CA Shelter Volunteer Comes Down Off Her “Rescue Mountain”

Clare Storey is a volunteer at the shelter in Castaic, CA which is run by the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control. There is a lengthy piece at a local radio station website on how the shelter’s image is being brightened by efforts to work with the public, instead of condemning them. Ms. Storey came to the shelter from a rescue background:

Storey said that her past experience working with a local rescue gave her a somewhat ‘superior’ attitude when it came to “granting” ownership of animals. Most rescues ask applicants to fill out long forms with many questions about the environment, family, time and future for the animals.

She explains that after listening to a pet advocate speaking on the subject of adoption applications, she changed her view:

“[The speaker] said the form should have just a few questions: name, address, email if you want to. Will you kill this animal? No? Brilliant! It really brought it home to me that I had been playing god.”

Education and understanding are a better approach for the Castaic shelter in communicating with the public than attempting to shame owners.  While Ms. Storey doesn’t conceal her opinion that there are some people who should not own a pet, she has expanded her view of the general public as adopters:

“I’ve come down off my rescue mountain, down to the real world and I realize in my dealings with the public who come to the shelter, who come to offsite adoptions, that 99 percent of them are fabulous people. They are caring people, they have chosen to adopt, they have listened to us, they have seen the bumper stickers, for the last 20 years, “Adopt Don’t Shop.” They have listened, they have taken notes, and have made the decision to save a life, which is what adopting a shelter animal does.”

99% are fabulous people.  They may care for their pets differently than we do, they might benefit from some pet ownership education, but they want to save a shelter pet’s life by adopting.  I think we should let them.

25 thoughts on “CA Shelter Volunteer Comes Down Off Her “Rescue Mountain”

  1. Wow. Very impressed that she was able to change her attitude! So many get stuck in the idea that any less-than-absolutely-perfect home is unacceptable and the animals suffer and die for it.

  2. Absolutely agree! I had wondered what made someone the ‘ideal’ animal family vs. someone who simply wanted to love a pet but might not have a fenced yard or doggie door…
    Consideration of the alternative – leaving the animal in a shelter or worse, having the animal killed – makes any lengthy screening a moot point.

  3. You know, some of us actually make an attempt to help people with a good match.

    There are plenty of morally upstanding lovely people who give to the poor and are kind to the elderly who should not own a Jack Russell terrier. A young border collie. A dog-aggressive mastiff mix. A social-climbing male GSD. Fill in the blank. For whatever reason. Some of them understand this, and some do not. Helping them be realistic about their animal skills and specific home situation is not being judgmental. It is exercising judgment.

    Since I also get to see the other end of bad matches as a trainer, and appreciate the unhappiness of the people, the dog, the neighbors, when a shelter did NO screening, and was often a tetch too eager to offload a dog who is anything but issue-free on, shall we say, inadequately-briefed adopters, I look at this a bit differently.

    There was the nice, sedentary family who, mourning the loss of an elderly pet, “fell in love” with a dog at the local shelter based on her Petfinder photo and the sad, sad story.

    That same day they were home with a 90-pound-and-growing adolescent American bulldog who had spent her entire life locked up somewhere, had been taught absolutely nothing except this sooper-fun game in which she would bite a person’s feet and pull them down, and oh yeah, by the way, was congenitally stone-deaf and liked to eat cats. (They had two, and an elderly miniature schnauzer.)

    These soft, nurturing people who had never trained a family pet beyond housebreaking and leash walks received NO special counseling or screening or guidance for this dog. Good luck with that. The husband’s brother was a client of mine, and so I got a panicked phone call.

    I was willing to help them and we commenced training, but before a week was up the husband observed the dog take down their young daughter and insisted on returning her. This was the right call. The whole family was heartbroken.

    And the shelter employees who couldn’t get the dog out the door fast enough were impressively shitty to the guilt-wracked adopters when they returned the pooch. They were no longer approved to adopt any animal, and the shelter would not tell the wife what happened to the dog when she called to check up on her.

