03.28.08

We laugh…

Posted in Humor, Medical, Philosophy at 1:55 am by ACR&S

… to keep from screaming. Sometimes a little off-color humor helps you make it through the rough patches.


Up in WI, the other day we found out that one of the local GL regulars just lost her last piggy. It was really sad; she’s a fantastic piggy mom and loved Blackberry like crazy. But she made a very generous donation of supplies to WIGPR, so Blackberry’s memory will live on with all the piggies her donation helps support.

Among the supplies was this thing:

Love my piggy

Part of me reeeeeeeally wants to keep it; the other part knows I do NOT need another dust collector in my house, especially one with crazy eyes that might come to life and start stalking me in the middle of the night. It’s going to have to go to the WIGPR with the rest of the stuff.


We’re taking in a sow from Char-Meck animal control this week. She’s obese, possibly ill, and has bumblefoot. But if we can get her healthy, she’ll be going to one of our great repeat adopters out in Asheville, which is about the best happy ending any piggy could ask for.

Apparently she’s so rotund that we might have to check her for pillbugs:

Potaytoe


Pudgie had a near-death experience on Tuesday. He seemed to be feeling much worse – dragging his hind legs and not really willing to move for his treats. We took him to the vet once again, fully expecting the vet to recommend euthanasia. But the vet didn’t feel like Pudge was ready to give up. Instead, we’re trying two more treatments – a new pain medication in addition to his Metacam, and a different topical shampoo to try and directly relieve his skin discomfort. So he got to come home after all.

He’s not as eager to move around as he was a week ago, but he’s definitely still got attitude and appetite – he didn’t want to get up to get his orange, so instead he whined and bitched at us till we put it right in his cuddle cup with him:

Preciouuuus


Finally, a note on Spring in Wisconsin. It’s pretty nasty. There’s no green growth yet, so everything’s grey and brown. The melting snow reveals a lot of ugliness and unpleasantness: dirt and garbage (the street sweepers can’t operate on ice), months-old frozen deer carcasses, ruts in the grass where cars ran off the road during snowstorms.

Among the worst things I’ve seen revealed by the snowmelt:

WTF

Yes, that’s a pissing toddler Brent Favre and a horrified toddler GB cheerleader. Seriously, Wisconsin, WTF.

03.11.08

Coming to terms with euthanasia

Posted in Philosophy at 1:31 am by ACR&S

Sorry there was no post Friday; our two ill animals continue to go downhill and there’s been a lot of other issues as well. So, while euthanasia is always a depressing topic, it’s something that’s been on my mind and I need to talk about it.


Euthanasia is not, and should not be, a bad word. Euthanasia can be performed for many reasons, but it is always a difficult choice and a difficult act to carry out. A responsible pet owner or rescuer really needs to think about what euthanasia means to them before they are faced with a crisis situation and must make a decision quickly.

The Why

“Our bodies break down, sometimes when we’re 90, sometimes before we’re even born, but it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it… It’s always ugly, always.” –House, MD – 01×01, “Pilot”

Terminally ill humans are usually able to understand their own impending deaths. Often they have coping strategies or personal beliefs which help them come to terms with their death and manage their pain. But animals do not have the ability to understand death or pain. All they know is that their body is no longer responding as it should; they may become disoriented and even frantic as they are attacked from within by a pain they cannot fight or escape.

Oddly, it often takes animals a long time to die, even ones with terrible injuries or advanced illness. They don’t seem to lapse into comas as easily as humans do, they continue to suffer right up until the end. So when an animal is so ill that her body is already dying, and all other methods are no longer able to keep her from suffering as her body weakens, euthanasia may be the only humane option.

The Moral Burden

Not everyone agrees on the use of euthanasia. For one thing, it’s very hard for a person who loves animals and respects life to accept responsibility for taking a life. The concept of karma can be used here – many people feel that when they take a life, it somehow damages their own soul. For some people, that karmic evil of killing does not outweigh the cost of the animal dying slowly in pain.

