Discussion: Can Pet Adopters Have Good Impulses?

A couple of years ago, the neighbors came by and Billy talked with them outside.  They had brought us a malnourished puppy they had found in the road and asked us if we would take care of her.  When Billy came inside to ask me if we would take the puppy, I acted on impulse and immediately said, “Yes.” I had no idea what kind of puppy, what gender, whether she was sick – I just heard, “They don’t want her to get hurt” and impulsively answered in the affirmative.

I prefer older dogs to puppies, we’re trying to get our number of dogs down, not up, and paying for a puppy’s vetting was not something I had planned on – in fact, it presented a hardship for us.  I didn’t have anything prepared for the puppy’s arrival and had no idea how she might get on with our other dogs.  In other words, this was an impulse decision and there would be consequences.

If the neighbors had been a rescue group or shelter, should they have refused to give me this puppy, based on the fact that it was an impulse decision and we were not at all prepared for a puppy?  What if the neighbors operated a dog pound and this puppy was at serious risk for killing?  Should they have turned me away and waited to see if someone who had thoughtfully planned for a new puppy showed up wanting this dog before her number came up on the kill list?  In other words, would a puppy such as this be better off dead than given to an impulse adopter?

As it turned out, the puppy – now called Mulder – was the special dog I’ve been waiting for all my life.  Who knew, right?  I mean really, there was no way to guarantee that this impulse decision would have a good outcome.  But there are those who argue that pets are better off dead than adopted on impulse.  What are your thoughts?

31 thoughts on “Discussion: Can Pet Adopters Have Good Impulses?

  1. A year ago or so I saw a picture of a dog in the local shelter and some blogger was lamenting that she would likely be killed. So I rather impulsively decided to go adopt her and find her a home myself rather than let her die there. She was a darn escape artist and so she went up to Colorado to a No Kill shelter and was adopted to a family with a much more secure fence.

  2. If the shelter system were working correctly, this would be a non-issue. Those who acted impulsively and found that they made a mistake, could bring the pet back to the shelter and say, “Sorry, it didn’t work out.” The shelter would gladly take the pet back and readopt to someone else to try again.

    But the shelter system doesn’t work. Not yet.

    1. This was my thought exactly.

      Also, Im a little iffy on selling it through Craigslist though. I always hear so many horror stories about “free to a good home!” type of situations that lead to abuse or dog fighting. So while I have no problem with impulse “buying” in theory, I am not a big fan of CL. Maybe its just stereotyping about the website, but Ive heard more bad coming from it then good, I guess and I wouldnt want to take the chance.

  3. But to actually answer your question I say that very few people are truly impulsive when they adopt. They have likely been thinking about adding another (or their first) dog or cat to their family and then when they happen upon one that works they go for it. It’s kind of like dating, I suppose.

    But people have noble and wonderful impulses all the time and we shouldn’t always second guess them. We can try to make sure people understand what they are getting themselves into and be available to support them if something is not going right, but from my experience at a vet clinic I have seen a lot of impulsive adoptions go right (generally with a stray someone has found) and more than a few carefully considered purchases go wrong.

    Heck, except for one cat all of my critters have been impulse additions. Even the gerbil who was set to be killed for having an injured tail.

  4. My impulse dog: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunchofpants/sets/72157603067847488/

    When I said I’d take her, my intention was to find her a home, but I didn’t put that much effort into it. She is the sweetest dog on this planet.

    Some adoptions fail regardless of whether they were impulse adoptions or planned adoptions. if we could ask the pets, I’m sure they’d choose the chance that their adoption would fail over the certainty that they would be killed.

      1. Thanks. I wanted her to have a cool “registered name” for dog agility, because that’s what goes on the title certificates they send out.

  5. JJ was pure impulse. We often had animals come through our hospital that were strays or the owner couldn’t afford their medical care. I would commonly offer to foster and find a home for them, but by the point JJ came along I was burned out. I didn’t have the finances or emotional resources to cope with another hard luck case…my mother was very ill at the time and I had all I could handle dealing with her.

    So when the doctor told me a stray feral kitten was being admitted for euthanasia, I just kind of heaved a big sigh and nodded. When I saw him I understood why we were putting him down…he was just skin and bones and his eyes were huge, red marbles and oozing puss. I had just carried him downstairs in my hands when the little brat found the strength to bite me. When the doctor walked into the room with the needle of euthanasia solution I blurted out that I wanted to take him…I could see she thought I was crazy.

