Someday I would like to adopt a second dog. I don’t want to buy one, not even from a good breeder (that’s just not my style; I approve wholeheartedly of good breeders!). I certainly don’t want to turn to some backyard breeder of untested mutts or, even worse, a pet store that sells puppy mill puppies of the latest “designer breed” mix. I want a young adult dog from a rescue or a shelter.
To that end I spend a lot of time perusing Petfinder looking at dogs and puppies of all ages and sizes just for fun. I like to see who is out there looking for a home and I like to sit and imagine how that dog might fit into my family, how he/she would look running around with Dahlia. I know I’m not ready for that second dog yet, but I like to imagine what one would be like in my family (I swear this is not as odd as it sounds!).
I don’t peruse Petfinder that often, maybe once every couple of weeks, and often I go back and see the same dogs on that page, looking up at me with sad eyes, hopeful eyes. I even see puppies week after week and month after month with their photos and sad stories and hopeful rescues posting about them on the site.
And I started to wonder.
How could puppies be passed over time and time again? Aren’t puppies usually the first to be snapped up? So how could a puppy who has been described as social, outgoing, friendly, and sweet still be looking for a home? I know that older dogs and black dogs can have trouble finding homes. I know that Pit Bulls have difficulty getting out of the shelter/rescue system due to breed bias. But puppies? Something surely must be amiss.
As it turns out, something was amiss. I started looking at the websites of rescues for these seemingly unadoptable puppies and started to come across some things that I found somewhat troubling: extremely rigid requirements. Not just one, but many.
Here are some of the most common ones we’ve seen.
Rigid requirement: Fenced-in yard
What the rescue is thinking: This will keep the dog safer. It will mean the dog will not be chained out in the yard. It will allow the person to exercise their dog more.
Possible solutions: Remain flexible in talking to people who do not have fenced in yards. While a fenced-in yard can certainly be nice not everyone can afford one (or is able to install one if they live in a Home Owner’s Association neighborhood or rent their house). Speak to the potential adopter and find out what their plans are for exercising the dog, for having the dog in their yard, etc. Many people who do not have a fence take long walks with their dogs and do not tie their dogs out or leave them alone in an unfenced yard. You might just be passing up someone who is heavily involved in dog sports, despite the lack of a fence! Would you rather a dog go to someone who just lets him exercise himself in a fenced-in yard or to a person who takes long walks, hikes, and is involved in a dog sport?
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Michelle, Rebecca, Danielle, Kelsey, Lindsey
Rigid requirement: No renters
What the rescue is thinking: People who rent are in an unstable situation. They may not make enough money to own a house. They may have to move soon. Landlords can change their mind and ask the renter to get rid of the dog. It can be hard to find new places with a dog. They might move and dump the dog back on the rescue (or a local shelter). Apartments are small and won’t give the dog enough room.
Possible solutions: Realize that not all renters are the same. Many people are choosing to rent these days. Nearly 38 million households right now are rented. That’s a lot of people to pass up, isn’t it? Yes, sometimes renters move (sometimes homeowners do too!). Craigslist is certainly littered with people who are “moving and cannot take Fido with me” ads. However, those who have dogs and intend to keep them will search high and low to find an apartment that allows their pet. The resources are out there and we always find a way. Make sure the person you’re adopting to is one of those people and you’re golden. And apartments certainly can be small, but that doesn’t mean the dog is going to be under-exercised. Find out how your renter intends to exercise his/her pet. You might just be surprised at how much more exercise a dog gets when a person has no yard and has to get out there with their dog.
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Michelle, Rebecca, Kelsey, Lindsey
Rigid requirement: No children under X years of age (often 6 or 7, but I’ve seen as high as 10 or 12)
What the rescue is thinking: The parents may not have time for a dog with children around. Children can be rough with pets and can frighten some dogs. Children are bitten by dogs far more often than adults because they are too young to understand how to interact properly with dogs. Large dogs can knock over children. Small dogs could be easily injured.
Possible solutions: Meet with the parents and the children. Watch the interaction not only between the children and the dog, but also the parents and the children. Are the parents diligently watching their children? Are they stopping any interaction that might be inappropriate or are they laughing as their child pulls roughly on the dog’s fur? Ask clear questions of the parents as to how and when their children will interact with the dog. What responsibilities (if any) will their children have? Make sure this dog is being adopted as family member and not just “for the kids.”
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Lindsay
Team Unruly members who never would have become “dog people” if this rule had been applied to their parents: Michelle
Rigid requirement: No intact animals.
What the rescue is thinking: The potential adopter is too irresponsible to even neuter or spay their pets. They may be breeding them. They may not have enough money to afford such basic care and so how are they going to take care of emergency vet care?
Possible solutions: Find out why the animal is intact. While it’s true some people are irresponsible or are breeding dogs they have no business breeding, this is not always the case. Many people have intact pets for very valid reasons: they show the dog in conformation, the dog is a sport prospect and they want to wait to spay/neuter until the dog is fully grown and the growth plates have closed, the dog is too ill or old to risk what is ultimately an unnecessary surgery, or the dog is a large breed and should be spayed/neutered only after he/she is fully grown. Since the rescue dog will not be adopted out without being spayed/neutered, then having an intact animal should not become a problem, but just in case you’re worried, speak to the potential adopter and find out what measures they have taken to be sure the dog will not add to the overpopulation problem.
