Rescues and Adoptions and Volunteers, Oh My!

I'm writing this at the end of a long, crabby week, so bear with me.

Thinking of adopting from a rescue? Great! That's the best news I've heard all day. There are lots of homeless dogs out there and if you can give one of them a good home . . . well, good on ya, mate. You're doing something important and meaningful. As a longtime volunteer for a Boxer Rescue organization, I feel privileged to have worked with so many wonderful adopters over the years. I've developed friendships with many of the folks who've adopted my foster dogs. It's a perk of the job!

While the vast majority of folks who apply to adopt from our rescue are well-intentioned and are stellar dog owners to boot, lately we've had a few applicants who are, shall we say, a bit challenging.

Now, at the risk of spilling a few insider secrets, I'm going to pass on a couple of tips to folks who are considering adopting from a rescue organization:

1. The rescue will ask you for your veterinarian's name and phone number. They aren't just doing this for fun - they will actually call your vet and confirm that you've kept all of your past animals up to date on stuff like annual exams, vaccinations, etc.
    • If you want to make life easier, be sure to call your veterinarian's office and confirm that your records are in order.  Also, make sure the records are under your name. Or your spouse's name. Or both. You would not believe how many people have vet records under some other person's name. The nice people who process applications are seldom blessed with psychic powers. It gets frustrating when they have to call a vet clinic over and over again. "The applicant says that maybe the records are under their brother's mailman's name - can you check?"
    • Be aware that if you've used umpteen different veterinary clinics, it sends up a red flag. Changing clinics once or twice is not the end of the world, but it's important to establish an ongoing relationship with a veterinarian who knows your animals well.
    • Give vaccinations yourself?  This is okay, but you need to save the label from the vaccine. Rescues would love to take your word for it, but unfortunately, people lie right to our faces all the time. 
    • Don't believe that cats need veterinary care?  Think again, s'il vous plait. Cats are 1A mega ultra black belt-level experts when it comes to hiding illnesses.  Until recently, I had cats my entire life. Do they hate to go to the vet? You betcha. But am I a veterinarian who can treat a cat on my own? Not even close. Plus, the rabies vaccination is required by law in most areas. And you can't give that one on your own.
    • Have concerns about the possibility of over-vaccinating?  This is usually not a problem, provided that you have taken your animals in annually for exams and have run titers as needed.  If you're not familiar with a titer, this is a blood test that confirms that your animal has enough of the vaccine in his/her blood to provide protection. 
    • When it comes to veterinary care, rescues will generally overlook small stuff like a missed distemper vaccination for your cat. What they are looking for is a history of providing regular vet care, as that is the only way they can get a good idea of whether or not you will provide a high level of care for the dog you'd like to adopt.
2. Try to keep in mind that the people you are contacting about adoption are volunteers. They aren't expecting any praise or special recognition.  Generally speaking, they are just hoping to be treated respectfully. You wouldn't believe how many people read us the riot act, tell us that we suck ass, inform us that we are stupid for passing up the world's best home for a dog . . . and then re-apply six months later. One thing I can tell you for sure is that rescue volunteers have long memories. Remember, they aren't trying to annoy or upset anyone.  But if someone's vet records do not pan out or there are other issues, sometimes the volunteers' hands are tied. There are guidelines and by-laws that they have to follow. As hard as it is, please try not to take it personally.  Your best bet is to have your ducks in a row before you apply, and then not to say anything wacky on the application.

3. Show a willingness to learn. When it comes to dogs, try to accept that some of the stuff you've always heard and have always believed may not align with current "best practices." Dog training has changed over the last two decades. Gone are the days of alpha-rolling a dog, of swatting a dog with newspaper, and of rubbing a dog's nose in his own feces. Today, we know a lot more about how dogs' brains work and why those methods are ineffective. Educate yourself on concepts like positive reinforcement training. Rescues are looking for applicants who are flexible and tolerant.

4. The last issue I wanted to mention is . . . fencing. Every rescue has its own policies when it comes to fencing and what is required. Some communities prohibit above-ground fencing, so it's hard to require it across the board. Rather, the rescue is looking for evidence that you have a way to contain the dog safely and that you take the dog's safety very seriously. Accidents happen, but don't tempt fate.

Occasionally, an applicant comes to us with a line of thinking that seems basically to consist of: "You should be so glad that I am considering one of your mangy homeless dogs that you should overlook every red flag on my application." This is a small percentage of people, but lately we've had several applicants who have been downright abusive to our volunteers. It's upsetting. This is one reason why volunteers burn out and then leave rescue forever.

If you are declined by a rescue or if it appears that they are struggling with some aspect of your application, please don't open fire on the volunteers. They are doing their best. Most of them have full-time jobs, families, etc. Instead, consider asking, "What could I do differently so that I can be considered for adoption?" Sometimes a more honest approach opens the door to adoption.

Yes, rescues are picky. Yes, the application can be a pain in the arse. Yes, the volunteers can get crabby. But, just like your heart is in the right place by wanting to adopt a homeless animal, my heart is already deeply attached to that homeless animal. If you're going to adopt one of my foster dogs, I just need you to be tens kinds of awesome. It's not too much to ask, right?

Gideon, the bestest Boxer boy in the whole wide world


Mary said…
Good one.... hope it's ok to repost!!!;)
jessiewollmuth said…
Great post Claudia!!
Jessie, Zoe, & Caddie
Kathy & Aaron said…
I think this post adds a lot from the view point of the rescue. And I know that every org is different. My hubby & I were turned down by a greyhound rescue 8 yrs ago because we had no past history with dogs (young, first married, one of us a student). We ended up adopting a dog from the county pound and a couple years after that a stray that wandered into our yard (yes, we really tried to find her owners: signs, called the local vets, newspaper, ect.) Our dogs have had routine vet care & grooming. They have a dog door to come/go and a half acre, fenced yard with plenty of squirrels to chase. Dog food specially blended, made, & delivered for them. They have been to obedience school and on many, many vacations with us. I am sure that we would have no problem adopting a greyhound now that our history has been established. But I would never get a greyhound because of the way we were treated in the process. I am sure that rescues see some real "piece of work" people asking for dogs but keep our story in mind too when looking at an application that doesn't quite meet every qualification.

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