    So many years later JJ is still making life interesting. I think Jamie is very correct that most ‘impulse’ pets aren’t really impulse at all. People have a vague thought that another pet would be nice and a year down the road an animal in need shows up at their metaphysical door. They might not have been prepared for a pet that moment, but they were prepared to open their hearts and lives.

    1. “They might not have been prepared for a pet that moment, but they were prepared to open their hearts and lives.”


  6. Yeah, my second dog was that kind of deal – twice, poor love. He originally belonged to some people who bought him on impulse from a man in a pub, then lost interest when they realised puppies didn’t train themselves. Seven months later his escape artist habits brought him to a friend of mine and the original owners were all like “bugger this, you keep him.” My friend passed him to me to foster because he’d hurt his back and could’t cope with teenage GSP (he really is a GSP, LOL) shenanigans.

    I totally meant to rehome him. My collie doesn’t like dogs and I didn’t want another one and and and… eight years later he’s still my Squishy.

  7. We have a flexible adoption policy. If you live far away, adoptions are classed as foster-to-adopt for 14 days minimum. This allows a guilt-free return. If they live close by, we have a “sleep on it” rule.

    And of course, there’s always exceptions. For example, your neighbors know you, and don’t likely consider you the average pet owners. They’re right, of course.

    Therein lies the problem. It’s easy for you and I to look at how we handle situations like this one, and want to extrapolate what we learn, applying our experiences to others. This post is a perfect example. The problem is that most pet owners are not as knowledgeable, dedicated, or even connected as well as… the people on this blog, for example.

    We hope for the best, but our adoptions procedures are set up to weed out the worst. Generally, that involves a waiting period.

    I also have to point out that there are never only two choices. It’s not a matter of impulse vs death. You can work with that impulse and use it to send a dog home tomorrow.

    1. For clarification, I should point out that our neighbors had never spoken to us before, or since. We do not know each other. We are in a rural area and not close by one another but we have the only house on the road with a fence and they had likely seen our gaggle of dogs out in the yard.

      In the case of this puppy, it was not impulse or death. But in the case of a puppy at a pound, it well might be. Same for a rescue who pulls pets off the kill list. Free up the space to an impulse adopter so another pet can be pulled or turn them away and wait for someone “better”?

  8. I think all but one of my pets were either “impulse” or “there is no WAY I’m taking this damaged animal to the pound”. My non-impulse dog wound up being the one who put me on my decade-and-a-half-and-counting fight against BSL (RIP sweet Zuzu). The other looked like he would kill me at first (but looks are deceiving) and has turned out to be the ABSOLUTE best dog in the world.

    I agree, as many here do, that there is rarely a true “impulse” acquisition. I don’t believe life is pre-ordained, but maybe things are all interconnected and happen because they’re supposed to.

    I would (and did) rather run an organization that gave people and pets a chance and all the assistance they need to make a match work regardless of how long it took to plan the match or make the decision. The best breeders have a lifetime return policy; we should demand no less from our shelters, nor should we fear the consequences. Until that happens, do they have a right to judge?

    1. I can’t say enough about how much I agree with you – shelters SHOULD have a lifetime return policy…but that’s only AFTER we get them to stop filling up the landfills with the poor babies.

  9. Each and every one of my dogs have been “impulse” decisions. My first one was a puppy mill rescue. I had no intentions of adopting and just wanted to “see what was there” but when I saw her for the first time, I could not walk out without her. She was the love of my life and when she died unexpectedly after being with me for over 5 years, I RUSHED out a week later and bought a puppy JUST like her to fill the void. (Yes, bought – please forgive me, I was young and heartbroken and didn’t know then what I know now.) Of course, the second one is NOTHING like the first, but I love her just as much.

    The third dog I brought into our home was a shelter dog that came from a hoarding situation. I had never even met her but decided to adopt her immediately upon seeing her photo on the shelter’s FB page, despite her being HW+. It turned out that she didn’t get along with the one that we already had so I kept them separated, made some phone calls and found her a perfect forever home with a family in our little town.

