What constitutes a suitable home for a dog?

(It’s not always obvious.)

30

In last week’s post, I shared the information that I was on the hunt for a dog – searching on behalf of a couple I know. Both husband and wife are athletes who run for fitness and would love to have a dog who could accompany them on runs. But they are also both nurses who have long work shifts, so a dog who lives with them will have to be able to endure a certain amount of time alone at home (nursing not being a work-from-home sort of job!).

The couple lives in an urban area, so when they are at work, their dog will spend most of his or her time in their house, though they have a dog-sitter lined up (their neighbor downstairs, who has a dog I found for him!) and a dog-walker. Both the sitter and the walker will be available to take the dog out for midday breaks, but nevertheless, I know that it’s important to find a dog for them who will be content and comfortable spending time home alone. Of course, any dog can experience an onset of isolation distress – or, worse, separation anxiety – upon rehoming. But my goal is to find a dog with a mellow, “happy to accept my fate” bent to his nature.

Then I saw a social media posting for a local dog who needed a new home. He had been surrendered by a family who were having some sort of housing crisis, and had been living on a chain in a fenceless backyard for some months. The family’s neighbor, heartbroken over the dog’s plight, had begged the family to be allowed to find the dog a new home, and they agreed it would make their own lives easier to not have a dog as they try to find their next housing situation.

Well, it was a lovely dog, just three years old – but one of a highly active breed. I sent an inquiry to the woman who had possession of the dog, asking about the dog’s personality, and one thing she said made me more than a little interested: She mentioned that, despite the fact that the dog had very little shelter and was living in mud and filth, was never allowed in the house, and got very little attention from his former owners, he never barked! “Ooh!” I thought. That sounded like a good candidate! We made arrangements to meet a day later so I could meet the dog. I told her I’d be happy to foster him so I could get him neutered, tested for heartworm, and get to know him better. After all that, I would know better if he was in fact a good candidate for the couple I had in mind, or, if not, I would commit to finding a more suitable home for him.

She brought the dog to my home the next day, and I was even more interested. He has a lovely temperament, was very neutral with my dogs – neither excited nor threatened by Woody’s rambunctious play overtures or Otto’s grumpy admonitions to “Hold still while I sniff you!” The dog was quite predatory around my chicken pen, but he took my admonishments to leave them alone in stride. The most concerning behavior I saw was how he ran along every inch of my fenceline, multiple times, looking through and over the fence as he loped along, stopping every once in a while to inspect its height or a low spot underneath it. I wouldn’t expect much different from the sort of hunting breed he is, but mentally, I was already warning his new owners to not let him off-leash for months, until they got to know him very well and had a good recall on a long line.

Alas: Neither I nor the couple I was hoping to place him with made the cut. The woman who was rehoming him made the decision to place him with another family she knew, because – and here is the kicker – their home is on five acres of land. She loved seeing him run, and imagined that with five acres, he’d live out his life running around that acreage in perfect happiness.

Factors that go into dog placement decisions

My take on that decision? I was bummed, both for the couple I had in mind and for the dog. I have no way of knowing this, and I’m not going to follow up just to see if I’m right, but I’d bet $100 right now that if the dog did, in fact, go to the five-acre family, within a week’s time he’s either going to be in the wind (lost, ran away) or in a small fenced and covered pen. Not many people I know have five securely fenced acres, and without such a fence, that dog is going to be going, going, gone!

This particular placement decision was up to an individual’s discretion, so it’s not a great example. But this seemed like a good opportunity to talk about placement criteria, which, in every case, seems like it should come down to more than just one factor.

Shelters and rescues sometimes have a formal list of rigid placement rules that they follow when considering prospective adopters; in other cases, shelters or rescues may have internal guidelines as to what constitutes a “qualified home,” but they will make exceptions for the right family/dog combination.

My local shelter gives prospective adopters a questionnaire that is intended to spark a conversation with the adoption counselor and the prospective adopter. There are no hard-and-fast “wrong answers” that people can give in response to these questions that will eliminate their chance of adopting any dog – but some of their answers may call for a discussion about whether it’s appropriate for them to adopt a specific dog.

Some dogs can be trusted or taught to stay within a boundary fence that they could easily slip under or through – and other dogs would see this as an opportunity to run off and see the world! A rule that says a prospective adopter must have a “fenced yard” does nothing to qualify or disqualify this dog and this fence as a match.