I feel that sometimes, when a dying animal’s caretaker resists euthanasia, it comes from more than one underlying reason. Partly there is the desire not to let go, not to have to say goodbye, a hope that just maybe something miraculous will occur and the animal will get better and everything can go back to how it used to be. But partly there is also the inability to shoulder that burden of being a “murderer”. Nobody should have to take on that burden, and I envy people whose pets die quietly in their sleep. But if you are an animal rescuer, at some point you will be faced with the choice: either assume the burden, or find help from someone who can.

But even when you know it has to be done, it’s hard, and it hurts.

The When

There comes a point in an animal’s illness where you know that it’s only a matter of time. At that point the focus changes from curing the illness to keeping her comfortable until nature takes its course. Thankfully, there are a variety of good analgesic drugs that can help with a lot of the pain. But some pain simply cannot be taken away by other means: The slow suffocation of an inoperable lung tumor; the progressive poisoning of kidney failure; the self-destruction of autoimmune disease. There is also the increasing fear an animal experiences when her body starts failing her. The immobilization of paralysis feels no different than the grasp of a predator’s talons to a little brain with no ability for higher distinctions.

But animals, especially prey animals like guinea pigs and rabbits, also hide their pain as part of their evolved strategy for camouflage from predators. The caretaker must rely on more subtle cues to determine that the animal’s pain is no longer adequately controlled. Breathing becomes more labored, movements become weak, she can no longer eat or defecate.

Sometimes, in addition to pain, we also need to evaluate the animal’s quality of life to determine if our efforts are no longer doing any good. An animal who is in no pain but cannot move, eat, groom, or socialize is as good as in a coma. I had a rabbit who lived with me for nearly three years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was unable to keep herself clean, and required special housing and daily butt washing to keep her from developing urine scald. But her pain was managed, and she could still muster an enthusiastic if weak dance for her veggies. The day that she could no longer dance, could no longer even eat her favorite treats, was the day I knew she was waiting for me to help her die.

The How

When you are the caretaker for a critically ill animal, you have to prepare yourself in advance for the day when you have to make the decision. Everyone will have a different decision point. For some, even the smallest amount of pain is unacceptable and cause for euthanasia. For others, it only comes when every other course of action has been exhausted.

You should make arrangements with your vet in advance. Some people prefer not to subject their pets to a last terrifying ride to the vet’s office, so many vets will perform in-home euthanasia, allowing the animal to die surrounded by family and familiar surroundings. If this is your wish, call your vet and let them know your intentions, so you can find out if there are any limitations on time of day or on which vet is able to perform this service. You may also wish to consult the local 24-hour emergency vets, just in case your decision ends up having to be made at 2am on Sunday morning. You may also wish to make payment in advance. You are going to be sad or even distraught when the time comes, and you don’t want to have to fumble for your credit cards. Most vets will happily place a credit balance on your account for this, and simply send you a refund for any unused amount after the crisis has passed.

For small animals, a two step euthanasia process is usually recommended. First the animal is anesthetized with isoflourine gas – the same anesthesia used in routine surgery. In at-home euthanasia, the vet may use IV or subcue narcotics to sedate them instead. Once the animal is asleep and unable to feel anything, the euthasol is injected directly into the heart to stop it. This is by far the quickest and most painless method.

You will have a choice of options regarding aftercare. If you wish for a necropsy, your vet will need to get the animal’s body to the lab right after euthanasia, although it can usually be returned to you later. Many vets offer cremation services, either with or without ashes returned. If you plan to bury your pet personally, check your local city statutes – some urban areas do not allow animal burial within the municipal limits! Go ahead and plan in advance what you would like, so you are not trying to decide in the midst of a crisis situation.

Going On

There are a variety of resources available on the Internet to help with pet loss and grieving. Be assured that grieving is normal – anyone who criticizes your grief by saying “it’s just an animal” has no idea of what it is to be able to love another creature, much less to lose that love. Someone like that is worth no retort except your pity.