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Rebecca, Merissa, Katie, Danielle, Lindsey, Lindsay, Sarah
Rigid requirement: Must not be gone from the home X amount of hours (often the cut-off is 4 hours, but sometimes they’ll allow as high as 6)
What the rescue is thinking: The dog deserves to have someone home with him/her for most of the day. It can be difficult to exercise a dog if they’re home for 8 or 9 hours a day. It’s unfair to the dog to ask them to be alone all day when they’re social creatures. Puppies need to be let out to potty fairly often and asking them to hold it all day is unfair to the puppy.
Possible solutions: Many people have to work full time in this day and age. It’s not often that one member of the household is home all day or even most of the day. And often when someone is home all day? Well, that’s because they’re taking care of the children (and we’ve already been through that requirement!). Talk to the potential adopters and find out what their plans are for taking care of their dog. Dogs are most active at dawn and dusk, which means the middle part of the day (the time most people are away from home) is when dogs are at their laziest. If the person intends to take a long walk in the morning and then do some hiking or play a rousing game of fetch or go to agility or flyball classes when they get home in the evening, the dog might just have a great life. Find out if they can get home at lunch to let the dog out (though this is not a necessity for every dog). Maybe they have plans for a dog walker to come everyday to take their dog out. There are many ways to make a dog’s life wonderful even if the family works away from home all day.
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Everyone
Rigid requirement: Too old or too young
What the rescue is thinking: Younger people (often I see a cut-off of 21, but I’ve seen as high as 25) are irresponsible. They may still be in college or just settling into their lives. They tend to be unmarried and their lives are changing rapidly. They may have to move quickly for a new job prospect. They may have a new partner come into their lives. They may opt to have children, which could alter their relationship with their dog drastically. Older people (often above 70, but I’ve heard of the cut-off being as low as 60) can become infirm. They may pass away and then what happens to their dog? They may not be physically fit enough to give their dog the exercise he/she needs.
Possible solutions: Consider the individual. There are incredibly responsible 20-year-olds out there. If they’re young and active, they might just be an excellent prospect for that hyper young dog who needs a lot of exercise. I meet many young people who are in the agility circuit and they’re very responsible and devoted to their dogs. On the flip side, not everyone above 60 or 70 is infirm or not physically active. If they’re not physically active, they may be the perfect person for that senior dog you haven’t been able to adopt because she’d rather just lounge around the house getting belly rubs instead of taking long walks in the park.
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Sarah
Team Unruly family members (who are interested in adopting a pet) this requirement excludes: Michelle’s mother, Kelsey’s grandmother
Rigid requirement: No military members
What the rescue is thinking: Their lives are up in the air. They could be called to serve and be sent overseas at a moment’s notice. They could be killed in action. They may move to a base that doesn’t allow dogs or doesn’t allow a specific breed of dog.
Possible solutions: Consider the individual and the individual’s family situation. A person in the military may be married to a civilian who will take care of the dog if he/she is sent overseas. They may have a parent or sibling who has signed on to take care of the dog if the military member is not able to anymore. They may have care lined up for the dog in case they are killed in the line of duty. Many military members find great comfort in their pets, especially after serving a tour of duty. Consider that you may be doing something wonderful for someone who has served our country by adopting out a dog to them that may become a very important lifeline for them.
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes:
And here’s a really odd one that a specific rescue we will not name has.
Rigid requirement: No single people, couple must be married (marriage certificate must be provided) and one of the couple must be at home at all times
What the rescue is thinking: We don’t really want to adopt out our dogs.
Possible solutions: Get out of the rescue business or rethink your strategy.
Team Unruly members this requirement excludes: Everyone
Do you notice that the ultimate solution for all of these is “Consider the individual.” The individual human being, the individual dog. Rigid requirements are not doing anyone any favors. The dogs that languish in foster homes for months, sometimes even years are not being helped. They’re in limbo and should never be in limbo for years on end. The dogs dying in shelters because the rescues cannot pull them out because they’re “full” are not being helped. Because a rescue cannot find that perfect home (large home, large fenced in yard, someone home all day, couple is married, but has no young children and is also not “too old” to have a dog), they would rather allow shelters to kill other dogs that they could have saved if only they had looked at each person as an individual instead of as meeting or not meeting (much more likely in many cases) a certain set of rigid requirements.
So maybe it’s time for some rescues and shelters to rethink their ideas on what makes the “perfect” home. Maybe the home you’ve decided is “not good enough” due to some arbitrary requirement might just be the perfect home for that dog. Just look at how many of Team Unruly’s members would be excluded based on these rigid requirements. We’re a group of people heavily involved with our dogs in many ways. All of us have happy healthy dogs who live awesome and amazing lives. So consider that when you’re passing over an awesome application for your dog because they don’t have a fenced-in yard or they show their dog in conformation and so he is intact. Consider the individual. That’s really the most important thing for rescues to do