Do rescue groups have excessively high standards?

Source: Vaute Couture.

Slate published an article by Emily Yoffe last Thursday, “No Pet For You,” with the subtitle: “Want to adopt a dog or cat? Prepare for an inquisition at the animal rescue.” It is a largely anecdotal article, but still, it’s one that I wish more rescue agencies could read.

Yoffe writes about the general interrogation that a prospective adopter will face from overzealous and protective rescue groups, and she says that she was so turned off by rescue groups that she ended up getting a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy from a breeder instead. She shares a litany of similar rejections her readers got from rescue groups:

Katie wrote that she wanted to adopt a retired racing greyhound but was told she was not eligible unless she already had an adopted greyhound. Julie got a no from a cat rescue because she was over 60 years old, even though her daughter promised to take in the cat if something happened to Julie. Jen Doe said her boyfriend’s family lives on fenced farm property with sheep, but they weren’t allowed to adopt a border collie—whose raison d’être is herding sheep—because the group insisted it never be allowed off-leash. Philip was rejected because he said he allowed the dog he had to sleep wherever it liked; the right answer was to have a designated sleeping area. Molly, who has rescued Great Danes for more than 30 years, was refused by a Great Dane group because of “concern about my kitchen floor.”

Yoffe’s article is not about the good that rescue groups do, because I think we can all agree that they do a lot of good, but rather about the very high standards they seem to impose on potential adopters.

Several rescue groups I’ve seen have applications that look more like applications for adopting a human child. There’s one group I’ve seen in my area that I already know I won’t apply to because of how extreme and excessive their application is. I read these lists of qualifications and wonder, “WHO are they looking for? What kind of person fits this bill? Stays home all day, doesn’t work, has a huge fenced-in yard, never wants children, already has specific plans for the dog’s every waking minute of life??” Unless you’re a trust-funded housewife with an estate and nothing to do, I don’t know who these people are.

I myself have met many people who tell me the same story. They are extremely responsible and dedicated pet owners, even well experienced with the particular breed, but they’ve been rejected by rescues. When I tell them that I hope to adopt from a GSD rescue, I’ve received lots of raised eyebrows and warnings. Some people have outright told me NOT to go to a rescue group for the reasons Yoffe lists.

It’s a sad state of affairs when rescue groups have such an increasingly negative reputation. I myself have heard little good about them, especially breed-specific groups, from people who are trying to adopt dogs. They’re doing hard work to rehome needy animals and they deserve lots of support. But I can’t help but wonder if their standards are increasingly way too high. I really want to adopt a dog, but reading this article makes me really worried about it.

In many ways, despite my feverish year-and-a-half of research and totally serious commitment to the well-being of any dog we bring home, we may not be ideal candidates in a rescue’s eyes: This would be our first dog; we rent; we don’t have a vet recommendation, because we don’t have a vet yet!; we want to have kids one day, etc. I’m already nervous about applying. I don’t think I could stand the rejection. And I think it’s ridiculous that I feel this way! It’s not like I’m applying to college or to a job or to adopt an Ethiopian orphan. I just want a dog.

What do you think? Do you think rescue groups have excessively high standards for adopters? Or do you think they’re just right? Have you had positive (or negative) experiences with rescue groups? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.


8 thoughts on “Do rescue groups have excessively high standards?

  1. I have a dog sanctuary in my home and yes, groups set unreasonable standards. I ask for a vet reference but if this is someone’s first dog, I go by my gut and personal references. Fence? I didn’t have a fence for my first two dogs – I walked them 5 times a day; I now have a fence with less walking – I miss the walking (but can’t do 17 dogs a day – HA). I was berated because I would adopt to a fence-less home. Walk the dog! Because I grew up with indoor dogs, I am on a learning curve to adopt out to homes where they will be loved but mainly outside dogs.
    Dogs need homes – very few meet the stringent criteria in this sad article. It is something we need to address so animals can be saved; spay and neuter only go so far – homes save the dogs.
    I have some very nice hounds for you when you are ready….no GSDs, though – I am not that smart.

  2. I adopted a dog a year ago from a lab rescue group and it went great. It was a kind of hard adoption because I needed a dog who was calm enough to get along with my 15 year old dog but was young enough to accept a puppy a year or two down the line.

    There was a 2 or 3 page questionnaire, but I felt like it was a starting off point for a conversation not a yes/no checklist. My rec would be to find an organization you like before you get your heart set on a specific dog. It would be heartbreaking to have to leave a dog behind because you don’t click with the organization. I bonded with all of my adopted dogs in less than 10 minutes, so make sure you and the rescue group can work together before you meet the dog. And if you can work together, they can help you select a dog that better fits you. I would never have picked my dog based on his picture. It was cute, but he wasn’t “my type”. They knew the dog and knew me and helped me to find a dog that I would have overlooked by picture alone.

