Adding Accountability

I have been involved in ‘rescuing’ and finding home for dogs. I have worked with shelters and on my own. I have been negligent in performing the things I am going to address in this blog post so my high horse is not quite as tall as it sounds. I acknowledge the good intentions, hard work and struggles that most people involved in animal rescue experience. I am aware of the argument that it’s better to save some, even if others suffer. I happen not to accept that this is as good as it can get. There are plenty of reasons and excuses for turning a blind eye toward the practices and outcomes of rescue operations. We can do better and making excuses isn’t the way to get there. It won’t happen overnight but we need to start kicking the bar up a notch when it comes to what we call ‘rescue’.

When I buy a car one of the criteria I have for choosing the make and model is how long I can expect it to last and its resale value. A good car will be a good car longer and the company that makes it gets my business. I am not likely to buy a car from a company which cannot demonstrate that their vehicles are still road worthy 5 years down the line, or from a company which sells cars with brakes that routinely fail. If I am buying a car from an individual I take it to my mechanic to check it out before I make the decision to buy it. No one is likely to tell me I am expecting too much from car manufacturers or dealers.

When a rescue group waves the banner and is cheered for the number of pets they have found homes for I wonder why they are not also sharing information on how many of those pets are still happily living in the original homes they were placed in. Or how many did not survive the ‘rescue’ process. I know the reasons they could give for not doing this, but I am going to suggest that the main reason the data isn’t shared is because no one is doing it routinely, and that we need to expect it.

If we are serious about our love for animals and respect them for their unique abilities and personalities we should be serious about adding accountability to the ‘rescue’ process. We need to put as much effort into finding out how well someone is doing their ‘job’, unpaid or otherwise, when it comes to finding homes for animals as we do when buying a car. How can we know how well our protocols are working unless we follow up and track results? Not only will we gain insight and knowledge but we’ll improve the service we are providing both the animals and the people taking them home. As trendy and politically correct ‘rescuing’ a shelter dog is there are still people who because of a bad experience with a dog, will head to the pet shop or mill breeder in the belief that they are more likely to get a ‘better’ pet out of the deal.

When we buy an unsafe car we might be killed, when an animal is rehomed inappropriately they’re the who is less likely to survive the experience.

34 comments so far

  1. Mel on

    Amen! Amen! Amen! Is that too many?
    I know several rescues here who don’t rehe their dogs well and some don’t even do home visits. Yes. We need to raise the bar.

  2. Cybele on

    I’ve adopted dogs from three different breed specific rescue organizations and I agree while the concept is noble and needed it seems racking up the number of adoptions is more important than the end result of the match between dog, people, and living situations.

    At one adoption event a volunteer put a dog’s leash in my hand, said, “Take her for a walk (around the box-store pet shop) and on my return, said she’s yours. Granted I had filled out a long adoption form before hand so I wasn’t a total zero to them. But it was obvious they were more concerned with sending her home with us than any deeper issues that might arise later.
    As it turns out, despite her food guarding (which she easily learned to relax about) hers was a story with a happy ending. She was a senior and lived a few years in a safe, loving environment with two experienced dog people.

    The other two adoptions went along the same kind of routine: fill out a long form, meet some standard requirement based on the breeds’ needs, a few talk on the phone, a meet-up with dog in tow, and us walking to our car with our new companion. Never a follow up call or visit. At least they know we didn’t return one of their dogs to them.

    Our current beauty was not cat friendly as reported and is the most fearful dog we’ve lived with. Not as bad as some I’ve read about but her reactiveness is life threatening to her and possibly one of us in the right (wrong) situation. Flight! Blind flight.

    She’s been with us for 1 1/2 years and thanks to your blog we have learned so much about how to live with a fearful dog and how there is no shame in using medication that makes her life bearable to herself. Lots of training. She loves to learn new tricks, routine, etc.

    Referring to our dog not really being cat friendly, I believe some rescue groups stretch the truth in other ways including like maybe not exactly telling the truth about the age of a dog, thus getting a higher adoption fee.