    And finally, our fourth dog is one that I decided to foster on impulse. I had NO intentions of bringing a 70 lb., HW+ dog into my home, but when her time was up at the shelter, I could not let her die. I had actually promised my husband, back when I started volunteering, that I would not try to bring every death row dog home. On impulse, though (and risking a pretty big fight with my husband), I brought her home. I have never regretted that decision.

    I say all of that to make a point – that an IMPULSE adopter is not a bad thing. I would consider myself an impulse adopter, but I am also responsible and always have the best interests of the dog in mind. I agree with mikken – in a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter whether the dog or cat worked out with the impulse adopter – they could always returned the little one to the shelter. In this imperfect world, though, there is no doubt that a dog is better off with an impulse adopter than in the trash bin. At least then, he or she has a chance at EVENTUALLY finding their place. And they also have a chance at stealing someone’s heart before the adopter even has a chance to think about it.

  10. When I deal with people who are doing something on “impulse”..rather than discourage them..I make sure they understand…I’m a phone call away..all the time.If it isn’t working..I can help or I can take the dog back.When they walk out the door..they know it isn’t forever unless they WANT it to be.I call frequently…my door is ALWAYS open….I have summer “picnics” for my former adoptees and their new familes and in 38 ys..I’ve only been asked to take one pup back.I have had bazillions of phone calls…I have had LOTS of return “visits”..but only 1 return and that was because the pup didn’t match the rug?????Believe me when I tell you…..I ASK if they are trying to “match” a dog to their decor now.I guess in every group there is a least ONE oddball adopter…it is what it is!Can’t tell you how many times a woman has said….my husband REALLY doesn’t WANT a dog…can we try anyway?Magically..the “unwanted” dog almost ALWAYS ends up being “Daddy’s” dog….which is never a surpise to me.Dog placement is 99% instinct..at least it always has been for me.

  11. Most of my cats and dogs have been impulse decisions. The latest was a young cat who had been trapped by the apartment manager after the owner moved out and threw his cats out to survive (or not) on their own. I was at animal control when she came in. Several hundreds of dollars later, she went to a family who had lost a beloved cat several months before. AC was going to take her directly to the kill room because they were overcrowded.on the way home I had the “what are you doing?” moment, but it was perfect for her and perfect for her new family.

  12. In this particular instance, Shirley, I have found that when things like that happen, the “impulse” is God’s gift to you. In other words, that little pup was coming to YOU for a reason. That’s the way it seems to have turned out. As for the shelters, well, we KNOW that they are broken so ruminating about what if’s and should be’s takes too much space and time.

  13. Almost all our dogs were ‘impulse’. I rescued a lot to rehome, but even rescuing is often an impulse when one just touches you and you HAVE to try to save that one, so you take them home, find out what they are like so you can match them to an adopter, spend $$ that you don’t have, etc. Two of our 5 dogs I wanted for us, the others were ‘impulse’ that I wanted to rescue, and worked out as great additions to our home and our ‘pack’. Happy, healthy, wonderful personalities (well, for US they are, a couple of them would be disastrous in most ‘regular’ homes, lol).

    And of course the false choice of ‘death rather than impulse adoption’ should be ridiculed and eliminated. As Nathan Winograd so often points out, humans DO have many wonderful impulses!

  14. My first “impulse” pet was a rat that a friend of a friend was going to feed to a snake. I knew nothing of rats and had no supplies so he agreed to keep the rat for a day while I got ready for her. I learned they are social creatures so I got her a friend and they lived happily together for several years before going over the rainbow bridge.

    My next “impulse” pet was a foster turned permanent cat when the supposed no kill shelter called me up and said they were re-evaluating whether she was “adoptable,” the obvious implication being if I brought her back they’d kill her. She was a horrible fit for my family; she needed a little old lady in a single pet household, not a multi-pet household with cats, rats, eventually dogs, and babies. She lived with me for 7 years until her death, each year growing more and more until finally, just before she died she was almost like a “regular” cat.

    And on and on throughout the years. The impulse cat adopted shortly after the dogs died. The stray we finally took in because she was getting too wild and the humane society said they’d kill if they determined she was too aggressive. The beautiful blue-eye, white kitty I found outside the library. The starving older cat caught in a trap that was obviously not feral. And the cat my parents gave up when they became allergic to cats. Now that I think about it we only have one cat left that wasn’t an “impulse” pet.

    We do have a rule though, no permanent cats younger than our youngest!

