Why don't more people rescue?
Because it's hard to qualify for a dog.
I've been turned down. That's right - me, the humane educator. I was told by a rescue group that I was not home enough to have a puppy. We ended up with one and four years later, she's the best behaved dog you will ever meet. It's like having a baby - you may not have been home enough before, but you start to build your life around this little being.
When someone comes to me for help finding a dog and wants to try the private rescues, I tend to cringe. While my instinct is to recommend, especially for first time dog owners, the rescues who are foster based so that they know exactly what they are getting (the dog has been in a home - most quirks are known and there are few surprises), I do so with hesitation.
Sometimes, it can turn out great. My friend Christine was a first time dog owner. Her husband was unsure that he wanted a dog. They had two small children and worked full-time. We talked it over and decided that they needed a medium energy dog that was at least three to four years old. They were very open to getting a dog and not a puppy. They were open to training and crating and dog walkers. Slowly, her husband came around. I encouraged them to go to the adoptions at their local pet store on the weekend. The rescue group could not have been more helpful. They were not turned off by the fact that the couple had a three and six-year-old. And they found the perfect match for their household. So enamored by this dog, they ended up adopting a second one a few years later. These are two very lucky, very loved dogs.
If every situation turned out like that, I would be completely at ease when someone says, "I want to adopt a dog."
But most of them don't.
My brother finally ended up with a dog because a co-worker was fostering little Scooby. She vouched for them. But it wasn't that easy. There was the homecheck, the 10 page application, the grilling questions that my brother felt were designed to make them fail. The friend had to threaten to quit the rescue before they finally relented and gave them the dog. As my brother was signing the paperwork, the lady said to him, "This dog better not come back." What kind of a response is that? How about "congratulations on your new family member!" They are so happy to have Scooby. The first week, my brother was calling me constantly with questions. What kind of food? What kind of toys? What size kong? What should he put in the kong? Bully sticks or antlers? Scooby has the best life. He almost didn't, though. A lot of the dogs at that rescue are there for years. Not because they are lacking for applications either. It's sad.
I was teaching at a school last week and the teacher who booked us confessed to me, "I bought a dog." I swallowed down my sigh and felt like a failure - we come to her school every year. How could she BUY a dog after all the things she has learned? "I tried three different rescues and they all turned me down," she said. "I was humiliated." Yes, I understand. She and her husband both teach. They have active kids. They wanted a dog that they could take with them to afterschool activities, that they could walk and hike and run with. But they weren't home enough. "You both work full time," they were told by all three rescues.
Who doesn't? There are millions of dogs THRIVING in homes with owners who work full-time.
Why are we turning away good homes?
It took this teacher months to find a good breeder. The breeder required that the entire family come up for the interview process. It was a four hour drive for this family, but they did it three times. When the puppy was born, they were sent pictures and updates until it was time to pick up the dog. The contract stated implicitly that the dog had to be neutered. The breeder checked in with them repeatedly to make sure that the puppy was settling in and answer any questions that they might have.
But not everyone goes to the lengths that this teacher did to find a good breeder. What about the person who doesn't want a shelter dog because they are first time dog owners? They want to go through a rescue, yet get turned down repeatedly. They want to get a dog so they go on Craigslist or find a breeder in the paper. That shouldn't have to happen.
Good homes aren't magically going to appear. We have to educate people to make them good dog owners. If you don't feel that they are good enough, educate them to make them better.
I want to end with one final story that I find particularly perplexing. Life long dog owner of a specific breed. Has always purchased pets in the past. Finds out what is happening in shelters and is horrified so she no longer wants to buy. Instead, she goes to the local purebreed rescues because she's in love with that breed. She and her husband work full-time, but they have always had a dog walker come in and take the dogs out for an hour long walk in the afternoon. Both rescues turned them down - because they worked full-time. They didn't trust that they would actually bring that dog walker in. The woman felt so strongly about rescuing that she drove to Orange County to pull a dog out of one of the shelters down there before either of the breed rescues could get to it. She loves her dog more than anything.
Not everyone is willing to pull from a shelter or take the time to find a good breeder. Why are we turning away good homes?
Because they feed the dogs Alpo. (so educate them on nutrition)
Because both parents work. (what if the dog gets a walk before they leave and another in the evening? That's more than most dogs!)
There are good homes out there being turned away because they aren't perfect. We don't need perfect. We need good enough - and it doesn't take much to educate someone and make them good enough. People want to do the right thing. They want to do right by their pets. And they're open to learning. It's our job to teach them, not to make them feel humiliated and leave a bad taste in their mouth. We want people to love their rescue dogs -- and to share with everyone that their precious Pookie came from X Rescue so that their friends want to rescue as well. The more people with positive experiences, the more adopters we will get.