    Rescue groups are just people. Some with agendas, egos, some devoted to dogs, volunteers who put in a lot of time and energy trying to save dogs’ lives. Maybe some regulation and/or basic guidelines that must be followed and reported on are in order. After all, if rescue organizations really care about the dogs they have chosen to save from the local animal shelter or surrenders, it stands to reason they should follow the dog’s progress for, say 6 months to a year (depending on any behavioral issues) and make it clear if the match didn’t work out the dog still has a haven with them.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing your stories. It would be great if we could change the culture of rescue without needing to introduce regulatory bodies. Hope springs eternal!

      • Cybele on

        I hear you, but I can see rescue groups morphing into institutions as bad as puppy mills.

      • Cybele on

        If the group is getting working tax free i do think some regulation is in order.

      • Cybele on

        What if there was a certificate awarded by some highly progressive and reputable animal welfare organization that rescue groups would make an effort to earn that signaled to potential adopters they would be in good hands throughout the adoption process and during the life of the dog/cat/horse (as another poster pointed out)?

        It wouldn’t eliminate the failings of so many organizations but it would give informed, concerned, and dedicated adopters reassurance that they are working with people they can trust.

        And who knows, it might make some groups re-think their adoption process and failure to communicate with those who made the effort to give their homes and their hearts to their rescues.

        Or, how about an Angie’s List for pet adoption, an on-line meeting place where experiences and info can be shared regarding rescue groups, or is there one already?

      • Mel on

        Have to agree. I would like to avoid legislation, but I am beginning to wonder if it is possible. I agree with Cybele’s comment.

  3. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    Know this kind of information would be so empowering – from deciding which organization to adopt a pet from to choosing the recipient of a donation. And these results would be a great marketing tool for rescues that are experiencing success in placing the pets.

    • Mel on

      So agree Amy.

  4. fearfuldogs on

    Thanks to you both for your support.

  5. Leslie on

    The two breed rescues I volunteer with really need to be emulated across the board – but never will.

    Both require routine updates from the adopting families (I’ve seen “rainbow bridge” reports up to 10 years after the dog was adopted in one group). Both require “first dibs” on any dog that is going to be re-homed. One even provides “free lifetime post-adoption counseling to help deal with behavioral issues.”

    Unfortunately, both rescue groups also incite ire among potential adopters as having “too stringent adoption policies” and neither group is able to rescue dogs in large numbers because of these policies. Other groups that are getting lots of dogs out of high-kill shelters and off the streets face the criticism that they’re not strict enough.

    Happened to be talking to our trainer last night about some of this also – she no longer fosters dogs because sometimes, fosters who know *too* much get a dog who behaves completely differently in their home than the person who ultimately adopts the dog. It may not always be a rescue group intentionally misleading a potential adopter when behavioral issues come up afterwards – it could just be that the dog behaves differently in a less strict, less dog-savvy home. It can also be that the dog feels a ‘truer’ (more permanent) connection to the new owner that they didn’t with the foster and begins to resource guard where they didn’t before…

    There are a million ways we could do this better but in general, I feel most people who are doing this voluntarily are doing it out of a desire to do right. We, as volunteers, can try and guide the organizations we work with into adjusting their policies but it has to be understood that it will be at the expense of some dogs’ lives. There’s no way around that: there are only so many volunteers and the more policies and procedures that are in place, the more people are needed to enforce them, the fewer people are available to do other things.

    It’s frustrating for people who volunteer to do this stuff, volunteer to try and make things better, to try and help save lives, spend their own time and their own money to try and make a difference to realize that we’re pretty well and truly screwed no matter what we do.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Leslie. I have seen changes for the better in all kinds of things, including animal welfare. I don’t expect to see changes overnight in regard to this topic but I do think that with people like you and the other caring, informed and conscientious folks involved in ‘rescue’ it CAN and WILL get better. I remember Ralph Nader vowing to never ride in a car until they all had seat belts. He lived long enough to stop needing to ride the bus 😉

  6. Jo Maisey on

    Interesting stuff! Here in the UK (as with the US I guess) there are varying degrees of ‘rescue’. Some are nothing better than dog dealers masquerading as ‘rescue’. They only take the cute, fluffy, easy to rehome dogs, or ones with a big sob story, rather than deal with their local council pound as then they would need to take in some of the more difficult to rehome dogs.

