Kate Sagara is a senior psychology major.
It seems like everyone is getting a dog right now, and I decided to hop on the bandwagon. In November, I lost my best friend, a black lab named Scout, one week before his 14th birthday. I told myself I wouldn’t get another dog until I graduate college, have a stable job, and have an idea of what the next decade will hold. However, I didn’t expect that a global pandemic would force us to stay in our houses for an indefinite amount of time and change the way we live and interact with each other forever. So, during the time in which I would have otherwise been finishing up my last few weeks of college, getting ready to graduate, and looking for full-time jobs, I instead have been taking my classes on my laptop, doing puzzles, and trying to come up with other ways to spend my days.
Like many others, my parents and I decided that this would be the perfect time to adopt, bond with, and train a dog. It’s difficult to get a new dog while having a busy schedule, but quarantine eliminates that concern. However, I’m aware that after quarantine is over and we go back to our (new) normal routines, a lot of these dogs will be rehomed, returned to shelters and rescue organizations, and end up living lives far from what their adopters initially had in mind.
Getting a dog is a very serious commitment. You are bringing a new family member into your home, agreeing to potentially pay thousands of dollars for their care, and committing to providing for them for up to 20 years. In 20 years, I will be 42. Before making the decision to start looking for a dog to adopt, I thoroughly considered what I could be doing then, which was a little crazy and daunting — but also necessary.
However, despite having thought these things through, being able to provide vet, personal, and groomer references, previously owning several dogs who have all lived to be well into their teens (and having never given up any animal), attending many obedience classes with previous dogs, and having a completely fenced backyard with no gaps, a fairly spacious house, and a mom who is retired and available to be at home most of the day, I have found it almost impossible to adopt a dog.
This is not due to any lack of love for almost every dog I see — I’ve seen so many dogs that I know would be absolutely adored and well-cared for in my home.
It’s because the private animal rescue organizations where so many dogs are located have such selective adoption processes that it feels almost impossible to be approved. Animal shelters typically consist of humane societies and animal control and are generally funded by the government, meaning that they usually have less resources than private rescues. These private rescue groups, on the other hand, are primarily funded by donations and volunteers.
I’ve spent hours filling out the lengthy applications that each group requires. I understand why they require so much vetting before allowing prospective adopters to take their dogs home — I’ve heard too many stories of people returning dogs after realizing how much of a responsibility owning a pet truly is — but I don’t understand why they’re so incredibly selective with their applicants, to the point where it seems like they truly don’t want anyone to be able to adopt a dog.
Recently, I fell in love with a dog named Piper, who is being kept at a foster home in Southern California through a small rescue organization. The application took about an hour to fill out, and we were so hopeful. However, five days later they sent me an email, writing that while they think we seem like very competent dog owners, we are not the right fit for Piper because she can’t stay in our backyard because she’s a flight risk. Nowhere on her profile did it say she was a flight risk. The rescue group also mischaracterized my family, stating that we would leave Piper alone outside when no one is at home, despite the fact that I had written on the application that all of our dogs have been indoor dogs. This rudeness from rescue groups was not an isolated incident for us, and I can only imagine how many potential adopters are driven away because of these unpleasant encounters, sending them straight to breeders and pet stores, which often get their dogs from puppy mills.
That rescue group also said that I should consider adopting from my local municipal animal shelter. If they feel that I’m incompetent for their dogs, what makes me competent to care for a dog from a municipal animal shelter? Are these dogs less deserving of good homes than the dogs from these private groups?
Another rescue group sent me a similar email that said I was “more than competent” but that I am “not the right fit.” I asked why, but they never responded. It seems logical that if a family doesn’t seem perfect for a particular dog, then they shouldn’t adopt the dog. However, this mindset is too idealistic for the world we are living in. It’s ridiculous for a rescue to keep a dog for a year despite receiving several promising applications. During that time, a dog could be bonding with their new, permanent family. But instead, they bond with their foster family, only to eventually be taken away from them, potentially resulting in another trauma in their life. Additionally, the older a dog gets, the less people want to adopt them.
This over-the-top selectivity also drives people to resort to breeders, which is exactly what rescue organizations do not want. The process of getting a dog from a breeder is much simpler and includes less intensive applications. Although I want to avoid breeders, being rejected so many times by rescue groups (oftentimes with no explanation) has made the idea of buying a dog from a breeder feel tempting. Animal rescues generally aim to save dogs from being euthanized in kill shelters or from abusive or neglectful homes. However, by driving people to get dogs from breeders because the process is much more straightforward, these so-called “rescue” organizations are actually creating more overpopulation for dogs, causing more dogs to be neglected, abused, rehomed, or end up back at kill shelters.
By keeping their dogs for so long, these rescue groups are also limiting the amount of dogs they can take in. For example, if an organization has a capacity of 10 dogs they can provide for at a time, and they keep all 10 dogs for six months, then that organization would be rescuing 20 dogs per year. If that group kept each dog for two weeks, they would be able to rescue 240 dogs per year.
I acknowledge that if animal rescue groups were to have slightly less intense and selective application processes, more dogs may be matched with irresponsible owners and end up being returned to the group, rehomed, or surrendered to a different shelter. However, since most rescue organizations generally get their dogs from kill-shelters, only taking in and putting a very small pool of dogs up for adoption means that more dogs stay at kill-shelters and are euthanized. So they are indirectly contributing to exactly what they are working so hard to avoid.
I am not writing this article to say all animal rescue groups are bad — I would be surprised if any of them were started with bad intentions. And, some are great. I’ve been communicating back and forth with a rescue which seems like they genuinely want to get their dogs adopted to loving homes so they can rescue even more dogs. I know there must be many more organizations like that one, but I don’t know how to sort through them. I’m tired of falling in love with dogs from rescue groups only to be turned away without explanation or for something that doesn’t make sense, and often, simply ignored.
But despite many of these rescues’ processes being flawed, don’t let the difficulty of adopting a dog allow you to give in and go to a breeder. Stay strong and know that the right dog will come around. I am no longer searching for dogs at private rescues and am hoping to find my perfect dog through a shelter. The rescue organization that Piper is at basically told me I am not good enough for them, so I should try a shelter; so, that is exactly what I’m going to do.
Even after all of this, I know that once I get to stare into my new dog’s eyes and know that he or she is all mine to love, this struggle will be entirely worth it.
After finishing this story, Kate ended up adopting a one-year-old Chihuahua mix from the Moreno Valley Animal Control. He is a happy, cuddly lap dog and “surpasses her wildest dreams.”