Rethinking Adoption: Productive Discussion Rather Than Designed-to-Fail Applications
If you’ve ever tried to adopt a pet from a conventional shelter or rescue group, you know that the application process can be daunting. The forms you’ve had to fill out, and proof of vaccinations and fenced yards, were largely designed to prevent “bad adoptions,” or adoptions that were likely to fail or be detrimental to the animal. In the process, many perfectly caring and stable people have been denied the opportunity to adopt a cat or dog that they’d fallen in love with because of black-and-white, yes-or-no questions. But in a charge led by The Humane Society of the United States, a new approach has emerged and it is aptly titled “Adopters Welcome.”
Instead of trying to rule out potential adopters, it focuses on trying to find and cultivate good forever homes for pets in need. The new approach utilizes in depth, in-person discussion as a supplement to a basic application. By talking with potential adopters, shelter personnel can get a sense of the person’s attitudes and intentions and engage them in a dialogue about best practices in pet stewardship.
The Adopters Welcome approach encourages shelters to examine their adoption policies to ensure they are based on current knowledge and not well-intentioned, but mistaken, beliefs. Rather than looking for ways to disqualify people from taking home a pet, the new approach says, “let's find ways to send good people home with a pet by engaging in conversation and providing information and resources.”
The Adopters Welcome approach also eliminates “barrier questions.” These are the fateful deal-breaker questions that can stop an adoption in its tracks: Do you keep your current cat indoors? Do you have a fenced yard [for a dog]? If you have other pets, are their vaccinations up to date? Please supply a veterinarian for reference. Do you rent or own your home? If you rent, what is your landlord’s name and telephone number? Many perfectly qualified adopters are sweating by now… But by asking these questions verbally in a non-threatening way, the trained staff member is able to assess a person’s sincerity and engage them in discussion.
Dismissing potential adopters outright for a “wrong” answer also circumvents important teaching opportunities. Does the adopter know how and why declawing is actually detrimental to cats? Do they know why indoor cats are healthier and live longer – and can be just as happy and as easy to maintain as outdoor cats?
Many people have also been disqualified as adopters due to low income or advanced age and yet there is no evidence to suggest that these people would not be loving and responsible pet owners. In reality, lack of support after the adoption and no access to affordable veterinary care are the biggest causes of adoption failure. Adopters Welcome recommends the reallocation of resources away from the scrutiny of adopters’ lifestyles and toward the provision of a strong support system to ensure successful placements.
At the Patricia H. Ladew Foundation Inc., we have been practicing many of these principles all along and we are following with great interest and support The Humane Society’s movement toward Adopters Welcome. We talk at length with our potential adopters and we get to know them as people. We provide ongoing support to our adopters, including free medical care (within reason) for life for our senior kitties who go to senior humans' homes, and we adopt all cats out with the understanding that kitty can always come back if things change at home and the placement becomes unviable. Our adopters come to see the Foundation as an extended family and on-going support network.
The highly judgmental screening practices of the past were well intentioned, but begged the question, are we missing the good apples while trying to weed out the bad apples? With the many thousands of shelter animals that need homes at any given time, it makes sense to move to a more proactive approach to finding homes instead of rejecting adopters. Reducing our reliance on paper applications and deal breaker questions by employing more personal interaction is a logical reallocation of our efforts.
Here at the Ladew Cat Sanctuary we agree. We’re proud to say it: Adopters Welcome.