    I am a firm believer in quality rather than quantity. Granted, more dogs may lose their lives, but in my mind it is preferable for both the dogs and the adopting families that the dogs are appropriately treated medically and rehabbed behaviourally if needed. Far too many ‘rescues’ treat it as a production line and don’t do things properly, which could result in some dreadful issues coming out once adopted.

    Rescues have a duty of care not only to the dogs they take on responsibility for, but also to the families to whom they rehome.

    I’m not sure about the returns stats though. There may be many reasons for this, not necessarily connected to an ill match between dog and home. There are also those adopter who are economical with the truth and this cannot always be uncovered, despite all the pre adoption checks.

    • fearfuldogs on

      “Economical with the truth” – of all things to bother budgeting! Love it, a polite way to say so many things.

    • KellyK on

      I think return stats would be useful, but I totally agree with you that they need context. An even better measure would be return stats by *reason.*

      There’s always going to be a certain number of returns due to things neither the adopter nor the rescue could’ve predicted. Landlord decides not to allow pets after the current lease is up, kid develops severe allergies, family has to move somewhere the dog isn’t allowed, etc. But if you’re not tracking that information, you don’t know how many returns or other problems are preventable, and you don’t have any idea how to prevent them because you don’t know what’s causing them.

      Even with situations that aren’t necessarily the result of a bad decision by the rescue or the adopter, if it’s happening enough to be a problem, it’s still worth looking into whether it can be addressed.

      • fearfuldogs on

        Yes. Unless we know ‘how’ we are doing we won’t be able to improve. And we can improve. People DO care and it’s amazing how much better we can be when it’s expected of us.

      • Bailey on

        Stats give information, but you need to break down stats to understand what they mean. You have to know why the animals are surrendered/returning to understand the trends and the issues that are arising. I have noticed at the breed rescue we use that dogs are returned at an owner’s death, placement in nursing home, or other catastrophic event and that is one of the things we sign off on when we adopt. It is not only people deciding they don’t want a dog, although both of our dogs did come from those circumstances.

        The first dog we adopted the family purchased as a puppy and then they realized had no idea how much work a puppy was and surrendered him after a short time. He came into rescue, spent time in foster care being evaluated and DH and I got him as a very cute young pup. While it was sad they made a bad choice, I have always been grateful they surrendered him before anything bad happened to him. Our second dog was two when she came to us from rescue and while I treasure every day with her, I truly wish her owners had surrendered her earlier, even if it meant she went to someone else. She was terrified of the world when she arrived, even after spending time in foster care. She’s come so far, but I constantly wish that someone had the courage to surrender her when they realized they weren’t going to do the right thing for her much earlier. I have met some people in rescue who think it is NEVER right to surrender a dog. They talk about moving into your car and living with the dog before giving it up. Having met our girl, I think if you can’t do the right thing, giving the dog a chance to find someone who will, is a gift to the animal. I don’t encourage irresponsibility, but I do think having made a bad chioce, continuing to make the animal suffer hoping that people will “grow into” the responsiblity is cruel to the animal.

        We will return the dogs to the rescue for replacement if we are no longer able to care for them. Families don’t always have the housing/family situations to absorb dogs. I have very few family members who could take on the care of my dogs if something should happen to DH and me. Apartments in this area don’t take dogs, those who don’t live in apartments, shouldn’t get the dogs. Our will specifically states the dogs are to go back to the rescue with a stipend to cover their placement. Should the situation change and we have a suitable guardian who has the financial and physical ability to handle their care we’d consider changing the will.