I sent the following in an email to a friend who lost a guinea pig she had just rescued. She needed to be reminded why we are the ones to take on this burden, why others pretend death doesn’t exist because they let their animals get sicker and sicker and then dump them in a shelter:

Sometimes we have to rescue animals not just from a bad home, but from life itself, in the cases when every breath is agony. Someone has to be willing to take the responsibility for ensuring a peaceful death rather than letting them continue in torment.

Comfort yourself that you gave her a priceless gift – she died warm, comfortable, loved, and mourned, rather than unnoticed and unappreciated. A midwife, who helps a soul come into the world, plays a cherished and honored role – how can someone who helps at the other end of life receive any lesser accolades? You did a wonderful and generous thing for her simply by easing and marking her passing.

Even for a rescuer, it never gets easier.

02.26.08

The role of special-needs animals in rescue

Posted in Philosophy at 3:34 am by ACR&S

In addition to our role as a Rescue (i.e., taking in unwanted animals and finding new homes for them), ACR&S also has a Sanctuary component. The role of the Sanctuary is to provide a permanent home for unadoptable animals to live out their lives in peace and comfort.

Many of the animals who wind up in the Sanctuary are special needs. This doesn’t exclusively mean disabled as it does in humans; “special needs” can mean anything which requires the prospective adopter to plan on an extraordinary level of care. Maybe it means an animal who can’t be handled by children (he bites as a reaction to previous abuse). Maybe it just means a long-haired animal who requires extra grooming every single day, plus regular haircuts. Maybe it means an animal who needs a specific type of cage, a particular brand of food, life-long daily medication, or just more frequent vet care to keep on top of a potential health concern (senior animals usually fall into this category, as they require frequent vet visits to detect the onset of age-related health changes).

Special-needs does not mean unadoptable; many special-needs animals do end up being adopted. For example, Shuli, a guinea pig with hind-limb paralysis, spent two years on the adoption waiting list, and then finally found a forever home who was willing to keep him on towels and offer daily leg massages. But when an animal has been in the Rescue for two, three years, at some point we have to assume that nobody will ever adopt him and that he’ll remain in the Sanctuary forever.

Even before they reach the Sanctuary, special-needs animals do take up more of a rescue’s resources. They spend longer in the Rescue (taking up a slot that could otherwise go to an adoptable animal), they require more vet care, and typically cost more time (meaning fewer animals can concurrently live in that foster home). So why should a rescue bother with special needs animals? Why would a rescue have a whole section devoted to them?

These aren’t hypothetical questions. ACR&S has at times been criticized for using resources on special-needs and Sanctuary animals rather than Rescue animals. In a discussion about the fact that we could save:

…wouldn’t it make more sense to try and place animals who aren’t special needs, knowing that there are perfectly healthy pets that will be euthanized anyway? Maybe you could place 12 healthy animals in a month to good homes rather than 4 special needs animals.

It sounds harsh, but if pets are going to be euthanized anyway it would seem to make more sense for a private shelter to adopt healthy pets from the public ones, and vow to adopt them out and not kill them, and unfortunately let the special needs ones go.

While many rescues do exactly this – take only healthy animals – it doesn’t actually increase the total number of animals getting adopted. Let’s say that the local shelter gets 1000 animals per month, they can place 500 of them, but it also euthanize 500 per month (50% is actually pretty good, many shelters have far worse adoption ratios than this). My rescue (which does not euthanize unadoptable animals) pulls a few animals a month from the shelter, and we can either place 4 special needs animals per month, or eight healthy animals per month:

Placing special needs animals
Me: 4 placed, 0 dead
Shelter: 500 placed, 496 dead
Total: 504 placed, 496 dead

Placing healthy animals
Me: 8 placed, 0 dead
Shelter: 492 placed, 500 dead
Total: 500 placed, 500 dead

I don’t argue that it’s a very, very small advantage. But the advantage is there.

You may wonder why in the second scenario, I’m not assuming that me taking animals from the shelter allows them to take in more (for a full 1000 per month). It’s because mostly when private rescues work with shelters, we do what’s called “11th hour rescue”. Hence the HRS logo, a rabbit next to a clock:

HRS Logo

We take primarily animals who are about to be euthanized at a traditional shelter. They’ve already had their chanced at getting placed in a low-requirement setting, and for whatever reason they couldn’t cut it. Maybe they’re too old, or have behavioral issues, or were returned and marked “unadoptable”, or maybe they just weren’t the fashionable color and nobody wanted them. But effectively, they ARE special needs because they couldn’t get adopted the regular way, and are about to die.

