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Too many dog rescue organizations have too many selective criteria and too many rules to be effective animal adoption organizations.

The demand for domestic dogs continues to grow.

Even in the light of the recession and “slow recovery,” more people want dogs than ever before.

And because more people really want dogs, the people who are offering them can afford to be more selective.

Now, it’s well-known that it can be difficult to get a high quality dog off a breeder. Breeders want to have some control over their lines, and they also do care about the long-term welfare of their puppies.

But really, I don’t know of any breeder of any kind of purebred dog who is quite like the dog foster and rescue crowd.

One can throw fits about how breeders demand that all puppies they sell be spayed or neutered, but breeders, although they probably won’t admit it, understand that they have to market their puppies in some way. That’s really what dog shows and trials and tests are about. They do show the dog meets some objective standard– even if we can quibble about the standard. But it’s still a very good marketing tool.

Many dog rescue people have never heard of that word marketing in relation to domestic dogs, and if you suggest it, get ready to have your head bitten off.

That’s because dog rescuers are rescuers. And that in itself is an entirely different mentality.

Now, not all dog rescuers are like this, and if you aren’t like this, I’m not writing about you.

But some dog rescuers are just nutty about the requirements they have for potential adopters.

Emily Yoffe of Slate Magazine writes about these bizarre criteria that rescuers set up in an article called “No Pet for You.” 

In the article, Joffe describes her attempt to get a second rescue dog, but these attempts were only thwarted by the absolute nuttiness of the criteria that various rescue organizations create to keep “wrong people” from getting their animals:

When my family decided to get a second rescue dog, I felt it was my job to prove to the groups we contacted that I wasn’t a vivisectionist. Fed up, we decided to buy a puppy and found a lovely breeder, and our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lily, has made us all ecstatic.

After I wrote this, I expected to be skinned alive by animal lovers. Instead, dozens of people posted comments about their own humiliation and rejection at the hands of these gatekeepers.

And gatekeepers they are.

Because here is a sampling of the responses Yoffe received on her initial piece:

Katie wrote that she wanted to adopt a retired racing greyhound but was told she was not eligible unless she already had an adopted greyhound. Julie got a no from a cat rescue because she was over 60 years old, even though her daughter promised to take in the cat if something happened to Julie. Jen Doe said her boyfriend’s family lives on fenced farm property with sheep, but they weren’t allowed to adopt a border collie—whose raison d’être is herding sheep—because the group insisted it never be allowed off-leash. [A border collie that is never allowed off-leash is going to be a barmy thing that no one could possibly want!] Philip was rejected because he said he allowed the dog he had to sleep wherever it liked; the right answer was to have a designated sleeping area. Molly, who has rescued Great Danes for more than 30 years, was refused by a Great Dane group because of “concern about my kitchen floor.”

Yoffe then describes the story of how a friend of hers was forced to go to Bernese mountain dog breeder after a bad experience with a rescue organization:

My friend M., who looked into getting a family dog when her children were 6 and 9, had a similarly vexing experience. After she and her husband decided rescue was the right thing to do, they looked online and found a mutt named Rusty. Rusty’s rescue group was having an adoption day and the family made the long drive to see him. Adopters were told not to mingle with the animals, but that specific dogs would be brought to them. While Rusty was otherwise engaged, M. asked if they could look at some of the other dogs but almost all were declared not suitable for children. As the family waited, the children sat on the ground and started writing in the dirt with sticks. A volunteer came over, alarmed. He reprimanded them, saying that if a dog sees a stick in a person’s hand it will expect that stick to be thrown, and it’s not fair to frustrate a dog.

Eventually, Rusty was brought over. He was a little hyper but everyone agreed he was fine. M. told the rescue group they wanted him, and when the family returned home they started buying dog supplies. But a call from the group aborted their plans. “We had a report about inappropriate behavior by your children,” M. was told, which meant they would not be allowed to adopt. M. and her husband were astounded and the children were crushed. “We still really wanted a dog, so we did the wrong thing and went to a breeder,” M. says. They bought a Bernese Mountain Dog who basks in constant attention from M. and her husband, who both work at home. “He loves his life,” she says. “Too bad for Rusty.”

Yoffe thinks that a lot of this control-freakishness over adopters of rescued dogs comes from a general aversion to human and what humans tend to do to animals.

Let’s posit that many people who are drawn to humane work don’t have a particularly positive view of humanity. This natural aversion is exacerbated by years of helping abandoned, abused, and neglected animals, which means seeing the worst people do to innocent creatures. Unfortunately, a subset of these people who dislike people have become like admissions officers at selective colleges, rejecting applicants who don’t fit an ideal template.

Of course, that’s certainly the case.

But another part of it is the puffed up ego.  There is a certain mentality that many rescuers have– it’s the messiah complex. I’m saving this dog from a terrible situation, and only someone who has exactly my values can have it.

It’s exactly the same mentality one see on those shows about animal hoarders. How many of those people firmly believe that only they can provide the animals with the homes they need?

It’s really the same mentality– just a softer version of it.

And sometimes not so soft. Yoffe writes about a woman who rescues parrots and other caged birds, who has dozens of birds in her home that she has rescued. She refuses to adopt any out, even though she’s a member of a rescue organization.

The whole process is driving more and more people to go to breeders.

Anyone who gets to this question on one group’s application—“Do you plan to tie or chain the dog out at anytime?”—should know the answer is “never.” (I agree that dogs shouldn’t be chained outside). And you should know that the answer to this inquiry—“Have you ever had a cat declawed? Will you be declawing your new cat?”—is, “I would rip out my own fingernails with a pliers before declawing a cat.”