For example, while I’m aware that some shelters require adopters to have a fenced yard – which eliminates many great prospective placements! – my local shelter will weigh their preference for adopters to have a fenced yard against the size, age, breed type, and personality of the dog. If the prospect is a little senior couch potato, for example, a litterbox and/or leashed walks will be just fine!

My local shelter is perhaps most concerned about making appropriate placements to families with babies or toddlers. They worry about tiny dogs in families with toddlers – but will make an exception if they meet the child or children in a “get acquainted” room with the prospective dog, and see that the kids are very gentle, have self-control skills, that the parents are paying close attention and giving alert guidance to the kids, and so on. They won’t place anxious dogs or excitable dogs who have little self-control with a family with small kids – and will decline to adopt any dog to a family whose child seems bent on hurting a dog, or engaging in activities that are sure to make a dog defensive. That said, you won’t find these policies written down anywhere; they just try to have a conversation with parents about what they are observing and try to make it clear that it’s their job to make safe placements for the sake of all parties concerned.

My two cents: Hard-and-fast rules don’t allow for appropriate individualized placements.

In a placement competition, who should get the dog?

Then there are the cases where a shelter or rescue has to decide, to the best of their ability, which of several prospective adopters should get the dog.

Some groups have a first-come, first-served approach, where the first qualified adopter would get the dog. Others may send someone to conduct home inspections, and make their placement decision based on whose home and family really seem to suit the dog best. That’s amazing, but not possible for many rescues.

I have known people who have become frustrated about “losing” in what seemed to be an adoption competition – some, more than once! – and who relieved their frustration by just buying a puppy, either from some Craigslist/backyard breeder or a pet store that’s stocked weekly with new “inventory” from puppy mills. Yuck!

In some cases, the rationale for their rejection was ridiculous. I know someone who was turned down by a shelter to adopt a cat, because they own an intact female dog! This person is a long-time steward of an uncommon breed of dogs, and has been breeding these dogs in an incredibly careful, responsible, and limited manner for over 20 years, but Nope! No cat for you! That’s nuts.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone who is involved in having to make adoption or placement decisions; I assume that anyone involved with rescue has a vested interest in making safe and appropriate placements for the “recycled” dogs in their care. And I don’t want to encourage people to express the incredibly insensitive statement that some shelter is making it harder to adopt a dog than a baby. It shouldn’t be too easy to adopt, and families should have to meet some sort of minimum standards for the dog’s health and happiness. But sometimes, these criteria are too rigid. Where is the middle ground that results in the best placements?

What are some of the rules or standards that shelters or rescues have for prospective adopters that you consider very sound or ridiculous?

30 COMMENTS

  1. Five years ago, we were looking for a terrier mix at a nearby rescue that had been posted online. As longtime dog parents, we had lost both our dogs (one a terrier mix and one a Vizsla from a responsible breeder friend) in the previous six months to different cancers. The little rescue terrier we were hoping to adopt was a 25 lb. 3 year old. Despite the fact that I love training classes and dog activities (specifically agility and parkour), were getting a Vizsla pup in several months, plus had references from our vet and a friend from our Vizsla club, we were deemed “too old” (my age at the time 69, husband 78) for an active dog and encouraged to choose an older, sedentary dog or consider not having a dog at all. Too old? Perhaps the rescue was not familiar with sporting dogs or the level of activity required! Another rescue gave us the opportunity to adopt a terrier mix from a hoarder despite the fact we were out of their area, impressed with the references. Quite a difference in rescue assessments—and no, we’re not too old—experience, patience, and a belief in treating each dog as their own self with specific needs, makes us a great home for that rescue pupster. Seniors are great candidates for rescues!

    • AMEN! I am 76 and just got a Corgi puppy ( now 10 months old) she is my 3rd
      Corgi. She is very active as any Corgi ownerknows. I wanted a very active dog to have a partner for our long hikes in the woods. Some people are “old” at 76 and l am not so do not want to be judged by my age!