The way 11th Hour rescue works, is usually the shelter calls and says “we have twelve going in at 3pm, do you want any?” Nobody actually says anything about what happens if I don’t get them. If I have room for one, I drop everything and go get her. Sometimes I have a potential adopter who wants something specific and I ask “you got any female rexes?”. It’s like a very macabre game of Go Fish.

But sometimes I’m at the shelter for an altogether different reason, and I glance at the waiting room and I see one I just have to take. Maybe she reminds me of a beloved pet, or just has that look in her eyes that says she needs just one more chance. Most rescuers have literally taken an animal out of the death room, and in doing so we usually swear that this animal will never have to face that room again. THAT is the situation which makes you drop extra resources on “special needs”. In cases like that, it stops being the total number of animals that matters. It’s the INDIVIDUAL that matters.

This also happens at times when we’re not dealing with shelter animals:

BunBun was found by a police officer who was doing a check at a school after a hurricane. He was in an outdoor, wire-floor hutch with a broken-in roof, mounds of droppings and dead chickens underneath, no water or hay, and moldy pellets. We accepted him after he was seized, and contacted the school – they were out on break, the teacher who owned him thought a neighbor kid was taking care of him, “but maybe he got busy with vacation”.

She told me he was eight years old and had always been “perfectly happy” in those conditions.

I cried at hearing this, when I hadn’t cried before at seeing the filth he lived in. He had lived for eight years in a tiny, outdoor hutch, in increasingly abominable conditions.

There was NO way in hell I was going to be able to place an eight year old rabbit. He had tumors that had to be removed. He wasn’t litter trained at all. His teeth were horrible. Rabbits only live 8-12 years, he could die a week after being adopted.

But he was a sweet, affectionate, playful animal. He literally danced the first day he was in his big new pen. He made friends with a grieving rabbit who had just lost a mate. After his teeth were trimmed, he showed that he loved chewing up boxes.

I could have euthanized him. But I decided that I didn’t want him going straight from squalor to death, not with the beautiful personality he showed. He deserved at least one shot at a good life. Numbers didn’t matter at that point, all that mattered was that I could give this rabbit something he’d never had, no matter how briefly he was able to enjoy it.

I promised myself that as soon as he started showing health issues, then I’d euthanize him. He’s still with me, three years later. Every month I’ve had him is another month I’ve had to turn another rabbit away because I was maxed out. Actually I place about 4 rabbits a year, so basically you could argue that he has cost 12 other rabbits their lives.

But I just can’t look at this grumpy old man face and say that it wasn’t worth it:
BunBun

All of that said: I really do think that unadoptable animals should be euthanized to free up resources for adoptable animals. I have even done it myself. It’s not as black and white as making a simple policy change, and it’s not always so easy when YOU are the one standing there in the death room. Just because it can be justified, doesn’t mean it’s right.

And as long as that is true, special needs animals will have a valid place in rescue.


I’ve got some good rescue quotes. I’ll start sharing them with you by ending each serious post with a new quote! To get you started:

“We are selfish, base animals, crawling across the earth. But because we’ve got brains, if we try real hard, we can occasionally aspire to something that is less than pure evil.” – House, MD

Coming Friday: Pictures of the Sanctuary!

Next week: Tips on building C&C pens and cages

02.12.08

Why adopters should be just as choosy about rescues, as rescues are about adopters

Posted in Philosophy at 12:40 am by ACR&S

After last week’s post on the rationale for restrictive adoption policies, I wanted to switch to the other side and talk about the how prospective adopters can also be selective and strict in selecting a rescue from which to adopt. The relationship between an adopter and a rescue is a contractual one, and contracts work both ways – the rescue has obligations to the adopter, not just vice versa.

