adopt, simply because human babies take so much time and energy that there may not be any left over for the new pet. But this should not be an automatic adoption-breaker because lots of families have babies after a pet is already adopted and they often do just fine. The only strong advice is to be honest with yourself about how much you really can care for a baby and a new pet simultaneously. Be willing to discuss this with the adoption coordinator.
Yards, fences, indoor, outdoor
The adoption group will want to know how you plan to provide exercise for your pet, and this includes how much access it will have to the outdoors. Ideally cats should be indoor-only, or have restricted and supervised outdoor time. Screened porches or cat runs are wonderful. Dogs should have fully fenced yards and again be supervised. Some dogs are particularly adept at climbing and jumping and can escape from yards with 5-foot fences. This is part of the breed research that adopters should do prior to submitting an adoption application. If you don't have an appropriately fenced yard, you must be willing to do leashed potty breaks and exercise walks several times a day, or can afford to hire a dog walker to assist with that. You should also select a breed with exercise requirements suitable for this situation. It's not realistic to adopt a high energy dog like a border collie and expect him to be happy with one walk a week. There are low-energy breeds that are ideal for lazy owners (like me, I fully admit, one of the reasons I have greyhounds!)
Home visits should not be inspections
Home visits are particularly fraught with tension. It's natural to feel like your home is being inspected and judged. But good adoption groups don't evaluate the cleanliness of your home (except for extreme cases as in hoarders). They may suggest a few things to change, like installing locks on yard gates or to store toxic cleaning supplies in a cabinet the pet can't get into. But the home visit is more to gauge if the pet will be comfortable in your home. A good group will send one or two experienced volunteers to your home and they should also bring at least one pet of the same species as the one you are trying to adopt. (Dog groups do this pretty routinely, but groups that adopt other species don't as much. I think they should.) Bringing a confident, calm animal to your home visit is an important tool to evaluate how your family interacts with the pet. The volunteers should always keep one discreet eye on the animal. Does he look calm through the whole visit or anxious? Does he like the family? Does he express mistrust with any particular family member? Most of us understand that animals have a "second sense" about people and we respect their opinions. This is just as true in the home visit situation. The home visit is also a fantastic time to ask your adoption rep deep questions about caring for the new pet as well as questions about how the adoption group operates. It should be a two-way conversation because both parties want the best outcome for the pet.
This one is the easiest of all to explain. Blanket policies are bad, period. Some organizations resort to them after having dealt with a string of failed adoptions. But it's a lazy solution. Speaking as someone who held a board seat with two rescue groups and continues to foster and volunteer, I steer away from any group that maintains blanket policies. Not ALL homes with children are bad, not EVERY dog requires a fenced yard. I feel strongly that every adoption application should be evaluated on it's own merit. You can sometimes find out if an adoption group maintains blanket policies simply by reading their adoption policies or by asking them. If you know your family would be a terrific new home for some lucky animal but a group won't evaluate your family because they just "don't adopt to X", then pass them by and find another group. (Capri is demonstrating the only blanket policy that we like.)
Applying to Multiple Organizations at the Same Time
It's generally frowned upon to submit an adoption application to more than one group at a time. Most rescue groups use the time and talent of volunteers, which is even more precious and hard to come by than paid staff. Having volunteers working on your application and then discovering that you've adopted from another group is very frustrating to the groups for this reason. If you apply to adopt from a group and feel that they're not responsive enough, it's best to let them know you are rescinding your application. There should be no hard feelings about that. Then you can apply to another group who may be more responsive.
We hope that you found these tips helpful. Have we forgotten any that you know of?