The adoption process for most responsible rescue groups involves an application and screening to make sure the dog you want to adopt is a good match for you and your family. Some rescue groups have more lengthy adoption applications and screening processes, while some groups don't pre-screen at all and will adopt dogs out on the spot. In general, no screening process puts an adopted dog at higher risk for being returned to the rescue group or dumped in the shelter system. It's important to understand why rescue volunteers pre-screen applicants, so that you don't feel offended if you are not approved to adopt the dog you fell in love with.
Here are the three common steps in the adoption process along with the explanation why each step is important.
- You fell in love with the dog on Petfinder or at an adoption event, so now you must complete an adoption application that asks about your home, family, and life schedule. Don't worry, this is to determine if your family's "personality" matches the dog's personality, not to judge you on a personal level. Rescuers put lots of time getting to know their rescued dogs and what their needs are to be happy. If a fenced yard is required to adopt a dog, it is usually because the rescuer knows the dog will not be happy without playtime inside a safe fenced yard. Leash walking alone will not meet the dog's need to run, chase, fetch, etc and he would eventually begin to "entertain" himself in other ways like destructive chewing, and nobody wants that. But many dogs don't need a fenced yard at all. If a rescuer can tell you what each adoptable dog needs to be happy, you should trust them. They can also tell you if the dog is good with children, cats, or other dogs.
- Before approving an adopter, rescue groups call your veterinarian's office and ask the staff if your account shows that current and past dogs were up to date on vaccines and heartworm/flea preventives. Usually the adoption application asks for your permission to call your vet for this "reference". Why? Because many rescue dogs came from places where their health was neglected. If the adoptable dog is from a puppy mill where they never saw a vet, and the rescue puts lots of money getting the dog healthy and ready for adoption, why would they adopt them out to someone who doesn't take their dogs for yearly vaccines or keep them on monthly preventives? If your vet account shows no history of buying heartworm prevention, you can expect that the rescue volunteer will address that topic with you. If you are willing to get current dogs tested for heartworms, treated if needed, and begin monthly prevention regimen, then the rescue groups will usually re-consider your application to adopt a dog. Please don't feel judged if you are not allowed to adopt due to a poor vet history, and try to understand why this is so important for rescue volunteers who have vowed to care for a rescued dog and only place them in homes where they will be loved and healthy for the rest of their lives. Most rescue groups love to see a perfect vet reference but we don't deny applications if your vet history isn't perfect. We usually "counsel" people about things that are missing in their vet care regimen and still allow adoption. Remember, adopting a dog is a financial commitment and rescue groups want to see that you are ready for that commitment.
- Home visits are important because it allows rescue volunteers to point out any safety hazards while explaining the dog's personality to you. Also, the adoptable dog can be brought to the home visit to meet current dogs and make sure they get along. The home visit usually involves talking about things like where the dog will sleep, puppy-proofing to prevent damage, seeing how kids interact with the dog, and inspecting fence for gaps or easy escape routes. We usually point out poisonous plants or toxins and use the time as an educational visit. If you get to the home visit "step", you are likely to get approved as long as current dog and new dog get along. Always introduce new dog to current dog outside the home in neutral area like sidewalk or driveway instead of back yard, to prevent the dogs from feeling territorial.
Congratulations! If you made it through all 3 steps, you now have a new furry family member. Please keep in mind that the screening process is strictly to ensure a good match between the family and the dog. We aren't judging people and labeling them as "bad people", but we do reserve the right to refuse your adoption application if we think you are not a good match for the adoptive dog or if your vet history isn't documented and consistent. Many people get angry about the screening process and feel defensive, but in the end the screening process works and most adopters have no problem with the screening process.
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