    I was able to use some subterfuge (during which the shelter employee took the opportunity to slag on the adopters who returned her, and I had to bite my tongue) and determine that they sent the dog to a rescue that specialized in deaf dogs. I contacted them and sent the records from her training session — which the shelter had tossed out. Wanna bet whether the rescue up there on their “mountaintop” (a) Did some training before slapping her up on Petfinder again, and (b) Actually screened, educated, and supported the eventual adopters?

    Now this very nice family would not be a suitable match for 95% of the dogs who come through my breed rescue, and would not be approved if they applied for almost any of them.

    But at the time I had a foster with a soft, happy, resilient, bombproof temperament who had come from a neglect situation, and needed continued physical nurturing. Her needs for leadership and structure were low compared to most members of the breed. And a couple months after the American bulldog fiasco, Zippy moved in with Diane and Keith and Kylie, and it has been love ever since.

    I like mountaintops. You can actually see something from up there.

  4. I should also point out that if I applied to a rescue or shelter to adopt, say, an elderly pug, and they did not turn me down, they would be negligent. Either they don’t ask the appropriate questions, or they don’t care about the answers.

    1. In your case Heather, you are rescuing a rare breed that is not going to be a match for a lot of people. I applaud your efforts to try and make the adoption successful.

      I am a proponent of reasonable screening to ensure a good potential match and have said so many times. There is a point though where helping an adopter becomes hurting the dog. Some adopters may surprise the shelter when the match fails. Some adopters may surprise the shelter when the match succeeds. I think as a general rule of thumb, erring on the side of allowing for the possibility of the positive outcome is preferable than ruling it out.

    2. I agree with Yes Biscuti- i think you are arguing to the other end of the extreme here. And do you feel, as a trainer, you are getting a biased view of all the poor matches that can happen?

      Adoptions should involve a conversation and education. But i think too often this doesn’t happen in either regard. And i think the opposite situation to what you are describing happens way too often- a really great family tries to adopt a pet and fill out an app. The counselor sees that they don’t have a fenced yard or that both parents don’t work from home and deny the adoption FOR ALL PETS at their rescue based on this arbitrary information without asking for any additional information.
      Now- this doesn’t stop this nice family from getting a pet (there’s always craigslist and petstores and BYB), but this DOES stop the family from ADOPTING a pet.

      I think we all need to do better about admitting that the perfect home does not really exist, but with conversations, education, and good match, most people can get pretty close.

  5. Great article. Screening it good as long as it is not taken to the extreme and the shelter stays open to it not always working out and being willing to help with problems as or if they come up. Or be willing to take the pet back and not hang the people that gave the animal a try.

  6. I have seen people that have said all the right things, but just didn’t do them and the pet had to be returned. I have seen people that I felt were not the best match work it out and do what was needed for the pet’s and their family’s sake and the pet and them turned out OK. Screening of any kind is not a fool poof.

    1. I agree. I know a family who, while a nice family who provides pets with basic care and attention, has a habit of getting animals and then getting rid of them at the first sigh of problems. They currently have a cat who they’ve had for a while (and I seriously hope they never decide to rehome him, as he is the best cat ever) and a new puppy they got from the shelter after they had to put their last dog down for severe pain due to joint issues. But there have been quite a few animals I won’t mention who have passed through. Rather than being angry at them for being irresponsible most of the time, I’m happy that at least some animals got out of the shelter, and I hope they made to somebody who loves them. Unless a rescue denied this family for having little kids or living in a (very nice) trailer home, I don’t think any screening would weed out this family. They look great on paper. I hope they don’t rehome the puppy for her puppy behaviors, but at least she’s had a chance to live.

    1. I like that!

      What it comes down to for me is this: If your shelter kills pets, or if your rescue is full and, although you want to, you can not pull any more pets off death row because of this, the primary question should be “Is this pet better off with this adopter than dead?”. That’s the true bottom line IMO. I’m oversimplifying of course to make a point.

