March 23, 2006

are you dog worthy?

the new york times has an article about adopting dogs from a shelter or from a rescue group. so you thought it was a matter of stopping by, falling in love with a dog, signing a check, and walking him home triumphantly? think again. and repair that fence.

So You Think You Can Just Adopt a Dog?

ALMOST as soon as Michele Pusateri and her two daughters chose a black-and-white terrier at a humane society shelter near their home in South Pasadena, Calif., they were told they did not qualify to own the dog.

Mrs. Pusateri took her daughters, Mira and Zoe, back twice more and met with different adoption counselors. Each time she got a no. "It was insane," Mrs. Pusateri said. "Their concern was that I had never had a dog in my life and that I had a 6-year-old daughter."

Her chances of pet ownership didn't improve when she turned to groups whose mission is to rescue abused and unwanted pets. She found herself explaining to her crying children that they couldn't adopt because the organizations suspected the family had a hole in the backyard fence or the yard was too small.

Ultimately Mrs. Pusateri went to the county animal shelter last May and found Piper, a mutt. She paid $80 for the dog to be spayed and picked her up two days later, to the girls' delight.

The process left Mrs. Pusateri thinking that animal adoption gatekeepers can be so concerned about their charges that they forget about the people in the equation. "They make you jump though all these emotional hoops," she said. "You feel so judged. You start wondering, Am I dog worthy?"

Even as adopting a stray dog or cat — rather than buying one from a store or breeder — has become politically fashionable, a badge of pride for some because of the millions of animals that are euthanized each year, the hurdles that some humane societies and rescue groups make potential owners leap — including multipage applications, references, background checks, interviews and home visits — can make the process feel nearly as daunting as adopting a child.

Animal adoption groups say they want to avoid giving pets to owners who will abuse them and, perhaps more important, to make sure an animal that has been given up once will find a permanent home. Yet would-be adopters who expect exacting standards from top breeders are surprised when shelters and rescue groups ask more from them than a pulse. Many families feel stung when they are denied and are left to ask: Is it better for the animal never to find a home than to live with us? [...]

References are checked. The home is visited. Adopters must sign a contract specifying the care of the dog. In the last nine years the dachshund group has placed some 4,300 dogs, Ms. Blasdel-Cortus said, and she could recall only one family turned down after a home visit, because it lived in an upstairs apartment with rickety stairs and refused to carry the dog up and down.

"I am a dog advocate," Ms. Blasdel-Cortus said. "I'm not a people advocate. If you don't want to fill out the form, go to your local shelter. Some people may find that uncooperative, but a rescued dog is not for everyone." [...]

Cocker Spaniel Rescue of New England will not place a dog with a family with children under 7, said Gerry Foss, its president. German Shepherd Rescue, in Burbank, Calif., receives six dogs a day from people who don't want them, said Grace Konosky, the founder, and she denies about 70 percent of the people who want to adopt them. [...]

"As an animal rescuer, you want to have control," Ms. Buchwald said. "You may have nursed the animal back from the streets or illness or injury. You want to know beyond any doubt what the home looks like. But this work involves trust and restraint. The best thing you can do is say, 'Go with my blessing,' and you clap when they find a home."


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