      I also have all the requirements: big fenced yard, vet recommendations, dog lives in house, gets lots of playtime and walks etc. lt is unfair to judge a person by age.
      Seniors can provide loving homes to a pet that might otherwise be euthanized

    • We found ourselves in a very similar position. We lost both of our dogs within 3 weeks of one another. We waited a month and then started looking at shelters and rescue groups. We wanted two dogs. We were deemed “too old” (I’m 65, my husband is 71) by every rescue group and shelter to adopt a younger dog. We both know that adopting a senior dog is a wonderful thing to do–we’ve done that in the past. But having lost both of our old dogs within 3 weeks of one another, we just didn’t feel “up” to adopting a senior that we wouldn’t have for a long time. We did something I NEVER thought we’d do. We went to breeders. We now have two puppies (both came to us a 8 weeks of age, one is now 5 months old, the other 6 months old). We love them dearly, but I wish we’d been able to rescue.

    • I too hVe run into the age thing with rescue groups. I’ve been redirected to senior dog rescues more than a few tiniest. While I have a fondness for senior pets, I was looking for a younger dog. I’m 62, hardly ancient. The rescues assumed that I wanted a quite quiet lap dog. Wrong. I responded tartly too. I’m really tired of this perception. Many of the directors of such groups are in their 60s and above. They’re allowed to foster and adopt dogs of any age.
      The best home depends on the dogs temperament, activity level, size. People vary too. I’ve been very fortunate, all the dogs, and cats I’ve adopted over the years have been perfect for me.

    • This is the biggest prejudice among rescues. It is horribly outdated. We have healthy and active seniors up into their 80s or more. And a young family with children is hardly ideal these days.

      Seniors are usually home owners. They also tend to have the income to support the veterinary bills. They often have experience as dog owners as well. Their lives tend to be very stable. They don’t have to worry about moving because of a change in jobs or even losing a home because of a job loss. Seniors have the time to devote to a dog, not only training and exercise but just plain attention and love.

      I was 64 when I adopted Diana pawPrints. I got her from a local rescue that specializes in labs and lab mixes, although turns out Diana has no lab at all. She’s black and at two years old is 100 lbs. But she is GSD, Golden Retriever, terrier mixes with even a little Collie and Rottweiler thrown in. All the rescue cared about was that I had a home, a fenced and secure yard, the dog would sleep in the house at night and that I would train her.

      When my parent’s dog of almost 14 years died, they eventually turned to the same rescue organization I did when other rescues deemed them too old or made other excuses. They ended up with a puppy and she has been the best dog for them. She is a GSD, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Coonhound mix with some other parts thrown in. She eventually became a slim 60 lb dog but is the best snuggler. For the first time in their lives, they let a dog sleep on the bed with them. She has a huge yard, treats, toys and the neighbors have three dogs, so she either goes over there to play or they come to her yard. I take her to the dog part with me when I take Diana. My parents have owned their home for 75 years and they have plenty of money to cover vet bills. I advise them on dog food and treats. They have nothing but time to devote to the dog. My Dad walks her twice a day. My Mom snuggles with her on the sofa a night. She even watches the TV when she isn’t napping in my Mom’s lap. They will both be 91 this coming October.

      Our local humane society doesn’t discriminate based on age, but the shelters have mostly senior dogs, pit bulls and chihuahuas. If you’re looking for a different age or breed, you have to go to a rescue. The rescues sweep through the shelters and take all of the puppies, young dogs and other breeds so you really don’t have any choice. The rescue we went to brings in dogs from high kill shelters in other parts of the state. Diana’s Mom was in Visalia with her puppies. They brought them all down. The foster families that work with this rescue are fantastic. The dogs are vaccinated and socialize. Dolly was even most of the way potty trained at 11 weeks.

      I think for seniors it is a lot of getting the word out and who you know. If a rescue is familiar with you, if it is one you have adopted a dog from before, you are more likely to be taken seriously and find a dog rather than dismissed as too old or redirected.

      I’ll be in my 70s when Diana passes. I will likely contact the rescue and offer to foster at that time. perhaps I may end up a failed foster and that will be OK.

  2. I lost my dog 12 days after losing my mom to cancer. I tried to adopt a small dog from shelters. I found a Boston in Texas, mixed BT in Oregon and several dogs in CA where I live. It all boiled down to location. Not in State or not in County. It was heartbreaking. One because I didn’t own my own home! I too, bought from a breeder.