  15. I don’t think I have EVER intended to have any pet that I ended up with – all of them were “in need” and I just took them. Never thought about it. I just saw a need and knew I could deal with whatever came my way so I said yes – every time. In fact – just this weekend while helping my father do an apartment clean out I found out that the people who lived there left in a hurry – and ultimately left behind the prettiest little Siamese kitty I have seen. I found this out because the door was left open and the kitty just walked right in! I questioned my father and found out what the situation was – grabbed the cat carrier I keep in the van at all times (obviously this wasn’t my first rodeo) and now am in possession of a beautiful new addition to the family. “Kitty” is still hiding trying to get a grip on things – I’m sure coming into a new home with 2 dogs, 5 other cats & 6 kids IS a bit much….but once “Kitty” gets use to things I will find out if I have a he or she and then start trying to find the poor thing a home.

    Dealing with the pit bull dogs that I have rescued it’s always been impulsive. How can you look into those eyes and NOT help? But something I did while placing them was first to have the potential owners come visit in my home, then if they had another dog we’d meet at a neutral location to let the dogs meet & greet. If all went well up to that point we’d arrange a day for me to bring the dog to their home and visit for a little while – make sure they had the right set up for the type of dog – and if all went well at the home visit we’d make arrangements for the day of the dogs trial period. I ALWAYS had my contracts signed so that we did a two week trial (with the stipulation that if they EVER had to get rid of the dog it came directly back to me no matter how long they had it AND I would find a new home, or if the dog was older keep it until it’s time on earth was up).

    I think EVERY adoption should include a trial period – even at shelters! You just never know how things are going to work out. An animal that seems laid back & docile can suddenly become the most rowdy obnoxious dog in the world once they get adjusted to their new home. So I think giving the animal (and people) a chance to adjust to the situation is ALWAYS best. In fact I would go so far as to say that maybe people should foster the animal for a while and if things pan out adopt it. But shelters just aren’t set up for that. They’d rather kill the animals than do home visits and risk any what if’s!

    So realistically – if someone is AT a shelter then chances are they were thinking about getting a pet. It’s not like people just for the hell of it decide to go to the shelter for no reason. I mean, come on – just wake up one morning and say “Well nothing to do today….maybe I’ll just go walk through the shelter and stretch my legs.” If someone is at a shelter then they are obviously considering a pet. I would only consider it an impulse if maybe you drove a friend there and saw a pet that just touched your heart and adopted it. Seriously – impulse would be going grocery shopping and walking out to find a guy trying to sell a puppy to just anyone that would take it – and buy it so it doesn’t end up in a bad situation. THAT is an impulse!

    Shelters need to realize that if someone has darkened their doorway that OBVIOUSLY some thought has been given to get a pet…..not too many other reasons to be there is there?

    1. Update on my newest “impulse” – found out last night that we left two little bundles behind! “Kitty” is a Mama and had 2 beautiful mitten kittens that appear to be about 3 weeks old! A neighbor noticed Mama didn’t come home to tend to them and through the grapevine my dad found out….so THAT “impulse” resulted in not one, but THREE impulses!!! LOL

      1. Impulsive! But having mom is sooooooo much easier than bottle feeding!

      2. I TOTALLY agree on you there! The last one (who is 1 1/2 yrs now) was a bottle baby….this is 100% completely easy compared to that! One of my local groups – Pets Without Parents might want to get their hands on Mama & babies…it would help them SOOO much with some of the orphans they end up with….I just don’t know how Mama would feel about it.

  16. My impulse dog created the perfect pack of dogs for our family. I have a 4 year old American Eskimo who grew up very anxious and has a lot of trouble with other dogs and people. I also have a 2 year old Wirehaired Vizsla who I complete with in Rally, etc. Well he’s 60 lbs, and the 20 lb Eskie never really liked playing with him once he was bigger than she was.

    So, we saw this scruffy mutty dog for adoption through a rescue group at a pet supply store. They said she was an Aussie mix, but now we know she’s clearly not. Anyway I saw this dog, watched her playing with all the other dogs (which were all things like purebred maltese or designer poo mixes) and against all my better judgement I picked her up.

    Somehow, we managed to leave. I knew we couldn’t get this dog because 1. we were about to have a baby in 7 months. 2. we were about to go out of town for our wedding the next weekend. 3. we already HAD two dogs, and I swore I wasn’t going to get another girl dog, I wanted a boy dog next. 4. I only wanted big dogs, I hate little dogs.

    So we went on our shopping trip, and we were in the middle of Nordstrom Rack and I started crying. I told my husband it was just the hormones, but that I couldn’t stop thinking about this dog. I thought, since Sadie won’t play with Reed, maybe this dog (which we thought would get to 40 lbs) would.

    My husband said if I felt so strongly about the dog, to call the rescue and see if anyone had adopted her by the end of the day. No one had, and they said I could foster her for a while since I wasn’t sure about how Sadie would handle a puppy.

    The next week we officially adopted her. She is crazy, and she never got bigger than 15 lbs, she can jump over a 4.5 fence and manages to jump on my bed every night and ruin my clean sheets. She also loves us unconditionally, is going to be an agility STAR, and is remarkably smart.

    Here’s the thing. Somehow, she changed my Eskie. The day we got Maddie, Sadie started acting different. She played with the puppy, and she started playing with Reed. I took Sadie to agility class where before she had always been frantic, peeing, chasing invisible bugs, trying to run away… now she focused, ran every obstacle and was the star of the class. She still barks at strangers in our house, but she gets better every day. I think it’s entirely thanks to Maddie, and now all three dogs play together every day and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Best impulsive decision I ever made.


  17. I think about this a lot, how I impulsively adopted my last dog. We drove two and a half hours to adopt a blue eyed, white scruffy young mutt. Had no idea how he was with cats (and we have four) didn’t tell my step-dad, have a dog aggressive jack russell, and no fenced in yard. We don’t get our cats vaccinated (though dogs are). A lot of things on paper that would get us shot down. Luckily it wasn’t a rescue and was a shelter (kill one unfortunately) so they ask very few questions. My step-dad was FURIOUS when we got home with him and didn’t talk to us for like a week. Two years later, Bello is currently laying on the floor sprawled out. My life revolves around my dogs, but on paper, we don’t seem like “good owners.”

    Bello’s first day home (can’t you tell it sucks to be him).

    Him about a month ago from one of our many trips to the park. And my jack russell more or less “loves” him.

  18. My impulse was a decision made in the middle of the night to give a home to a black and white (Tuxedo ) Pit Bull Midnight from The To Be Destroyed list . Who ‘s pic showed up on my facebook. I stayed up all night going threw the process of trying to save her and I did and that was the best middle of the night impulse decisions I ever made.. Although it was a little rough in the beginning like Midnight adjusting to life here from the shelter, also from city life to very rural life .Getting the 2 dogs to get along and the cats were just really mad at me but with some time, patients, training and lots of love and attention we are all a Happy group and enjoy being together and we are one big Happy Family!

  19. A year ago my darling Rosie had to be put to sleep. She was almost nine years old – it’s too bad that the big dogs tend not to live as long. About a month later, while still in the throes of grief and depression, I went to the local high-kill shelter and rescued a young medium-sized black bitch (in the eight to twelve month old range) and her litter of 8 one-day-old puppies. Impulse? Yes. But also the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. One of the puppies (we called him Baggypants) presented severe birth defects around the four week mark and we had to have him euthanized. He’s buried right beside Rosie. It took us eight months to get the last of the pups adopted – but I know that all seven of them went to good homes. As for the little mama… Well, her name is Maggie, and it turns out we needed her as much as she needed us. :)

  20. Reblogged this on heathermcamp and commented:
    This is a good topic for discussion. As a rescuer, I rely on an application and interview and meet & greet process to place my fosters. As a human being, I have a yard full of impulse rescues. Is it wrong for me to rescue an animal on impulse and then put potential adopters through the third degree? I tend to think not. I’d be interested in other points of view.

  21. I have a friend who tends to get animals on impulse and then get rid of them when they require too much work (i.e. cats who scratch the wall, dogs who pee on the floor, a young puppy who was too mouthy for the children, three ferrets she had for a day, etc.). I have come to the conclusion that it was better for the animals to have lived a short time in her care and then potentially end up dead at a shelter than going straight to a shelter. Also, she tends to rehome animals on Craigslist more than taking them to the pound, so hopefully those animals found a good home that way. Right now they have three cats and a bloodhound, which seems to be working out for them. And I do give them advice when they ask for it. I hope they are learning something.

Leave a Reply