  7. I’m a Libra…I see both sides of the issue. I think some who live on the mountaintop are fogged in! I think some dogs require more work, skill, or attention than others. I think some adopters do too.
    We can ALL do better! I could be more supportive of the adopters who have come to me and I could be more aggressive in promoting my foster dogs.
    I had an adopter tell me my foster dogs were *too happy* with me…she didn’t want to take them away from me! So she went looking for dogs that *needed her* more. Sigh.
    I’ve got a couple of dogs that were the shelter pets of the day here on YesBiscuit! I still have both of them. One was adopted, but came back because she peed in the house and started to fight with their other dog. The other you suggested that I market her as character in a home movie…and if somebody wanted to adopt her for a few weeks or a few months in order to shoot a sci-fi flick, I’d let her go, but I’m assuming I’d get her back because once the movie is in the can, who wants a big gallumpy geriatric sled dog that is blind? (Oh, and I just figured out this past week that she is perhaps deaf too…which made it MUCH easier to forgive her inability to listen or get out of the way.) How many of YOU would adopt a pet to somebody who wanted it for a commercial, short-term purpose? Get real!
    She’s here until she dies. Will that be soon? Dunno. Sometimes I think it should be, other times I think she’s having fun in her pushy and oblivious way.
    I’d love each and every one of my foster dogs to get adopted. I think somebody who wants them would likely have more time to share with them and they would have more fun if they weren’t just one of many here at Daisy Acres.
    I try to guide and support positive matches. I hate the adoption applications that basically require you to lie in order to qualify for a pet. I am usually brutally honest with adopters. But I also offer a lifetime take-back promise. And even with that, I’ve had adopters foist their dog off to somebody else rather than return it to me! (Nobody likes to feel like a failure.)
    We do play God for the dogs in our care…that is the nature of domestication. Some of us just have a different perspective about who or what God is and how S/He operates.

    1. ha, I don’t recall exactly what wording I used but I do remember saying something about one of your dogs being a candidate for a monster movie. I try to be funny. Sometimes I fail. To be clear, I don’t think there is a serious chance at marketing your foster dog (or any foster dog) as a monster role in a movie. I’m sorry my funny was a flop in this case.

      1. S’okay. I knew your intention was good. But I think back to that post when I see people posting on here about how *average* adopters aren’t good enough for their foster animals.

      2. Maybe I’ll change my name legally to BetterThanA Dumpster. That should grease the wheels with the folks charged with reviewing applications.

  8. I will play devil’s advocate here… I work with a rescue and we are very picky :-) I agree that municipal shelters or any open-admission shelters should strive to adopt out as many animals as they can in order to save their lives. However, when it comes to rescues, especially those with foster homes, I believe that high adopter standards, adopter and public education and consistant follow-up are crucial.

    First of all, we take animals from “death row” at high-kill shelters. If we do NOT screen adopters to ensure that they can provide a life-long home to the animal they want to adopt, than every time we fail to screen properly that animal may end up right back in the shelter from where we rescued it to begin with. How is that helping the shelters lower kill-rates if we keep recicling the same animals?

    Second, we are entirely dependent on Foster Home and Foster Parents. Well, folks, people are emotional creature who get very attached to their foster pets. Guess what, if we took the kitten who a foster mom spent weeks and weeks bottle-feeding and nursing to health and adopted it out to a family who “ran over their previous kitten, who was never really vaccinated or neutered and is looking for another mostly outdoor kitten”, well I’m pretty sure that foster mom will Never, Never work with our rescue again. Yes, its easy to not look for the “perfect home” when you’re speaking about a theoretical dog in a theoretical shelter, but when it comes to your own foster pet whom you love dearly, then it’s a completely different ball game.

    Third, back to the Foster Home network. Yes, if we are full we cannot take in any more animals. But every time an adoption doesn’t work out, the animal comes back to the foster home (ideally and not to a kill shelter). So if we adopt out 5 animals this week to families that were carefully sreened and turn down 5 other adoption candidates, we would help MORE animals than if we adopted out 10 animals to “not so perfect families” and then 7 of these animals came back to us clogging the foster homes even more. Foster home rescues need to keep some “emergency space” for returns. The more carefully we screen the less “return space” we need to keep. Of course no screeting is perfect and no rescue should go into extremes. It’s a balancing act.

    Forth, even though our rescue “screens” we also encourage people who do not meet our adoption criteria to go to the local municipal shelter and to adopt from there. We provide information sheets with addresses, and opening hours for local kill shelter and offer to help in any other way needed for a pet to be saved from a kill shelter.