  3. Then there are the rescues that are so anxious to place dogs that they are happy to see them gone… I work in a vets clinic in the Midwest and was contacted by a local rescue in regard to two puppies being surrendered to them….litter mates “adopted” at 8 weeks of age. Females, unspayed, Pit/Border Collie mixes. Now 6 months of age, give one DAPP booster and again in rescue 😬. Any bets on their being pregnant? Sometimes the “not out of the area” restrictions make sense to prevent this senselessness.

    • It really does depend a lot on the region, I think. Here in New England our shelter populations are so low (yay!) that it seems like all the shelter animals are shipped in from the South, which comes with its own set of problems… Organizations here have the luxury of being picky because the demand is so high and the supply so low.

  4. When I was looking to adopt I went to the SPCA here in Vancouver, Canada. They turned me away because I was a single woman, living in a apartment and a family with a yard was the only acceptable criteria for adoption in their opinion. I ended up at a private rescue. They did a home check and then approved me for a dog. I just want to say though that a family and a yard is no precursor of an ‘ideal’ pet parent. My brother had a dog that was horribly neglected because his family was out all the time. He had a yard but no one played with the poor thing. Eventually they gave it away as a annoying responsibility. to be disposed of. My dog was exercised 2-3 hrs per day every day of his life for eleven years and had my constant attention (going to daycare when I was out). In my opinion single people make FANTASTIC pet parents.

    • I agree with you. I adopted my dog at 5 months from SPCA Montreal. She came from a very full family of 4 kids of various ages and although they wrote she was walked, she obviously never was. I lived alone at the time, in an apartment, semi-retired and aged 60. I was the one who told the employee that the previous owners specified she needed kids. She disregarded it completely. My dog is now 9. We have travelled all over north America together, I give her the best care, attention and exercise and we are inseparable. She does NOT like kids. Hates the screaming, hates noise. LOL… goes to show.

  5. I’m the director of a no-kill shelter in Indiana, Pa. We do have an adoption application that asks many questions to try to place potential adopters with the right dog for their lifestyle. We require a meet and greet with all family members and with other dogs if there are any in the family. Though we do disclose everything we know about the dogs we have, and really try to counsel the potential adopters, we do have returns to our shelter. We always accept them back and try to learn from any problems the adopters had. We are so happy when a family understands all the decisions involved in adding a new dog to the family and we certainly try to help them to make the right choice. Personally, all of my dogs have been rescues for the last 30+ years. Have loved each one of them, though they were all so very different.

  6. Hi from the uk, I wanted to have a dog after my two old dogs passed on at ripe old ages, I think rescue centres here anyway try their best but some are i believe guilty of a one shoe fits all policy of re homing. I agree it should not be easy to adopt a dog and a full vetting of potential owners is important, however i was turned down because i have a cat flap, and as i was looking for a lab or lab mix thereabouts size of a dog i really dont think there was ever any chance of the dog getting thru the cat flap. another rescue shelter seemed incapable of giving correct information about the dogs that were up for adoption, they offered me an older dog 7 years old i was open to this, although he had been rehomed 4x and returned to the shelter due to growling at women. The shelter blamed all of the women in each home for this behaviour once maybe twice even but 4x really shows the dog had some issues and could not be for me as i have grand children. In the end i took a puppy from my neighbour as the person who was going to have it pulled out last minute, as the pup was very nervous, I then was put in touch with a family who circumstances changed in an unfortunate way meaning they could no longer have their 18 month old lab so i took him with his heart problems got him fixed both dogs now 3 thriving happy , neither have escaped thru the cat flap both accept the cat is boss. my next door neighbours were turned down as they have kids under 12 despite them having had a dog for 9 years, they have bought a puppy. I feel some rescue centres need to re evaluate their policy as they are at times denying dogs good homes

  7. After reference checks and a home visit, I was approved to adopt a six month old standard poodle pup. When I told the rescue people that I was going to use a crate to transport the pup the 90 + miles to his new home, I received a telephone call telling me that the “deal was off” because of the crate, and crating their dogs was not permitted. As a result, I went to my breeder and purchased an 8 week old pup. She is now 7 years old and actually survived being transported in a crate and bring crate trained. She is a happy, well adjusted dog and really likes her crate. (The crate’s door is always open.)

