Dear Animal Lover and Concerned Citizen,
My first animal shelter job was at a limited admission, no-kill animal shelter in Clay County, Florida. Our staff “screened” and denied just about 75% of the people who applied to adopt our residents. We were very protective over the cats and dogs we rescued, rehabilitated and shed tears over. The reasons for these denials were exactly what some have expressed concern over… their financial situation, their home wasn’t “suitable”, their current dogs weren’t neutered/vaccinated, there was no history of heartworm preventative, or the cardinal sin of previously returning a shelter pet. I did this for seven years, and the community of potential adopters eventually disappeared. I don’t blame them. We housed about 30 dogs and 30 cats at that shelter. Most of them were there for several months and many of them were there for several years.
Meanwhile, when we had a space open up, I would drive down the road to our county pound and “rescue” one dog from the dozens of dogs waiting in line, literally, for the euthanasia room. I cried many tears over this situation. I began to realize that every day I held onto a dog at my shelter, waiting for a “good match”, the county pound was euthanizing the equivalent of my entire shelter every single day. I eventually resigned from my job as the manager of this small shelter and went to work for an open admission, county pound, which I have been doing ever since.
I’m sharing this personal story with you, because I was wrong in the way I was trying to help these homeless animals. I had a hard time understanding that the vast majority of people take care and love their pets, especially when I was seeing the worst of the worst on the news or prosecuting defendants who did not represent the community at large. There are now even studies to prove it, but it makes logical sense to me with or without the research. Everyone’s pets may not sleep in bed with them like mine do, but I’ve learned over the past 15 years that most people love their pets and do take care of them to the best of their ability. Why was I trying to control things that were out of my control or judging whether someone would be a “good owner” in a 15-minute conversation, especially when the alternative was death?
Additionally, if people are turned away from adopting homeless animals from us, they aren’t going to just give up and not get a pet. They’re going to get an un-neutered animal from a neighbor, or roadside sale, or a pet store. At least if they adopt my truly homeless dog/cat, they will have spent considerable time with the animal, been assisted by trained counselors, filled out a questionnaire for matching purposes, been given basic pet care information, receive a free first vet exam, have a fully vaccinated, microchipped (and registered with FCAS as emergency), and neutered pet AND will have a lifeline for any follow up questions as a support system. We also take our pets back, no fee and no problem, if it wasn’t a good match.
I’ve personally euthanized hundreds of animals. It’s one of the most tragic consequences of my previous inability to provide help and support to people who are trying to do the right thing by adopting. No, I don’t think offering a discounted rate puts animals at risk, or I wouldn’t do it. My adoption counselors know that they have my full support if we have to deny an adoption for any reason, and we do. At least we are able to put adopters’ names into our database to see if there is any history on their record that would prevent an adoption. That is very rarely the case. It also may not be the right time for someone to adopt, and although we may deny them an adoption, we work with people to get them ready. But we cannot judge whether people would be “good owners” based on myths (the dog-fighting thing) and personal bias (financial limitations). We can set them up for a successful adoption through understanding, education and relationship-building.
I do understand where you are coming from and I really appreciate your concern. I encourage you to visit Animal Sheltering, Shelter Medicine, and Maddie's Fund for more information.
Sincerely for the Animals,
Fulton County Animal Services
LifeLine Animal Project