    1. That opens up another aspect of the “shelter mountaintop” accusation.

      So there’s this dog who is “unadoptable” in a shelter, but he’s not so bad (behaviorally, medically) that the shelter won’t release him to a rescue group.

      And the rescue group takes him, and puts a LOT of resources into the dog, and gets him to the point where they are comfortable offering him for adoption. They’ve spent a buttload of money, perhaps, and one of their A-list foster people has put in tremendous amounts of uncompensated time and love fixing him up and making him as whole as can be. He’s going to have some more needs than average, or different ones than commonly expected, and the rescue folks know him really well, so they’ve identified all these. They may even be specialists in dogs with his precise needs.

      So, shockingly, they take extra care and deploy their insider knowledge ensuring that the dog’s next home is one where his needs will be met, where he will make his new family happy, where he will be an asset to his community, and where he will STAY.

      For this they are slagged on for being too damned picky. (And no, I’m not talking about the old “You don’t have a fenced yard so you can’t adopt any animal” crap.)

      Seems like a kind of reverse of the common accusation that rescues snap up all the “good’ adoptable animals that are easy to place.

      Know what? If I spend months of my time working with a dog in my home, bringing him back from whatever crazy he came to me from, getting to know him and love him like one of my own, I am damned well going to demand that the home he goes to is great for him.

      If someone complains that MY resources could have been spent spinning out a dozen fast-n-easy adoptions instead — well yes. But that’s not my choice. And another viable choice is to stop fostering and training homeless dogs because — I’m sure this has never been uttered — “I just couldn’t take those people any more.”

      1. Again Heather, you are talking about a case that falls well outside the parameters of the majority. The “typical” rescue dog has not had “A LOT of resources” put into him as you describe. And you are specifically not talking about the “typical” denials people receive such as fenced yards. So this is not apples to apples. Once again, you are a professional dog trainer who rescues a rare breed and works to ensure a good match – and I am grateful for your efforts.

  9. Every rescue can operate as it thinks best – there are no rules. If being very picky and turning away applicants is how your rescue chooses to operate, that is your right. All I’m saying is, for those rescues and shelters whose objective is to keep as many pets out of the dumpster as possible while exercising good judgment, being very picky will not allow you to meet your goal.

    I assume some rescuers here would not adopt a pet to me which again, is your right. I can work around you. If it makes you feel good to know you are keeping your pets out of my dastardly hands, then so be it. But when I think about the millions of pets being taken to the landfill every year, it makes me sad to think I’m not good enough for some of you. And no, the ones in the landfill are not “those other pets” – they are all just community pets. They could be in your shelter, or in my home, or in the landfill.

    1. Once again, you reduce the work and care of ensuring a good match to a caricature. “Picky.” “Turning away applicants.” “Dastardly hands.” “Not good enough.”

      What I see is, “You know, you could do well with one of these dogs, but this specific guy needs someone with more experience (no kids / a different lifestyle / different hobbies.) If you are patient I’m sure we will get in a dog who would fit your family very well, but it probably won’t be next week.” Or, “You know, you will make a very good dog owner, but our power-breed rescue is not going to be able to provide a 90-pound, 65-year-old lady who has never owned a dog before with a suitable pet. You should probably consider a different kind of dog.”

      It is not “rare breeds” only, or even mainly, who have specific characteristics that provide specific challenges. If beagle rescue, or animal shelter, knowingly places a tenuously housebroken former hunting dog whose main hobby is marathon yodeling with a single person who works 9-5, lives in a cheaply-constructed condo townhouse, and doesn’t believe in dog crates, what do you think the outcome is going to be for that dog, that owner, and that community? Yet a quiet puggle who is past the chewing stage may do wonderfully in the same home.

      I’ve got my current foster listed only for a home with no young children. That’s not because he tries to eat them on sight, it’s because I have seen firsthand just how he handles certain kinds of stress and social intrusion. I refuse to set the dog up to fail after he’s progressed so well. In the past I’ve had fosters for whom I have specifically *requested* a home with kids. Too picky?