But other questions are conundrums. If you think having a dog would be great for your kids, or that your personal reproductive plans are not the business of strangers, then consider how to answer this question from a Labrador rescue group: “Are you considering having children within 10 years?” And who knows what number is disqualifying when answering this one: “How many steps are there to reach your front door?”

Ari Schwartz, a business development manager from Tarrytown, N.Y., and his wife, Lisa, a medical student, ran up against these Jeopardy-like quizzes when they went looking for a shelter dog. After filling out a multi-page online application from a local group, they got a follow-up phone call from a representative who noted they hadn’t given the name of their veterinarian. That was because the couple didn’t have a dog, Lisa replied. In Joseph Heller-esque fashion, the rep said that in order to adopt, a referral from a veterinarian was necessary. The representative went on to note the group preferred that one owner be home full-time. They also didn’t like to give dogs to people who lived in apartments, like the Schwartzes. The couple was told to get a cat. “My wife is deadly allergic to cats,” Ari notes. So—surprise!—they decided to go to a breeder. They now have a Shiba Inu named Tofu. “We absolutely love him,” Ari says.

If an applicant manages to get approved, the adoption papers should be read carefully before signing. It turns out the contract often specifies the adopter is not the actual owner of the animal. Sure you’re responsible for the pet’s food, shelter, training, and veterinary care, but the organization might retain “superior title in said animal.” This means the group can drop in unannounced at any time for the rest of your pet’s life and seize Fluffy if it doesn’t like what it sees.

Many adoption agreements also have a provision mandating that if things don’t work out with the pet, you must return it to the group rather than find it another home. Let’s call this the Ellen DeGeneres clause. The comedian adopted a Brussels Griffon named Iggy that just couldn’t get along with her cats. DeGeneres gave it to her hairdresser, who has two daughters, then aged 11 and 12, and Iggy basked in the love fest. Then someone from the group called to check in with DeGeneres on how Iggy was doing. She told them about the new arrangement. Not only was DeGeneres in breach of contract, the group didn’t want Iggy living with any children under age 14. They confiscated the dog.

So dog rescue has become crazy land.

There are several people in the rescue community who think things have gotten totally out of hand:

There are people in the rescue community who are aware that zealotry is damaging their cause. (The ASPCA sided with DeGeneres in her dispute). After all, since fewer than 20 percent of new pets come from rescue groups, driving down that proportion is self-defeating. Jane Hoffman is the president of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, the organization that transports potential pets from animal control to private groups and provides training and other services. “You have two ends of the spectrum,” she says. “Pet stores will sell to anyone with the money. And then there are rescue group who won’t adopt to anyone. We need a happy medium.”

Hoffman, whose organization works to smooth out the adoption process, acknowledges that the attitude of a lot of rescue groups is to “try to screen out people.” She understands the psychology of these wary rescuers. These are people, she points out, who save animals from dreadful situations: wandering lost on the street, facing euthanasia in a kill shelter, being removed from a “skank” owner. “They put in a lot of time and effort and love this dog or cat back to health,” she says. “Some get a little overcautious and are so afraid to make the wrong choice. So they err on the side of rejecting what would be a perfectly good home.”

Even guinea pig rescue has some nuttiness:

My former Slate colleague Jack Shafer, now a Reuters columnist, is allergic to cats and dogs. But he and his wife, Nicole Arthur, have two young animal-loving daughters, so they settled on rodents. Nicole didn’t want to support the guinea pig breeding industry, so she applied to a guinea pig rescue. The girls spent hours looking at the group’s website and their 8-year-old fell in love with a guinea pig that was supposed to be at an adoption event. But when the family got there the guinea pig in question was absent because of illness. The girl wept, but her parents consoled her and said there were many wonderful guinea pigs that needed homes. After the event the family awaited word on when to get their pets. But the word that came was that the family was unfit, because it was clear to the rescuers that the pets were for the girls, and the group didn’t adopt animals for the sake of children. Shafer says, “My question is, what adult wants a guinea pig? Of course they’re for the children!”

So off the family went to the pet store and home they came with Nibbles and Snowflake. They eat lovingly chopped produce and contentedly sit on the girls’ laps. Shafer’s analysis of the guinea pig saviors is unfortunately true of many animal rescuers. “They are trying to do something good,” he says, “and they end up doing something bad.”

Now, that’s pretty bad.

I think virtually all rescuers are into rescue for the right reasons, but unfortunately, too many of them can’t leave their egos at the door.

The point of rescue organization is to find homes for animals.

It’s not to judge other people. It’s not self-aggrandizement.

It’s to find a place for dogs that people might want.

And to do that, we have to accept that different people have different lifestyles.

Some people live way out in the sticks and don’t have to worry about leash laws.  Indeed, I think it almost borders on cruelty for anyone to keep a dog either confined to a yard or on a leash for its entire life– especially if it is from a large, active breed.

Now, I might quibble a bit with Yoffe’s desire to let her cats outside.

That’s not because of cat welfare, though. It’s because cats destroy native wildlife when they are let outside unsupervised.

Yoffe has raised an important issue– one that must be addressed if dog rescue is ever going to last.

If the dog rescuers won’t let people have access to their rescued animals, then they will go to breeders.

The demand is that high.

So if they actually want people to adopt animals, they need to find ways to make the process easier and far less selective.

Otherwise, you’re just spinning your wheels with the people with the soft hoarder mentality.

 

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