Many people adopt almost on impulse – they fall in love with one particular animal, and they never think about comparison shopping with other rescues, because they’ve already found the perfect pet and are willing do whatever the animal’s rescue requires of them. But other adopters enter into the search for a new pet like they might search for a new house – they maybe have a few basic desires in mind, but are open to meeting many animals and working with any rescue. Some people even choose a rescue which they like, and wait until that rescue is able to find a candidate animal who matches their interests. It’s these latter two categories of folks who can benefit from making sure that the rescue they choose to work with holds up their end of the contractual obligations.

What are the risks of not being choosy about where you adopt your pets? Most obviously, you might end up with more than you bargained for (click for fullsize):

Craigslist pregnancy

Rescues and shelters can be just as guilty about this as the folks on Craigslist. Even well known, government funded shelters, if they aren’t used to caring for small animals, may make mistakes in sexing their animals. It only takes a few minutes in the wrong cage for a boy to wreak lots of havoc on the girls and their future adopters.

Even worse are the rescues who intentionally mislead adopters. I’d love to tell you that all rescuers have a heart of gold, but it’s just not true. The stereotype of the crazy cat lady persists for a very good reason: crazy rescuers do exist. They may lie about having provided vet care, lie about the conditions the animal is kept in, or lie about the animal’s behavior and health. You know the type – they rave about how they provide thousands of dollars in care to their animals, but won’t let you come to their home. Instead they meet you in the parking lot at Wal-mart with an animal who is smelly, matted, and obviously ill. Most adopters who wind up in this situation end up taking the animal anyway out of a desire to rescue her from the rescuer, but also end up with a future distrust of all rescues.

So while a rescue might enumerate a number of rights in its adoption contract – we have the right to inspect your home prior to adoption, we have the right to seize the animal if we find that you mistreat it, etc. – the adopters have rights too. An adopter who insists on their rights is primarily protecting themselves, but also doing a huge favor to the general rescue community. When you tell a sketchy rescue that you won’t do business with them because their practices are suspect, you’re helping put them out of business. This helps legitimate rescues establish a better image in the public eye, helps us get more animals adopted, and saves us from having to pick up the pieces when the bad rescue’s animals end up dumped and needing to be rescued all over again. So here’s some guidelines for adopters to use in evaluating rescues:

Request that the rescue provide you with proof of adequate veterinary care prior to adoption. Adequate pre-adoption vetcare is critical as a protection to the adopter. At the very least, the animal should be quarantined for a few days to see if illness manifests, before the animal is allowed to be adopted. This is especially problematic in small animals like guinea pigs and rabbits, because unlike cats and dogs, prey animals hide their illnesses – if the rescue you go to doesn’t have an exotics-savvy vet, they may not notice that they send you home with an animal who is ill. I once had a friend pull a rabbit from a county shelter so we could re-home her ($5 adoption fee, and they didn’t care to differentiate between a member of the public and a rescuer). As soon as I put my hands on the rabbit I knew something was wrong. I flipped her over, and she was draining bloody pus out of her anogenital openings. She had a massive infection inside, and the shelter vet missed it. It was only dumb luck that we got her rather than an unsuspecting member of the public. (She had to be euthanized, sadly. Her infection was so far advanced that even the emergency vet thought it was amazing she was still alive.)

Adopters may need to do some research to determine what constitutes “adequate vet care” for the species they are intending to adopt. Most people know what to expect for cats and dogs – they need to be vaccinated (at least for rabies) and spayed or neutered, if old enough. But rabbits also need to be spayed and neutered, a fact of which most adopters (and even some vets) are not aware. All animals should have species appropriate anti-parasite treatment – flea & tick, heartworm, and deworming for cats/dogs/horses, mite treatment (often with Ivermectin) for rabbits and guinea pigs, etc.

Animals which are adopted intact need to have some proof that the females are not pregnant. For guinea pigs, gestation is 72 days, and responsible rescues will put their females under pregnancy watch for this amount of time before allowing them to be adopted. If this is impossible, the rescue should provide you with a written statement of who will be responsible for any babies, and for any vet costs incurred in caring for the mother animal.