      1. Caricature? I didn’t mean to reduce anything to a caricature. In real life, plain terms, I and many others are not considered to be good enough owners for some rescues. As I have said numerous times, reasonable screening is a good thing and if you have a dog in a foster home, you can use that extra knowledge of the specific dog to everyone’s advantage by trying to make a good match.

        You keep going back to the idea of knowingly setting up an adoption for failure but that’s not what I’m talking about. I would never encourage anyone to place a pet in a situation where they feel the adoption is highly unlikely to succeed. What I’m trying to get at is that the “likely to succeed” bar can stand to be lowered in some cases and the very notion of “success” might be in need of reconsideration in some cases as well.

  10. I think this is an excellent discussion. I was with a breed rescue for many years that was considered ultra picky. Over the years it focused more on education particularly on issues related to the breed. I now volunteer with a humane society. I think “matching” (vs. screening) is very important for reasons mentioned — the elderly couple who would be better with an older sweet dog than a pup needing tons of exercise. I think the whole point about dogs being recycled over and over to shelters because they need more socialization or training is very important. I think the “oversimplification” of whether a dog would be better off in a particular home vs. dead is a fair question – talking about worst cases here, but I’ve seen some very bad examples. However, I agree totally that some rescue mentality needs to change, as happened in this article. Adopt to people, not to a rigid set of rules. Take some chances, you may be surprised.

  11. There’s a happy medium for all, I think.

    Like I’m not going to send a dog to someone who simply says “yeah, I won’t kill them”. I mean, that’s a no-brainer…I’d be concerned if your adopter pool requires that kind of question!

    What I do believe is that we must find more reasons to say yes than to say no.

    This January I opened my home up to the first dog I have fostered in many years. With each dog, I make a list in my mind on what would be the perfect home.

    I pick from the list what I feel are the most important criteria for the welfare of the dog and the sanity of his or her adopters. I compromise on the rest!

    Take Alice. She is a high energy Pit Bull cross puppy. Incredibly smart, stubborn, and always finding creative ways to avoid doing what you want. For the sanity of her adopters, the three criteria I wanted from them were: appropriate exercise, not being left alone more than 3-4 hours at a time, and mandatory dog training.

    There were several adopters interested in her. One would have left her alone for more than 8 hours at a time and was unwilling to invest in a dog walker. The other had young children who had no experience with teething, mouthy puppies and who was not interested in immediately enrolling in dog training classes.

    Third home’s the charm, right?

    She went to a young couple. The husband trains for marathons. When she is ready, he will take her to work. They had already enrolled in a dog training class, preparing for the new pup. They drove 2.5 hours to my home just to meet Alice. It did not matter to me or the rescue that they lived in an apartment with no common exercise area or that this super high energy dog was going to first time dog owners.

    The last dog I fostered went to a home that I think will fail him in some ways. Not in ways that will hurt him or the adopters. Just in ways that will make it a little more difficult for Toby to thrive. But you know what? Toby would have been dead otherwise. I figure Acceptable is way better than dead.

  12. My elderly Mom rescued a large dog (rather not say his name) – severely neglected by neighbors…I contacted a local rescue lady who in turn contacted a breeder/rescuer lady (her friend) out of state who was supposedly an expert trainer who took the pooch. I entrusted the life of this vulnerable dog with these two women….After several weeks I got a call that large dog was untrainable and was a ticking time bomb and would have to be put down. (I think i got the call only because I phoned for an update)

    After a lot of wrangling, tippy toeing and basically full blown ass-kissing (a signature for liability oh my my) – only then was I allowed to drive out of state and re-rescue large dog (paid a donation plus vet care but it wasn’t about the money with me)..large dog is now in a great home. – with my elderly Mom and I tend to him also. This has been several years ago now – large dog is gentle and we love him.

    And the rescue lady and breeder/rescue lady? – I have no contact with them now and never will again – they’re still on their mountaintop probably – one is for sure as she made the news with her holier than thou methods..she pissed off the wrong pet-owner.

    I’m not always sure what I’ve learned with this – even now I appreciate rescue lady because she does do some good – I hear she goes to animal control and rescues…I sure can’t do that.

    But large dog would be dead if she had had her way….and large dog is beautiful.

    Merry Christmas!

Leave a Reply