It’s a moral imperative to reduce euthanasia rates in shelters and to find homes for as many animals as possible. But adoption itself is not the end—a safe and loving home for animals is our goal. And that’s why shelters and rescue groups must screen adopters.
Therein lies the tension. Adopt, but only to responsible people. Easier said than done.
© The HSUS/Bill Petros
Indeed, one of our movement’s top priorities is to make people aware of the amazing companions they can find at shelters. That’s the destination for the responsible animal caretaker in our age, and not pet stores, Internet sites, and others who are part of the problem.
There are about 4 million dogs and cats euthanized in shelters every year—down from 20 million 30 years ago—and most are healthy animals who would make great companions. More than ever, this is a solvable problem. If we do our job as protectors of animals the right way—making shelters attractive and inviting and inculcating the ethic that every animal deserves a chance at life—we can drive euthanasia rates way down for healthy and treatable animals. In fact, if just a small percentage of people who now turn to pet stores and breeders as the source for their animals looked instead to shelters, we’d put an end to the tragedy of companion animal overpopulation and get to the business of saving animals—which is the mission of every humane organization.
But we’re not always great with customer service—and that’s an imperative in an economy where the best businesses pay careful attention to the needs and expectations of customers. Many people go to shelters with the intention of getting a companion and saving a life, but they face, depending on the facility, rigorous screening about their suitability as an adopter. Sometimes too rigorous. Sometimes, they are turned off, fed up, done with shelters. That’s a bad outcome for animals, and for our cause.
Let’s face the facts. When we turn away good people, who are attempting to go the responsible route in adopting a companion, we drive them to pet stores and other sources that do harm to animals. That’s a shame.
Yesterday’s Washington Post front-page story by Steve Hendrix about adoption rules at Washington-area shelters puts this important debate into sharp focus. The story reflected the debate that is roiling America’s shelters. It’s time for some soul searching on the part of shelters. And time for re-examination.
© The HSUS/Bill Petros
Many shelters have it just right—balancing the imperative to move animals out of shelters and into homes with an adequate screening process to weed out people who would not attend to the needs of the animals. But a good number of shelters are too strict. They are losing sight of the end game—which is to give animals a chance.
The September/October issue of Animal Sheltering has a number of perspectives on this debate. I encourage you to read the article (Animal Sheltering is a great source of information for all companion animal issues, and you can subscribe here).
There are no guarantees in life, and we take a chance every time we adopt out an animal. There’s no perfect outcome here. But in this case, we should lean toward more permissive adoptions, especially in facilities that are euthanizing substantial numbers of healthy and treatable animals.