    • That’s insane considering many rescues encourage crate training. Did they think you were going to lock the dog in for the entire trip with no potty breaks?

      The rescue we got my parent’s puppy from required a martingale collar and leash. I had one my dog grew out of and took it with us but it never came up. The puppy had a collar on from the foster and we carried it to the car.

  8. An elderly friend had a similar experience to Jo’s. She was 80 going on 60 as far as activity. Her standard poodle had died of old age. That dog went everywhere with her and to the local dog park each and every day (on leash because he was a runner). He knew the routine and had no problem being on leash around younger dogs tearing around.

    She applied to a local small dog rescue, whose owner is also a trainer and has a dog daycare business. She was denied because she “was too old.” When another local rescue found out about it, they told her they had the perfect small dog for her. That dog was so happy, exercised, loved and spoiled the rest of its life. I still get mad thinking about my friend being told she was too old. She had dogs her whole life, so wasn’t a newbie at knowing what dogs require.

  9. I worked at a veterinary clinic for 8 years, an animal shelter for the next 8 years, I am a CPDT-KA, and I fostered more than 30 animals over a 15-year period. I live in a rural-suburban neighborhood with a securely fenced 1/2 acre back yard. My husband and I both work from home (even pre-COVID). Our dog gets walked 3x a day for a total of an hour and a half of walking EVERY DAY, and she sits on our sofa with us in the evenings. We are active and financially secure. We have all the appropriate vet references. My current dog (adopted as a puppy) is a healthy, happy, and beloved 14-year-old companion. This past year we attempted to adopt a second dog and discovered that we were immediately disqualified by MANY organizations — we have young children. In most cases, we weren’t even given a chance. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of amazing families I know who have ultimately purchased dogs from breeders because they couldn’t get past the various restrictions of shelters and rescues.

  10. I have only adopted 1 dog from a rescue group. He was 8 wks when I adopted him. The only criteria I had to meet was to have him neutered by 6 mos., which I did. When he was about a yr old I got a Spinone puppy 10 wks old from a breeder. My intent was to show and breed her responsibility, meeting all requirements of the Spinone Club. I have had the breed since 1998 and all have been females. I’ve not had one opps litter because they were all kept intact until I spayed them after being bred once or in the case of 3 of them, bred 2 times. My puppy buyers were screened by me and they were sold with a contract. If for any reason they could not keep the dog it was to come back to me. No questions asked. I did take back 6 out of the 9 litters I’ve had to date (2/21) One male (my first male Spinone to own) is with me now. He is 2 yrs old. My biggest issue with shelter and rescue groups is their requirement to have the dog spayed or neutered. I understand their reasoning but it has been proven that spay/neuter before the dog is full grown is not in the best interest of their health. For this reason I will not adopt. I know shelters would turn me down even though I’ve had in tact dogs for 22 yrs and don’t let them roam around populating the neighborhood with puppies.

    • I’ve read this too. Our local city laws require spaying neutering by four months but I think that is still too young. My last two dogs were spayed/neutered at 8 weeks and I think that is waaaay too young. I’ve read of medical/lifespan problems down the road from being spayed/neutered at such a young age.

      Even some breeders won’t let you adopt their dogs unless you agree to have them spayed or neutered. I suppose they don’t want the competition of another breeder in the area.

      As for “designer dogs” that is just another name for backyard breeder to me. It’s a mutt, just like my dog. Only difference is not as many “parts”.

    • I agree, I went to a breeder for my last dog, he’s 2 1/2 and intact but he’s not allowed to run loose, his ortho and chiro have recommended he not be neutered unless I need to for medical reasons. I spayed my first female when the vet recommended and she was incontinent at 1 1/2. The breeder I’ll use next time requires they be over 1 year before spay/neuter

    • I left my pure breed shih tzu, Molly, intact until she was 8. She died of mammary cancer at the age of 12. I was told she would have lived longer had she been spayed at a younger age. I guess I’ll never know for sure but, I can’t help but wonder if I had if got her spayed when she was younger, would she still be alive? She passed a year and a half ago……

  11. We have two small dogs, ages 12 and 13. We are in our seventies and they are our babies. If and when they are no longer with us, I know I couldn’t not have a dog companion. The reason we would adopt an older dog is that it wouldn’t be fair to have a puppy that would outlive us. It is so sad that dogs wind up in shelters because their beloved owner passed away. Isn’t that why they are reluctant to adopt them out to seniors? Yes, we have sons with children and pets of their own, but it wouldn’t be fair to expect them to take our pet who was left behind.

