A Cautionary Tale: When Caution Impedes the Mission

One night last year, my friend, Bobbie was sitting on her porch with her little Shih Tzu, Rosie. They were sitting quietly, enjoying the mild night when the neighbor’s dog came over. The much larger, stronger dog attacked Rosie. Bobbie shouted and struck at the attacking dog, and got his attention just long enough for Rosie to run off. Once the neighbor had his dog back under control, Bobbie enlisted the help of friends and went out looking for Rosie. They looked and called for her all around the neighborhood well into the early hours of the morning, but couldn’t find her. Dejected, Bobbie went home. After sunrise, Bobbie went out looking again, and found Rosie sitting on the back steps. Apparently, she had been so frightened by the attack that she had run off and hunkered down until daylight. Bobbie brought her in and Rosie drank some water and went to sleep. But she never woke up. She had suffered internal injuries in the attack, and although she looked all right, and was acting normal, she bled out in her sleep. Bobbie was devastated.

In rescue and advocacy, our message is "Adopt, Don't Shop".

In rescue and advocacy, our message is “Adopt, Don’t Shop”.

It took months before Bobbie felt emotionally ready to get another dog. When she started talking about the type she wanted, I made all the usual noises that animal advocates make: “Don’t buy from a pet store.” “Don’t buy from a backyard breeder.” “Rescues have all types of breeds, check the rescues in your area.” Bobbie listened, and today she has a beautiful little longhaired Chihuahua. I met him this past weekend. But he didn’t come from a rescue, and Bobbie was sure to tell me.

“I tried to adopt a dog from three different rescues and they all turned me down.”

I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt, that whichever those rescues were, they made a mistake. If any of them would’ve let Bobbie adopt one of their dogs, that dog would have been adored and very well taken care of. I asked why they had refused her, and she said that one said she couldn’t keep a dog safe, because of what had happened to Rosie. Another said that her disability would keep her from being able to run after the dog if it got loose (Bobbie has chronic pain and walks with a pronounced limp). Another said that she didn’t have a fenced in yard.

This brought back memories of when my partner and I wanted to adopt a dog from a local rescue. We’ve had dozens of animals and taken very good care of all of them. All but two have lived into the 16-20 year range. But our application was denied because when they had called our vet for a reference and asked about heartworm preventative, our vet said we didn’t buy it from them. So the rescue wanted to know where we got it. Well, we didn’t have our dogs on heartworm preventative, because they were 19 and 20 years old and we felt like the fewer chemicals they ingested at that age, the better. I assured the rescue that we would put the new dog on heartworm preventative, but the representative told me that “wouldn’t be fair to our other dogs”.

Any rescue can make up their own guidelines and requirements when adopting one of their dogs out, but more and more, I’m seeing cases where the caution they are exercising is impeding their mission. The whole point of rescue is to save a dog from death or abuse, and place the animal in a loving, permanent home. Yet too many potential adopters are discounted because the cautionary requirements of the rescue are too stringent.

Nobody, but nobody, is a perfect pet guardian. We all do the best we can do, and we all make mistakes, even those of us who work in advocacy and rescue. The search for a “perfect home” is a dubious quest at best.

How many other potential adopters have those rescues turned down? How many animals

But only if you jump through enough hoops and meet every requirement.

But only if you jump through enough hoops and meet every requirement.

could have been placed — leaving openings to rescue more pets in danger? What do these experiences do to the message we spread of how important it is to “adopt, not shop” from shelters and rescues?

Bobbie got another dog. She bought him from someone whose dog had a litter. Based on her experience, I doubt she’ll ever try to adopt a rescue dog again.

In rescue and advocacy, our actions and requirements shouldn’t be at odds with our message. It would serve most rescues well to regularly evaluate whether any of their adoption requirements are keeping their animals from loving homes.


About yelodoggie

Ariel C. Wulff is an author, artist and animal advocate. They have been involved in pet rescue for over twenty-five years. They have written two books about their true-life adventures living with an ever-changing house full of pets: Born Without a Tail, and Circling the Waggins, and a guide to animal advocacy using the Internet as a tool: How to Change the World in 30 Seconds". Wulff also wrote a pet column and book review column for the Examiner, and was a contributing editor for AnimalsVote.org. They attribute their love of animals to having been raised by Wulffs.
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5 Responses to A Cautionary Tale: When Caution Impedes the Mission

  1. Peter says:

    Some organizations implement absurd procedures. We rescued a 5 year-old female from Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue. When our older dog passed away, we went back to MAGSR to get another and they had all of the same absurd requirements (contact with our vet, site visit to our house, etc). When someone throws a life-line to a drowning person, they aren’t asked for references. We got rescued a much-older female (9 years old at the time) from Virginia GSR. BTW – our vet tells us that when he dies, he wants to come back as one of our dogs. We’re great parents.


    • Jessica says:

      Asking for vet references and doing a home check are not ridiculous requirements; they are put there to ensure that the pet will not go to a home that ends up being worse for it. When a rescue takes in an animal, it is responsible for the well-being of that animal. References and checks like that are there to help reduce the chance that someone just lied on the application and take the dog back to an unsafe environment (it does happen).

      I am very happy that you rescued both of your pups; it sounds like you’re definitely one of the good ones, and more dogs would be fortunate to end up in homes like yours. 🙂


  2. When I lost my standard poodle in 2001, I spent over a year trying to find a standard poodle in rescue. They are relatively rare though there are many mixes. I found only one, but was denied consideration because I lived on a farm. According to the group standard poodles are indoor dogs and one would never be safe on a farm!
    I bought George Bailey from a wonderful breeder who has stayed in touch for 12 years. Over the years I have rescued many animals from livestock to domestic rabbits. By the way, standard poodles are excellent farm dogs.


  3. Jessica says:

    This is a good reminder to those working in rescue. Requirements are there to maintain the health, safety, and security of the adopted animal, but often they are followed too rigidly. When I adopt out a rescue animal, the last thing I want is someone lying on the application because they think they will be turned down otherwise. On the application, I do ask a lot of questions, but part of that is to open up a dialogue between myself and the adopter, and to find the RIGHT fit. Just because I ask if they have a fenced yard doesn’t mean I’m, by default, going to turn them down because they don’t have one. It just helps me complete the picture of what the adopter’s home and situation is like, so that I can address any questions or concerns I may have before deciding if it’s a right fit.

    Sometimes, rescuers get so bogged down in the requirements that they forget to look at each situation on a case-by-case basis. I have known people who live in apartments but have dogs that are happier than those who live in a house with a full yard, because their people walk them and interact with them constantly, versus just leaving them outside in the yard all the time. It’s a sobering reminder that we really need to keep the dialogue open with possible adopters, and hopefully they will do the same with us. 🙂


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