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        Yes, understanding the reasons dogs don’t stay in homes in important. I don’t think it’s always a bad thing when a dog is ‘given up’. There are times when I wish someone would.

      • KellyK on

        Bailey, you have a lot of good points. I especially agree with you that more damage can be done by not giving the dog up when that really would be the right thing to do. It’s a shame to see problems made worse, maybe even made irreparable, because someone didn’t want to give up.

        The dog I’m currently fostering came back to us after being adopted. Partly it was because of a planned move to Denver, where owning a “pit bull” is illegal. Part of it was because of the stress of trying, and failing, to keep her separate from the baby, who was just starting to crawl, and still get her enough exercise, social interaction, and mental stimulation to keep her from going nuts, while caring for a baby.

        While initially I was upset, I’m now glad that they admitted they were in over their heads and tried to responsibly handle the situation before it became a bigger problem or an unsolveable one. They didn’t dump her back in the rescue’s lap at the last minute. They didn’t try to pass her off as a boxer mix in Denver and get her killed. They put her back with people who she knows and likes and who they know will take good care of her.

        I think when you’ve made a mistake, it’s your responsibility to fix it in a way that harms the animal as little as possible. That might involve changing things about your life to make it more accommodating to that pet, or it might involve finding them a different home. Either way, actually fixing the problem–for both you and the dog–is what matters.

  7. Debra Cameron on

    These standards need to apply to anyone anywhere that ever places an animal in a home, from breeders, pet shops, rescues, etc., and from dogs to horses, not just rescues adopting out dogs. Shelters obviously face obstacles given budget and staff limitations. This, however, is the difference people need to understand about a rescue and a shelter.
    Rescues should be providing the added advantage of helping you pick a perfect match because they know how the dog is in a home environment. Shelters do not have that ability.

    Any rescue that ever embellishes a dogs personality just to get them placed – has lost their way.

    There are many articles and stories written against rescue by people who complain that rescues are too strict – they are snobs, they don’t adopt dogs to people for silly reasons. And then there are adopters that talk the talk and walk the walk – pass all the interviews and home visits with flying colors only to turn out to be complete nightmares. They will never accept responsibility for their role in a dog’s behavioral problems, and love to blame it on the rescue for giving them a “bad dog”. Rescues can be damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    Good rescues conduct in depth interviews, check references and do home visits – then keep very close contact with new adopters to make sure everything is going well, and adopters know without a doubt to contact the rescue if they ever can not keep the dog for any reason. I send yearly emails on the adoption anniversary of every foster dog I’ve ever adopted out – this is common practice for all foster homes in the group I volunteer with.

    There are too many people with great intentions yet no vision for the long term. Too many social media groups that focus on getting dogs “saved” from euthanasia without any interest in what happens to the dog once “saved”. I know a local shelter where adoption fees are paid by “virtual rescuers” chipping in to pay the $50 fee for someone who can’t afford it but wants to have the dog. How on earth does that seem like a good idea?? But, hey, the dog is “saved”!!

    As someone who volunteers for a reputable rescue – it infuriates me when I get emails from people who have rescued a dog and now need help with it because they are a terrible match for the dog and can not manage them, and they have no support from the group that sent them the dog because all they do is pull and adopt, pull and adopt – with no vision for the long term.

    To find out info on reputable rescues in New England, you can start here:

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for commenting and sharing the link to the Federation. We will get where we need to be, step by step!

    • KellyK on

      I know a local shelter where adoption fees are paid by “virtual rescuers” chipping in to pay the $50 fee for someone who can’t afford it but wants to have the dog. How on earth does that seem like a good idea?? But, hey, the dog is “saved”!!

      Unless those “virtual rescuers” are going to keep chipping in for food and vet visits, that’s an awful idea. I understand chipping in on an adoption fee if it’s high, since a lot of rescues charge $100-250. Even at that, if you can’t spend a couple hundred bucks to get the dog, I’d want to know how you plan to feed the dog and what your plan is for vet fees if the dog gets hurt or sick before chipping in on your fee.

