Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good
Does your shelter unintentionally put up roadblocks to pet adoption?
A shelter is meant as a safe, temporary refuge for our society’s most vulnerable animals: those who are stray, lost, neglected, abused, and surrendered. Once stabilized these animals belong in a home, not a shelter.
Still, too many animal welfare organizations hold would-be adopters to standards that are onerous at best, absurd at worst.
Extensive applications with invasive and often irrelevant questions can deter even the most determined pet adopter.
The result? Those adopters will simply go elsewhere. And your shelter will still have that dog or cat waiting for the perfect home that does not exist.
This article explores recommendations for getting rid of roadblocks to pet adoption so that more animals can find loving homes.
Come on in
Increasingly, people go to an organization’s website as the first place to ‘window shop’ adoption candidates. But once they have narrowed their search they want to see the actual pets.
During public hours your shelter should welcome as many adopters to visit animals as is safe, practical, and feasible. This may mean having more staff or volunteers on hand during peak visitation times.
Make it as easy, pleasant, and productive for shelter visitors to meet available pets. Do not put any obstacles in the way of people coming to your shelter.
Some shelters require an application or appointment to merely see available pets.
This does not improve the quality of adopters coming to your shelter; it merely limits them.
Don’t fence me in
Fences may make good neighbors, but they do not necessarily make good adopters – or well-exercised pets.
It should not matter if an applicant has a fenced-in yard. Simply putting a dog in a yard is not a guarantee that he will get any more physical activity than through other means.
Instead, speak with potential adopters about how they plan to ensure their new pet will get adequate exercise.
For example, a high energy dog who lives in an apartment can be satisfied with multiple long walks or trips to the dog park.
To crate or not to crate
Do not require that a pet adopted through your organization be crated at home.
Unless you plan to micromanage every aspect of each pet’s post adoption life, leave it to the adopter to find the best way to create a proper home environment for their new pet.
If there are behavioral, medical, or other legitimate reasons why a pet needs to be crated discuss these with the adopter, but do not require it.
Who let the cats out?
Just like all living creatures, cats need to get outdoors. It is in their nature to want to explore.
While many studies have shown that indoor cats live longer, healthier lives, that does not mean a cat can never step foot outside.
Speak with potential adopters about safe ways to manage their cats’ outdoor excursions, such as using a cat harness. Discuss ways to enrich the lives of indoor cats as well.
However, do not require applicants to commit to never taking their cat outside as a condition of adoption.
Lose the labels
There is a still small, yet growing trend to remove breed labels from pets’ online and in-shelter bios.
This so-called ‘no labels’ movement instead focuses on other, more important characteristics. Is the animal child friendly? Is this a high energy pet who needs an active household or one who prefers a quieter home? Does the animal enjoy the company of other pets?
There are other reasons not to type pets by breed. Educated guesses about a pet’s breed are notoriously inaccurate.
Sadly, a lot of municipalities, communities, and residences enforce breed bans. And many adopters discriminate against certain breeds. Breed labeling a dog or cat is a major roadblock to pet adoption.
If you label a Boxer mix as a Pit Bull-type dog because it “looks like” one, you may be denying that dog a wonderful home with someone who lives in a residence that bans Pit Bulls.
Other roadblocks to pet adoption
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a thought-provoking piece on how to create ‘adopters welcome’ policies.
The HSUS article includes recommendations that are likely controversial to many animal welfare professionals. However, this does not make them less worthy of consideration.
For example, HSUS suggests removing ‘meet and greet’ requirements for adopters who have resident pets. They cite a study showing no change in outcome when meet and greets were not required.
And see this case study from ASPCA Pro about a shelter that ditched the standard application and interview process. They not only increased adoptions, but improved relationships with their community by becoming a valued resource.
How does your organization remove roadblocks to pet adoption?