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Why I Was Turned Down by a Rescue Group

By Liz Baker
Executive Director, GreaterGood.org

I was turned down by a rescue group today, and it isn’t the first time. The first time was almost 20 years ago in Washington, D.C.

Stella and Liz. Note: all evidence of wine glasses was cropped out to deter future pet adoption disqualification.

Me with my Stella. Note: all evidence of wine glasses was cropped out to deter future pet adoption disqualification.

This was before I was involved in animal welfare, and it did what it does to most first-time-adopters who are rejected—it drove me into the hands of a local pet store where I BOUGHT a cat named Vlad (incidentally quite possibly the best cat ever).

The second time was about 10 years ago on Christmas. I filled out an adoption application for a kitten from a rescue group at a PETCO store. The group’s policy was to let the foster decide on the adoption, and a well-intended but uneducated foster decided that the kittens needed to “go together”. I tried to reason with the foster, citing the rates of euthanasia for cats in the U.S., but she wouldn’t budge. Resolved in my mission, I went to another shelter and adopted Rudy, the fearless, who still lives with us today.  I went back to PETCO to buy pet supplies several times after and saw those two kittens, now cats, grow old together in a cage. It made me so sick that I switched stores, so I didn’t have to see them.

The third time was today.

Having now spent most of my professional life in animal welfare as VP of Petfinder.com, Executive Director of the Petfinder.com Foundation and now Executive Director of GreaterGood.org, as well as board member, foster and volunteer for many, many animal welfare groups, I am well-schooled in adoption practices. I actually appreciate the care that goes into ensuring that pets are matched with suitable homes. Sadly, as in my case today, oftentimes well-meaning volunteers make a bad or unreasonable call, losing site of the goal—which is to get pets out of shelters into loving homes.

Rescue groups play a very critical role in pet adoptions, often pulling from high volume open intake shelters across the country, moving more pets each year than shelters. However, unlike the open intake shelters that have to follow some set of rules established by the city, county, a large board, etc., rescue groups do not require much—if any—oversight. It is very easy to set up a rescue. All you need is a 501c3 and to file your tax returns.

Little Dog with Eloise

Little Dog with Eloise.

The dog we fell in love with (whom I’ll call “Little Dog”) is a 5+-month-old, male American Staffordshire Terrier, who came from a high intake shelter in California before ending up with this foster group. I initially called the rescue, asked questions, filled out the adoption application, and scheduled a home visit. I’m a pretty good candidate on paper and was confident that I would be approved after the home visit if everything went OK. “Little Dog” got along famously with my two cats, two teenagers, fiancé, and adopted pit bull, Stella. We were beyond psyched. We chose to go with a rescue group to be responsible adopters, and to have background information on the dog, increasing the likelihood of success that our new family member would get along in a house full of other animals and activity.

We take care of our pets. They are family. They travel with us, are never left outside (the cats don’t go outside at all), are well-socialized, well-trained, and very well cared for. In short, they are our hearts, and we love them. The woman who runs the rescue mentioned several times to me that she was concerned with our pool. Not thinking too much about it, I told her that our dog knows how to swim because we taught her how. Stella hates the water but can get out of the pool if she has to because (much to her chagrin) we put her in the pool (supervised) a few times a year to make sure she still knows where the steps are located.

Stella at swimming lessons. She doesn't like the water, but she knows how to swim.

Stella at swimming lessons. She doesn’t like the water, but she knows how to swim.

I assured the woman we would do the same with this pooch, that the dogs are never left outside when we are not home (which is true) and would come back with a solution for the pool to put mind her at ease. We have door alarms for children but those wouldn’t work for dogs. The back side of the pool didn’t have clearance for a mesh cover, and we didn’t want to fence off a very shallow back yard for both aesthetics and cost.

We called several places and ended up with offering to the rescue to get a pool alarm professionally installed (and we still are) as well as installing several pet escape ladders. In addition, we would train the new pup the same way we trained our Stella. All of this seemed perfectly reasonable to us, and we were planning on welcoming our new family member and purchasing items for the arrival of “Little Dog”.

No response.

Several days later, I got a call telling me that our plan was not satisfactory. She feels those alarms may be unreliable, and I am not a suitable candidate to adopt. She shared that her own dog had drowned, and she was sure that “Little Dog” and Stella would have the same fate. I tried to reason with her, but she had made up her mind and that was that. She legally owns the dog. She gets to single-handedly decide that dog’s fate (and mine). I tearfully informed my girls that according to this woman, we were not a suitable family for “Little Dog” and that he would not in fact, be coming home.

To add insult to injury, there are several adoption success stories on their Facebook page with pit bulls that are either in water or directly in front of a swimming pool.

Stella being tortured by Isabelle.

Stella being tortured by Isabelle.

I won’t go into much detail about pit bulls in the U.S. except to say that there is no shortage. They get a bad rap and are not for everyone, but I LOVE THEM. Sadly, several studies estimate that up to 1 million pits are euthanized per year, or 2,800 per day. Some estimates are much higher—up to double that number. A study by Animal People reports a 93% euthanasia rate for pit bulls and only 1 in 600 pits finding a forever home.

I was ready to be that 1, THE one for this dog. Like I am for Stella. Like my family is for Stella.

I won’t be deterred, but I am not going to lie; it did sting. We fell in love with that dog, and there is literally nothing I can do about it. My 11-year-old daughter, Eloise, innocently suggested that we buy a dog like our friends did since we might not get chosen for a dog (ever). The truth is many people involved in animal welfare, myself included, don’t have a problem with reputable licensed breeders. They are not the problem. There are some people who want to spend thousands of dollars to buy a pedigreed pet. I am not one of them.

Stella and one of her cats, Rudy. They clearly don't get along.

Stella and one of her cats, Rudy. They clearly don’t get along.

I believe in adoption. I believe in the good work that shelters, rescue groups, and volunteers do. I will find a new family member after I lick my wounds and get some space between this unfortunate, hurtful interaction. I am not naming the rescue group because rather than be punitive, I want to continue to support good, deserving groups and educate well meaning volunteers about reasonable and transparent adoption practices.

I truly hope “Little Dog” finds a great family to love him. I hope he gets all of the treats, training, and love he deserves and doesn’t grow old at the rescue … waiting for someone without a pool. But at the end of this very disappointing day, I have to admit that I am pondering: if I’m not qualified to adopt a dog, who exactly is?

We want to hear from you! Have an adoption story you want to share? Please email staff@greatergood.org.

Liz Baker started as Executive Director of GreaterGood.org and Vice President of Business Development for GreaterGood.com in 2012, helping to give out cash grants to protect people, pets, and the planet, awarding over $25M annually to non-profits around the globe. In her previous role as Executive Director of the Petfinder.com Foundation, Liz distributed over $20M in cash and product grants to adoption partners in the US. Liz has also worked for Petfinder.com as Vice President of Partner Relations, at Family Education Network as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, creating lasting partnerships and brand-building initiatives. Liz serves on the board for the Jackson Galaxy Foundation and the Native American Advancement Foundation as well as volunteers at non-profits in Tucson, Arizona, where she lives with two teen girls, her fiancé Doug, one pit-bull Stella, and two cats Rudy and Henry.

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