Adopters can avoid getting an animal who is ill, parasite-infested, or pregnant, by asking for the name and phone number of the rescue’s vet, and calling to verify that the animal received appropriate care as advertised. Your rescue should be more than willing to provide this information. Hesitancy can mean that maybe things are not as they seem. Sometimes rescues claim that vet records are not available because their animals are seen “by a friend who is a vet”. This can mean anything from “a friend who is a DVM and performs a full examination on my kitchen table” to “my yoga teacher, who once worked as a temporary receptionist at a vet’s office, and remotely reads my animal’s auras to determine if they are sick.” The adopter may be fine with this, but the rescue needs to be honest and upfront so that the adopter has no false expectations.

Ask to visit the animal in it’s current location, or to be provided with a picture of the current housing and information on current diet and husbandry. Almost all rescues require adopters to provide their animals with certain minimum standards for husbandry, like requiring that your adopted cat be housed indoors, or that your adopted bird be fed an expensive pelleted diet. This is fine, but the adopter has the right to make the same request of the rescue. An adopter doesn’t want to adopt an indoor dog just to find out that he’s been housed outdoors on a chain 24-7, or buy expensive food just to find out he’s been eating Ol’ Roy. If an animal is not adequately cared for at the rescue, she may come home with health and behavioral problems that impose an unexpected burden on the adopter.

I’m clarifying that pictures of the animal at the rescue should be a viable alternative to a visit to the rescue, because there are two valid reasons that a rescue may not want an adopter to come visit. First, most small rescues do not have a central facility; the animals are housed in foster homes. Foster parents may be single young women, or families with young children – the rescue, quite reasonably, can’t place these foster parents at risk by allowing a bunch of strangers to traipse into their homes with unknown intentions. Secondly, a rescuer who works out of his or her own home often keeps their address a fiercely guarded secret, using PO boxes for all communication. You know why? Because once your home address is known, abandoned animals mysteriously start appearing on your doorstep… Even the people you feel you can trust the most might give you away through good but misguided intentions. My vet gave out my personal pager number to someone needing to find homes for 12 baby bunnies. The vet had no way of knowing that the baby bunnies’ owner was a crackpot, but I was the one who had to change my number ‘cuz I had an irate redneck callin’ me all day and night.

So a rescuer who denies you a visit to the animal in situ may have a valid reason. But they should be able to tell you the reasons, and should offer to provide alternative forms of proof that the animal is receiving appropriate husbandry. It shouldn’t be that hard for a rescue to get a photo of the animal in it’s cage or pen, and that will tell you a lot about the quality of care. If the bedding is clean but the walls of the cage are rusty and encrusted with filth, the adopter might want to consider that something sketchy is going on. For diet, adopters can quite reasonably request a small ziplock baggie of the animal’s current food to mix with the new diet. If you hear “oh, I just ran out and haven’t been to the store” – run out of there yourself!

You can also find out a lot about the rescue’s level of care by seeing the animal in person – even if it means the rescuer coming to meet you somewhere – prior to finalizing the adoption. Meeting the animal when you have made it clear that you are not adopting today, can tell you quite a bit about how well the rescue is really caring for her. If she’s not wearing a collar, has over-long nails, is being transported in a cardboard box, is cowering and fearful, or is too smelly to touch when you meet her the first time, it may mean the rescue isn’t willing to exert any effort for the visit. Are they going to do any more for the adoption?

Pay attention to how desperate is the rescue to have you take the animal. Rescues should NEVER try to guilt, bully, harass, or scare you into an adoption you aren’t 100% committed to yet. They should want to make sure that you already have food, a cage or crate, a pet carrier (for smaller animals), etc., before they let you walk away with their animal. I attended an adoption event once where a rescuer told a potential adopter “you can go ahead and take [the kitten]” and the adopter replied that she hadn’t brought a carrier. “That’s ok,” the rescuer replied, “you can let her sit on your lap while you drive home.” “But I haven’t bought a litterbox or any food or anything yet,” the adopter replied. The rescuer responded cheerily, “Oh, just leave her in the car and stop at the supermarket on your way home.” (It was like 90 degrees outside.) I couldn’t believe I was witnessing a trainwreck of that proportion. And for god’s sake, don’t give in when the rescue threatens “well, if I can’t place her today, she has to be euthanized”.

