Adopting a shelter pet is an act of compassion and love. It’s the first step toward a lifelong bond and should be a heartwarming event.
Sadly, that isn’t the case in every adoption.
Some families aren’t compatible with their new pets. Some adopters aren’t ready for the commitment. And sometimes the pets aren’t fit for adoption.
When Rescue Turns Ugly
The moment when an adopted pet meets his or her new family is often exciting and magical — the beginning of something wonderful.
That’s what was supposed to happen to Stephen Neira’s family when he brought home their new foster dog, a pit bull mix named Alex. But within moments, Alex bit Neira’s 16-year-old daughter, Briana.
Neira got Alex from a New York City shelter just before the dog was slated for euthanasia. Tragically, Alex was destroyed the same day because of his aggressive outburst at his new home.
This type of story is what drives cautious adopters away from certain breeds, specific shelters or adoption altogether. To avoid the insecurity and danger of the unknown, families end up buying their pets from breeders or pet stores rather than risk adopting a shelter pet.
This is bad news for the 7.6 million shelter pets who are euthanized each year.
Responsibility of the Shelters
Most shelters perform temperament tests on adoptable dogs. The results of the test, combined with a behavioral history given by the previous family, will help staff determine what home environment would work best for each dog.
Dogs’ temperaments typically are tested for:
- Reaction to human touch
- Food and toy possession
- Response to other animals
According to the Animal Care Centers of New York, Alex “was tested using the ASPCA SAFER method.” On average, the assessment takes “no more than 10 minutes per dog to complete.” The shelter also reported that Alex wore a muzzle when he was surrendered by someone claiming that Alex was a stray.
The responsibility of Alex’s safe placement fell on the shoulders of the shelter’s staff members — a heavy burden for those who might rather choose any home than a perfect home if the alternative is the dog’s certain death.
Their decision left Neira “in disbelief that Alex was allowed to be taken into a home with children.” The dire consequences of this poor match resulted in a teenager getting mauled and a dog’s death.
Be a Smart Adopter
Do your homework. Don’t assume that a shelter is going to know everything about your family and your lifestyle to be able to place the perfect pet with you.
For your best chance at a happily-ever-after adoption, avoid these recipes for disaster:
- Lying about your living situation
- Not bringing your family to meet your new pet
- Compulsively adopting without considering the responsibilities
Shelters are full of people investing their energy and time into these animals. These people are your first resource for finding the most compatible pet.
If you have children, bring them in to meet your new pet. Everyone involved in the adoption should be comfortable. If you have animals at home (particularly dogs), ask shelter staff about bringing them in for a meet-and-greet.
When the circumstances are right, adopting a pet could be the greatest decision your family ever made, as was the case in this video:
Always remember, as much as you may want to swoop in and save an animal on the brink of euthanasia, stop. Think through what you’re about to do:
- Are you prepared to adopt?
- Is your whole family in agreement?
- Is this animal a good match for you, or is your decision based purely on emotion?
Before putting yourself in the sticky situation of having a pet you weren’t ready for, speak with a representative at the shelter and find out what you can do (aside from adoption) to save that “death row” animal. Can she be transferred to a no-kill rescue or another shelter without time limits? Can you sponsor the pet or help her find a foster home?
Adoption is usually a reason to celebrate and be happy. All of us have friends with adoption success tales, and many of us have some of our own.
Adopted pets are grateful and loving, entering our homes ready for a fresh start. Although adoption doesn’t always end perfectly, it’s important to keep in mind the countless stories that do.