      But if you can’t afford a $50 adoption fee, you can’t afford a dog. Even if you’re being super-frugal, you’ll spend more than that owning a dog in a month or two. Even if you already have a crate, a leash, a collar or harness, and a place for the dog to sleep, and even if you buy super-cheap food.

  8. Jennifer on

    Great post! I’m in the thick of working my dog through some fearful/reactive issues and want to eventually get back to fostering dogs as I did so many, many years ago, but finding an organization that is inline with my philosophies is the toughest part by far…What methods of training do they endorse? Do they conduct home visits? How much follow-up is there? Are they just pushing numbers of placements vs QUALITY of placement?…Etc…Etc. (p.s. – Love your blog!)

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you and I don’t doubt you’ll be helping some dogs find the right home soon. Foster caregivers can provide great insight into a dog’s needs and preferences.

  9. Tracy on

    One of the largest challenges in helping my friends find dogs from rescues is the “not quite the truth” about dogs at many rescues. Having been once matched up with “the perfect dog for me” by a rescue, who was WAY more dog than I could handle, had serious separation anxiety, and food guarding issues (and they did know, as was admitted to by some of the staff later) I have learned how to dig out some kernels of truth. I know it makes dogs harder to adopt, but if people know up front, rather than be surprised, I think the dog is less likely to bounce back to the rescue or be rehomed again. And try talking my friends with three small children into returning the “a little fearful”. “doesn’t like to share her toys, but loves people” jack russell mix they just fell in love with and brought home – and has already nipped two people. Sweet dog, bad match and they could easily have been talked into another dog….

    Don’t get me wrong, I support rescue and know some really great ones. I encourage all of my friends, and we are a big dog loving group, to go the rescue route. But a little accountability would be great, particularly for those rescues working with first time dog owners. I feel like a bit more up front work would result in better fits, at least anecdotally.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I hear you Tracy. I think one of the problems is that many people, despite years of hands on experience with dogs do not have a science-based, fundamental understanding of behavior and how to assess it. I’m not suggesting that anyone involved in rescue needs a degree, but there are still dog trainers out there looking at dogs through the ‘dominance’ lens. If we’re still dealing with that, despite the plethora of information to the contrary, I imagine that the folks involved in rescue might think that all a dog needs is a little love or discipline.

      • Tracy on

        I can totally see that. You are right. I don’t think it is ever with ill intent and I do recognize how hard rescues folks work and I can’t imagine how heartbreaking their work is. I guess I have the benefit of having learned a ton of behavior lessons through that “perfect for me dog”. After a few years of training, every book imaginable, and working with a behaviorist, I got that my “dominant dog” was nothing of the sort. The world around her terrified her and she reacted. Had I known that at the beginning though – oh the things I would have done differently!!! But I doubt the very nice folks at the rescue recognized that fear, not bossiness or dominance, was the route of issues because she acted in what was considered dominant ways at that time (dog aggression issues, food guarding, a bit difficult to train).

  10. Bailey on

    Having adopted two dogs from a breed rescue, I think there is a balance to be achieved that meets the need to find a solid home for the dog, without turning away people from using rescues.

    We have been fortunate to work with a rescue group that has helped us find two matches that fit our family life and in one case is now what would be considered a long term rescue and the other moving towards an intermediate time frame in living with us. I guess you could we have improved their stats. One of the things that impressed me as we were considering using them is they do have a very strict return policy. They want the dogs back if there is an issue. They don’t want the dogs dumped on another shelter/rescue. They don’t encourage it, but they would rather facilitate a new placement than see the dogs suffer.

    I fully understood the need for an in depth application process and an interview with the agency that was doing the adoptions. After adopting the first dog, the second was far easier, even though we were dealing with a different rep from the agency. The focus is on finding the best possible permanent home for the dog. We are considering a third adoption in the next few years and are planning to return to our breed rescue not because the paperwork is “easy” or the questions simple, but because they do a quality job and we have been very pleased with how they have balanced the need to know with politeness, respect, and dignity for all parties involved.