    One of the things I liked about my rescue group is that they have lots of lab mixes and sure-maybe-there-was-a-lab somewhere in the great-great-grandparent dogs. I liked that they were flexible with what constituted a “lab” and felt that they might be more flexible with potential owners. Plus, it helped that I liked lab-ish dogs better than labs. There is just something about a good mutt. I don’t know if you’re open to a shepherd mix, but I do think the mixes can be overlooked by people set on a certain look which can make it easier to find a mix who is healthy in mind and body.

    Any rescue who isn’t crazy would want you as an adopter and if they are crazy enough to turn you down then you can’t trust their assessment of their dogs.

  3. There are definitely some “intense” rescue groups out there. While I think strict applications are mostly for the best life of a dog, I do think they can go overboard. I foster for an incredible rescue based out of Chicago. Most of the board members understand apartment living, renting, and not having a fenced in backyard. They get that not just suburban families want to adopt dogs. When we started fostering, we lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in a complex with breed and weight restrictions. While they followed up with our landlord, they did not turn us away. When we adopted our last foster, it was a piece of cake. The right dog and rescue is out there for you, I promise!

  4. I think it’s a fine line. You want the dogs to end up in good homes so you do have to do some screening. The organization I got my dog from allowed me to adopt even though I rent, I didn’t have a fenced yard, and I have never owned a dog before. Just because they ask a question doesn’t mean you are automatically out if you don’t have the “right” answer. Responsible breeders will usually ask just as many questions. There are also some organizations, pit bull rescues, for example, that have to be extra careful because any potential adopter becomes an ambassador for the breed and their mistakes could mean a setback for the whole breed.

  5. I also wrote a blog post about that article this week. I think it’s a mix. I’ve talked to people in certain rescues and realized that they would not want to adopt to me (I wrote a post about that a while ago), but I’ve also gone to rescues that are more interested in finding the dog a good home than the perfect home, and understand that as long as the dogs are loved and cared for, some things just don’t matter.
    I agree with the advice to start researching your rescue groups now. Find one you like, one where you can develop a report with the members. I think that’s the best way to find the right dog.
    Some breed specific groups, because they only take the “right” dogs also feel like they have the capacity to wait for the “right” people.
    Since you volunteer at the ASPCA, open yourself to the possibility that you will find your dog there. I’ve found that large rescues like the Humane Society and ASPCA are much less stringent than breed specific rescues for the main reason of volume. They have lots of dogs they want to find homes for.

    Oh, and if it helps, we were buying a home with a large securely fenced back yard and already had an Australian Shepherd. We were turned down by a rescue group for a second Aussie because our commute was too long- we’d be out of the house too long each day. It was hard, but not getting that dog meant I got my Smokey angel, so I can’t really complain.

  6. Yes. It can be very traumatic for a dog to sit in a pound, and almost certainly is for puppies. The faster they get out of there the better.

    That said, there need to be some sort of screening to ensure that the wanna-be owner understand what dog ownership requires.

    We adopted our first rescue puppy from an organisation that had no questionnaires … They rescue stray village dogs from central/northern Auatralia where there is a massive overpopulation of loose, semi-feral dogs. We lived in a 1 bedroom flat and no other organisation would have allowed us to adopt… But we had a park across the road, 5 min to the beach, and worked from home… and love dogs. It went very well.

    When we adopted our second puppy when we still lived in the flat, this time an ex-pound dog from a foster family. Our first puppy was very happy to get a playmate, and again it was a lot of work (training and walks) but went well.

    Now we live in a house with both dogs. We have a big secured yard and bushland next door for walking, everything is ‘perfect’ except the dogs are bored of the yard. They are used to meeting lots of dogs and people everyday on the beach cafe street, now all there is is bushland and aggressive suburbian dogs barking in their secure yards. Things are not so black and white

  7. Most do good work. That said there has to be rules and regulations in regard to taking on such a responsibility. This morning we were walking our little dog when we spoke to a rescuer who was walking two greyhounds with out muzzles. He informed us that Gaffe where he got his dogs from said they did not require muzzles anymore. We told him our dog was attacked four months ago on the beach at Manly by a rescue dog who just slipped his head out of his leash effortlessly If this is the result of dogs being rescued after training to be raced I think this is disgusting We love our little dog a lot .

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