On a related note, ask the rescue to recommend other places where you might find an adoptable animal. To paraphrase Pratchett, rescuers are like cats – they may not like one another, but they like to know where all the other ones are and what they are up to. A rescue which has a sketchy reputation is going to have a poor reputation in the rescue community, and they won’t want you talking to other rescues just in case you find out how bad they are. They may also badmouth all the other rescues in the area. Even when there is personal enmity between two rescuers, for the sake of the animals they usually try to interact professionally in front of members of the public. A good rescue also does not criticize other rescues on the basis of policy disagreement. I link people to several groups with whom I have deep and irreconcilable philosophical differences about who should adopt or how animals should be cared for. But the animals do still receive a minimally acceptable level of care, and these groups are totally honest in all their dealings. The only reason to criticize another rescue is if they actually harm their animals, or if their dishonesty would negatively impact potential adopters.

Bottom line: someone who can’t hold it together long enough to civilly recommend another place to adopt, is probably well on the way to crazy-cat-lady status in other ways as well. A rescue that gives you half a dozen options and says “and tell ’em I sent you” probably holds a deservedly high reputation and can probably be trusted.

Ask what the rescue plans to do if the adoption doesn’t work out. This question is a crucial litmus test of how reliable a rescue is. If the rescue doesn’t immediately barrage you with contingency plans for all potential situations, they may not have any plans. A rescue should have policies in place to deal with animals who are found to be ill, to have behavioral issues, or just to “not fit in” with their new family. It’s perfectly valid for the rescue to reply that the policy is “all sales final, caveat emptor‘. But an adopter has the right to go in knowing that. Among the worst replies a rescue can give an adopter is “don’t worry, nothing like that will ever happen”. Translated, this means “you’re going to be SOL but I’m not going to tell you that till you’re already up the creek.”

All of that said… it’s hard to evaluate rescues, just as hard as it is for rescues to evaluate adopters. Some times you get it wrong – you reject someone who is perfectly responsible and capable just because they forgot to respond to an email, and you didn’t have the time to send them a reminder. And sometimes someone who looks bad on paper is really quite wonderful when you know the full story. I’m not even sure that ACR&S could always meet all of the standards I’m outlining here, although we do try. And not EVERY adopter needs to be as persnickety about evaluating rescues as I’ve outlined. More than a must-have checklist, I want adopters to keep in mind that they have rights too, and to use one or more of these tools when they need help making a judgment call. And I want to remind both rescues and adopters that if rescue animals have a bad reputation because of a few bad apples, it’s up to all of us acting together to clean up the mess that threatens all of us.


Tune in this Friday to learn all about love, guinea pig style! Next week: Join the Make Mine Chocolate project!

02.05.08

The theory and practice of adoption policies

Posted in Philosophy at 6:57 am by ACR&S

So let’s start the week off with some heavy stuff: commentary on adoption policies, and why some shelters & rescues are more restrictive than others. Here’s the quote that sparked these thoughts:

My opinion is that overly restrictive rescues are bad for [animals] in general. How many more people would adopt from rescues and shelters if they weren’t forced to go through some rescues unreasonably invasive screenings (seriously, calling someone’s manager at work?!) or restrictive rules. How many people end up at Puppymills R Us Pet Store because of this?

There’s a reason that different shelters have different levels of requirements: they have different goals, different ways in which they are allowed to allot resources, and they provide different types of services.

Typically, county-run shelters are the least restrictive: they maybe require a 1 page form where you write in your address. Maybe they also require your drivers’ license number to verify identity. The goal of these shelters is to adopt out as many animals as possible to any minimally acceptable homes. But those shelters are typically caught between the horns of an ugly dilemma: they are open access, meaning they are forced to take in EVERY animal surrendered to them and they are operating on public funds, so they have a responsibility to meet their budget expectations. These places can’t be generous with their per-animal cash investment, first because god only knows how many dumped animals they may have to provide for in a single fiscal year, and second because you know the bureaucrats and taxpayers will have a fit if they see the shelter spending too much money on any one animal.

As a result, these shelters typically don’t provide as much as privately funded rescues: maybe they don’t temperament-test their dogs, so they are placing animals with unknown behavioral problems; or you have a better chance of getting a cat who has a communicable disease; or maybe they don’t know how to sex their rabbits so you may end up with Bob the Pregnant Female Bunny. These shortcomings, just as much as restrictive adoption policies, contribute to why people shy away from rescue animals: “My sister got a dog from the shelter and he was crazy, therefore all shelter dogs are abused.” Also of note, if you return an animal to a shelter like this, there’s a very good chance it will be euthanized because one strike makes it get graded as “unadoptable”. There’s just no budget for second chances.

On the other side, you have small, specialist rescues whose goal is to place just a few animals into the best homes possible. Those are the ones who want your signature in the blood of your firstborn prior to adoption, and I don’t deny that some rescues can get crazy with it. But the restrictions are due to the extra work and money that goes into each animal. These rescues tend to provide a much-higher level of care pre-adoption: the animal’s personality is known PERFECTLY; he’s behavior tested with cats, kids, dogs, gerbils, etc; the animal is kept in a family home rather than in a small metal kennel; etc. All of these extras are privately funded, often by the rescuer themselves, meaning that it’s up to the person writing the check to decide whether to spend $20 or $2,000 per animal. Usually these groups spend far more per animal than they ever make on adoption fees, so naturally this makes the rescuer more cautious about placement. Tell me that if you spent $10,000 of your own money tricking out your hot rod, you would be willing to sell it on the cheap to Sleazy Jones’ Used Automart?

These groups also usually provide a post-adoption guarantee: if you return the animal IT WILL NOT DIE; it’s problems will be corrected (more money!) and it will be re-adopted. This has a significant cost aside from money – the groups who can do this are typically closed access (they don’t accept any surrender offered to them) and every animal who is returned is an extra burden on a group with maybe just a few foster homes and a small financial footprint. Every return means one more animal which they can’t take in. So the need to try and prevent returns by ensuring a 100% fit between animal and adopters, also necessitates that the rescue be more restrictive with adoptions.

So depending on what you want: an easy adoption with no guarantees, or a life-long contract with a perfectly matched pet, you can go to different places. It’s just the same as if you want a quick fast-food burger, or a romantic dinner that’s a guaranteed panty-peeler: you gotta pay differently for different qualities of service. The two kinds of rescues are simply NOT the same.

Does any of this imply that one type of rescue or shelter is better than another? NO. Animals from open-access, no-restriction shelters are not intrinsically different from the animals at closed-access, very restrictive rescues. The difference lies in the burden assumed by the adopter. An inexperienced, first-time owner is better off going to a restrictive rescue. Yes, they will find the adoption process burdensome, but they won’t get a “problem pet,” and they will be taught, prior to adoption, everything that they need to do to get it right. Someone with lots of animal experience (and time and money!) is better off going to an unrestrictive shelter. This person can enjoy the lack of restrictions, yet still be better able than the newbie to handle any behavioral or health problems, and they’ll also be saving an animal who might otherwise be returned and euthanized, if adopted by someone unprepared for the consequences of playing rescue roulette.

So in response to the question “would more people adopt instead of buying if all rescues were less restrictive”? My answer is probably not. Those that would turn to adoption, because they hate the current restrictions, are offset by those who would choose not to adopt because they want the greater per-animal investment that requires restrictive policies, to reduce the risk of getting an animal who may have unknown behavioral or medical issues. (The fact that pet stores’ and breeders’ animals are just as likely to display ill-manners or ill-health, is a topic for another day.)

Just because anyone can afford a cheap burger joint doesn’t mean there aren’t times when some people really want a four-course French meal.


Up Friday: BUNNY DANCE!!!!!!! Those more interested in serious business, tune in next Tuesday for a discussion of why adopters should be just as choosy as rescues.

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