    • That’s what my parents said when they adopted Candy as a puppy, the were both in their late 70s. I was to take her when they passed. She passed at 13 years, 9 months. After three months they couldn’t take the quiet, lonely house any more. They started looking and adopted a puppy from the same rescue I used 6 months after she passed. They were both 89 at the time. It is understood that I will be taking Dolly if she outlives them. Likewise, my nephew will be taking Diana if I die before she does. We keep it all in the family. To me, it’s no different than making provisions for your children should you die before they are adults.

  12. As a confirmed Belgian Shepherd mom of close to 40 years, you’d think I would be a good candidate for a rescue. Nope. My first Belgian was a rescue – no group gauntlet to run because I took her directly from people who weren’t ready for Belgian antics -who lived to the ripe old age of 18 before cancer took her from me. I tried for another and after being approved as having a fenced yard, etc, lost out three times in quick succession because the fosters all decided to keep the dogs. Good for the dogs, bad for me and I went to a breeder. When my beloved 11 yr old passed from a quick acting sinus cancer I initially tried for a puppy because I didn’t want yet more rescue heart break. The breed is pretty rare and none were available, so I tried the rescue route again. And again, drama. One group wanted me to come spend two weeks in their state with the dog to see if we worked, another hedged over whether the gorgeous boy had an uncorrected severe biting issue that would be beyond my ability to resolve (gotta wonder how many returns they got by not being up front about issues) while another didn’t share why they turned me down outright. After several months I wasn’t able to be dogless any more, went back to the breeder list and found puppies. My happy, healthy and very spoiled boy lives a life any rescue would be thrilled to have. And I likely won’t ever try that route again, it’s entirely too heartbreaking and frustrating. Another great home closed because of bizarre or stringent rules.

  13. It would be a huge benefit to rescue groups and homeless dogs if there was a knowledgeable and respected group that put out “Best Practices for Re-homing Dogs.” Rescue groups are well-meaning but without having guidance on best practices some groups are too restrictive and some will place dogs with any home that will take them. Neither serves the dogs who count on humans. Even rescues that are all volunteer with limited resources could work to find ways to meet best practices. Guidance on best practices by a credible organization could also support rescue groups when potential adopters say the group is being too picky. Based on my experience fostering, best practices should include: 1 – having each dog get a vet check before adoption (with advice to adopters there may be unknow medical issues); 2 – learning about each dog (a checklist would be helpful for training volunteers about what to look for, like what does the dog love and hate most, what is the dog afraid of); 3 – taking the rescue dog to a potential adopters home and watching how the rescue dog interacts with all the people and animals and in the physical space (a checklist would be helpful for training volunteers about what to look for); and 4 – written information for each adopter about how to welcome a new dog, including safety, other suggestions, and where to find help and more information.

    • I would add one more.

      DNA testing. Especially of puppies.

      The price has come down and especially in the case of puppies, people would like to know what they may be dealing with as some breeds can be prone to medical issues, I.E. deafness, hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy. It would also give some hints as to how big a puppy might grow, although not a certainty.

      Rescue organizations and county animal shelters/humane societies also get a bulk discount for testing.

      I really feel it would allow more dogs to be placed. Even though there is a shortage now, it won’t be forever.

      If someone is looking for a lab mix or poodle mix or some other, DNA would open up the opportunities for adoption to more dogs and people would be a bit more confident in what kind of dog they were adopting.

  14. I have also been frustrated by not being chosen as the adopter by rescue groups. I’ve rescued 4 dogs and I think I’ve given them good lives. But I will say a good word for them, which is that there are probably a lot of people who want their dogs because they are cute, etc. and maybe their rules help people to hold back on their impulses. Sometimes I’ve been really disappointed, but sometimes I think, well, they know the dog best and if they think this wouldn’t work then I have to respect that. I try to re- evaluate my circumstances and see how I could improve what I have to offer. I’ve looked again at my current dog and asked myself what really would work for her. When making the huge commitment, best to have everyone on board.

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