    I appreciated that they had specific standards for adoption, there were costs involved, but that those standards weren’t random and they made sense. I have recently read the criterea for a rescue in another area several states from here for the same breed and found their requirements were far more personal than practical. These were things that the group wanted, not perhaps what the dogs needed for a solid home. They stated if you didn’t want to move to live up to their standards than you didn’t really want to own a dog. I found that attitude to be something that turns people away from rescues forever.

    I suspect they manage to find homes because there are not tons of that breed available in rescues. However, if I lived in that area and wanted a dog of that breed, it would encourage me to seek out a breeder over dealing with their petty rules. I say this as someone who has respect for practical rules that encourage responsible ownership and the best interest of the dogs being rescued. Rescues do have to make tough calls when it comes to deciding on the best placement for a dog. However, they also want to bring people who may eventually become ready, back rather than having them seek out alternatives. I do think people can take the rules too far.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I have also had problems meeting the requirements of a rescue group. I was not willing to lie and say I would ‘never’ let the dog off leash.

      • Bailey on

        It seems wrong to force people to lie or leave good solid owner’s out of the mix. There is where it comes down to responsible ownership vs. weeding out the less qualified candidates. Do you plan on letting the dog wander the neighborhood alone? That leads to all kinds of dangers for the dog. Is the dog trained before you let him go off leash? One of our dogs will return on command as is fully safe off leash where allowable. The other is only starting to learn. Most of the time they are both on leash because of the leash laws. However, when safe his training has made it possible for him to enjoy life leash free. The question shouldn’t be a do or die, but a question about responsiblity. When would you consider letting your dog off leash. For some people the answer might be never unless fenced. For others there may be reasonable times to do it.

        I’ve seen too many people rejected based on things that just don’t make logical sense. Financial difficulties, I understand. As frustrating as it is you have to be able to afford a dog. In this area, I understand some restrict to homes because there are very few apartments that accept dogs, therefore if you move, where do you go and does the dog end up safe? What’s your back up plan? Again frustrating, but there is logic behind it if you look. Some of the stuff just seems personal and has little to do with a happy, healthy, long term placement for the dog.

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        It is often not black or white. I do think that we humans can be very good at critical thinking and if given the chance can come up with conclusions and solutions which would benefit all the parties involved.

      • KellyK on

        Yeah, “never” is a long time. When it became blatantly obvious that Diamond had no interest in wandering out of the front yard, we started letting her off leash to pee, or just opening the car door and letting her out when we got home. When the dog is going to run right up to the door anyway and has a pretty good recall, I don’t see the need to fumble with a leash in addition to groceries and car keys.

    • KellyK on

      I think you’re right. I haven’t been involved in rescue enough to be a decision-maker, but my personal philosophy is that the answers to any specific list of questions are less important than knowing that the person has a workable plan. Answering “no” to “Do you have a fenced yard?” shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but should be followed up with questions about what kind of exercise/play you plan to get the dog and where they’ll spend most of their time.

      • Bailey on

        Situations change and the ability to adapt is important. Just because you have a fenced in yard, doesn’t mean you will always have that available to you. Always having your dog on a leash doesn’t mean they won’t escape out of the house and need to be called home. I’ve joined in more than one neighborhood hunt for the little dog that got out the front/back door that “never” gets out.

        One of the reasons I want the dogs to have good recall skills off leash is that even with a fenced in yard, there is always the danger that someone could open a gate. With recall and a dog that recognizes natural yard boundaries they are less likely to be hurt running into the street, etc. That is why I like the language in our adoption contract that says the dog must be under your control. It does not mention a leash. No lying required.

        While our perfect move would be to a home with a fenced yard, depending on circumstances, you don’t always get lots of options. The ability to adapt means we would know how to manage the dogs without the ability to open a door and let them out. Even know we walk them for our exercise and theirs.

        I realize that they are trying to create generic questions that help them sort through potential owners, but I think they miss something when they remove people from the list who are responsible, but may do things differently.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: