Beaglemania (A Pet Rescue Mystery) gives you the idea that this is the idealized version of what pet rescue should be from the author's perspective. A very wealthy donor funds the rescue. This allows it to have paid employees and unpaid volunteers. The death and mystery is of course thrown in to keep the reader engaged.
Having two rescue dogs, I was interested in a series that educated and entertained at the same time. However, what really bothered me about this book is what is bothering me about a segment of the rescue/shelter movement in general lately, the attitude and the message. There is a wonderful movement out there to educate and inform the public about the need and the benefits of adopting shelter/rescue animals and I fully support it. However, there is a problem in the movement that is doing more harm to the positive message than good. It has to do with control and attitude. I've said it many times, if this message is louder than the positive one about the benefits of adoption, than it will harm the rescue movement in the long run.
In this book, the director Lauren Vancouver is at the heart of shutting down one of the demons of the rescue movement a puppy mill. This should be a no brainer in terms of writing a sympathetic piece. Nobody who loves dogs thinks puppy mills are a good idea. She goes for the obvious victim in murdering a person suspected of abuse associated with a puppy mill, but that still wasn't my main issue with the author's story. This was predictable and made for a rather dull mystery. However, I've read plenty of dull mysteries and walked away thinking perhaps the author might do better on a second try. The problem I had was her idealized vision of a rescue.
I had no problem with the rich donor. Wouldn't we all like to have unlimited pockets so fundraising wasn't a huge problem. It was the attitude about the potential adopters and this is the problem I have with some of the real shelters and rescues. I strongly believe that the welfare and safety of the dogs being placed should ALWAYS be at the heart of the decision made by the rescue/shelter when a dog is adopted. Making a solid placement is important. As much as people may want a dog they are not always financially, physically, mentally, or emotionally able to handle a dog. It is not easy or comfortable to deliver that message to people, but it is a reality that the dog's needs must be first when making a placement. However, there is a difference between meeting the dog's needs and liking the people you place the dog with during an adoption.
Now I'm not talking about a person who is potentially abusive or neglectful. Those issues again fall under the best interests of the dog. I'm talking about the person to person feelings between the applicant and the rescue/shelter. This person has to be a good dog owner, they don't have to be someone you want to have dinner with be best friends with for the rest of your lives. If you have a legitimate concern that the dog will be abused or neglected than that is a real reason to refuse an adoption. If you don't think the dog is a good fit that is a reason to prevent an adoption. However, if the dog is a good fit and there are no barriers to the adoption other than you don't think you'd be friends with the person that is a problem with the shelter/rescue personnel, not the adopter. This is about finding a forever home for the dog where it will be safe, happy, and have its needs met. This is not about finding a new friend for the shelter personnel. This is an issue I have a huge problem with as I listen to people discuss placements. If I know the animal is going to be happy, safe, and well cared for, I don't have to be best friends with the person who is taking the dog. I've seen people make emotional decisions when it comes to placing dogs that have no basis in the best interests of the dogs and it continues to bother me.
I am constantly reading posts or hearing the issue discussed while at rescue events of why people use breeders over adoption. Folks the attitude is one of the problems. When you treat people badly, they aren't comfortable coming back. There is a line between respectfully investigating someone's background to ensure they are going to be a good fit for an adoption and making them feel like they are back in Junior High being judged by the popular kids and being found wanting. We need to examine very carefully what we are asking and why we are asking. Are we uncomfortable with something that will be an issue for the dogs, or would it only be an issue if this adopter was suddenly going to be hanging out at our house every Friday night?
I can think of pet owners I've met over the years that I didn't particularly like on a personal level for a variety of reasons. However, if asked to honestly testify as to the quality of life for the pets, I can think of only a few that I would say based on specific knowledge of how they behave towards the animals in their lives I would not recommend them to have animals. In fact, some people who have made my life miserable are incredibly loving and attentive to their animals. I can think of one person in particular whom I would have to say if called to testify hasn't been terribly nice to most people, but the dog lives a very nice, comfortable life that any rescue should respect. If you judged the adoption solely on how well you got along with this person, they'd likely be a homeless dog right now. Thankfully, someone was able to see beyond the personality issues and make a solid adoption.
This is where I get back to the book. One of the things that struck me and actually made me decide to write the review was the arrogance, which the author actually sees as a positive trait. The rescue in this story is fortunate to have paid and unpaid staff working to evaluate potential adoptions. After an adoption event several adoptions are pending based on the reviews of the staff. However, nothing can be done while Lucy is off solving the mystery, because she has to approve all adoptions. Despite her qualified staff, she has to "feel" the adoptions are right. This was a huge problem for me. She's off and about and people are left hanging because she can't surrender control to people she clearly stated are qualified and able to make these decisions. Ultimately her decisions aren't about the best interests of the dogs, all that has been reviewed by her employees. This is a personal control problem.
While fiction, this isn't a problem stuck in the pages of a book. If we want to encourage more shelter/rescue adoptions, we do have to start being more user friendly. There will be people who aren't qualified. Some will have the resources, but want a dog that is not appropriate for the family or living situation. Those are always frustrating and challenging conversations to have with potential adopters.
However, there are also people who are ready and able to adopt, pass the screenings, and then have problems with a staff member’s personal feelings rather than practical reasons for why an adoption should not happen. There is a big difference between making a decision based on the qualifications of the adopter, the interaction between the dog and the adopter, or the situation of the adopter and personal feelings. The first set are about the best interests of the dog. Forever homes are about making sure an adopter has the resources to care for a dog, the home is an appropriate setting for the dog, and that the dog is a good fit for the adopter. However, the personal issues you have with the adopter should only be an issue IF you can honestly make a case it will damage the potential for a safe, happy, forever home.
As I've said many times the best interests of the dog or any animal should be the primary factor for any placement. It is time we stop using personal feelings as an excuse that prevents viable adoptions.
I want to thank those who are out there and do the hard work. We have had amazing experiences with wonderful people during our two adoptions. That is why it breaks my heart when I do hear people moving rescue in the wrong direction. We want to encourage people to come forward to adopt from shelter/rescues. To do that, we need to help them to understand the process. Making our expectations clear and explaining why we ask the questions we do is a first step forward to making the process more open and user friendly. I fully understand the work is exhausting and it can be hard to focus on customer service when the need is so overwhelming.
Realistically, you can't campaign that people are evil if they don't adopt and then tell them to suck it up and deal with however they are treated when they go to a shelter/rescue because that is the price they pay for doing the right thing. That's just not working.
If you want more participation, you have to become more user friendly. That doesn't mean you change the standards for adoption, but you can clarify your policies in a polite way. I've been to a number of rescue/shelter sites and some are very user friendly and others have a very negative attitude. If you aren't willing to jump through our hoops, well we don't want to deal with you. Well, that might be great if you have a situation where you have lots of adopters and very few animals. Sadly, I remember talking to a woman from a rescue at an event a few years ago and she had a similar attitude. Oddly she was one also was angrily preaching that she couldn't understand why people would use breeders instead of adopting. Somehow, she didn't see a connection between her attitude and people's unwillingness to deal with her to get to the dogs she was trying to help. It doesn't take much to change a website's language from a very unwelcoming, intimidating attitude towards visitors, to having the same standards and requirements explained in a more user friendly, welcoming way. Explaining why you have certain requirements is not unreasonable and it actually may encourage more adoptions if people understand why you are asking and how that makes for a better adoption.
This is a long Blog post, but it is a topic that I feel strongly about fixing.
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