Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dog Adoption and Children

As many of you may know we are on a list with a Sheltie Rescue to add another Sheltie to our family. As we've been going through this process several family and friends have also been working with different rescues to look for a new companion for their families. All shelters and rescues have their own rules and restrictions. Some go across the whole rescue, others are dog specific. One that has struck me recently is the raising of the age restrictions for children when adopting. We don't have children, so this doesn't effect us, however, it does effect others we know who want to adopt. It is also concerning because it has the potential to turn away people who would otherwise considering adopting from a shelter/rescue rather than looking at a breeder.

I am going to use the terms shelter/rescue interchangeably for this post. For this post the mission statement of rescuing dogs and placing them in forever homes is the same. The methods used for the points I'm trying to make are not as important as they might be in other discussions.

Now, I will say I can see why rescues have some issues with children and rescues. Bailey is a prime example of what can happen in families who don't understand the challenges of children and puppies. My understanding of Bailey's back story is he was purchased from a breeder as a puppy at the time the couple had a baby at home. I suspect the couple thought having the dog and baby grow up together would be a great idea. Having the equivalent of two babies at home proved to be too hard and Bailey was turned in to New England Sheltie Rescue. That being said I've also known several couples with young dogs and babies who still have the dog well past the baby years. I doubt it was easy, but they also had experience with dogs and knew the challenges that would come with a dog who had needs similar to a young child and a human baby totally dependent on parents for its needs.

One of the things that has disturbed me recently, as I've looked at listings for myself and family members is seeing the child age restrictions on dogs available for adoption. Some are clearly a result of screenings and those while sad are hopefully accurate and done to make sure that the dogs will be in a healthy and stable environment. You don't want a dog who will react or bite children and then face the consequences of an action that could have been predicted and prevented. However, recently I saw a shelter with a statement across the board that they will not adopt to homes with children under 12!!! It doesn't mention any dog specifically, just any home. Another I looked at stated no adoptions to homes with children under 10. I find it hard to believe that every dog brought into an all breed rescue, which these two were, is dangerous to all children. Others seem to be more reasonable and deal with a case by case basis, one had a restriction of age six for children.

My issue honestly is that I am constantly reading articles stating we need to push people to adopt, not buy from breeders. One of the largest pools of people who want dogs are families with kids. If we exclude them, those who can afford it will turn to breeders.

I do understand that for the rescues their first obligation is to the dogs. They need to find homes that are safe, stable, and secure for their dogs. Homes with children can be risky. While children can provoke a dog, harm a dog, and create problems for a dog, the dog ultimately ends up being responsible for any negative interactions.

However, there are families who can and do take in dogs and do very well with them. Not all children are monsters as these restrictions imply. Some dogs love kids and shouldn't be prevented from having the opportunity to be a family dog because there is a risk involved. There have to be some better options for screening potential adopters.

While many rescues are requiring obedience classes, perhaps prior to adopting families need to do some dog safety classes with their children. Parents could learn some of the dangers their little ones pose for the dogs and some techniques for preventing these negative interactions. One of the best ways to prevent negative interactions between dogs and kids is to anticipate them and decide how to prevent them from happening. Even if you have owned a dog before, owning a dog with children can be a very different concept. As an adult you interact very differently with a dog than kids do and seeing how to change those interactions to a safer atmosphere could save an adoption from failing. Those who have adopted since having kids could perhaps just do a screening.

Another thing I think would help are more community activities that promote healthy interactions between dogs and kids. Even if a child never owns a dog, knowing how to interact with one appropriately could cut down on injuries to dogs and kids both. At the various fund raising adoption events we attend every year in the kids area, having activities that teach, encourage, and remind kids how to behave with and around dogs could be very helpful not just for potential adopters but for kids who live around dogs. I can't tell you how many times I've had to instruct parents and children how not to grab my dog's face or tail. Thankfully, Bailey and Katy are very sweet dogs, but I am hyper vigilant when children are near because lots of kids don't know how to treat a dog. I can see why this would make rescues nervous, but education is the solution, not exclusion. Kids who grow up with rescue dogs are at least inclined to think about the idea when they are old enough to afford one.

I also know that rescues have a great deal on their plates. Adding more is not easy. However, excluding a large population of adopters does not make the process any easier. Children and dogs can make a placement more challenging, but it can also change lives. Dogs can be an important part of childhood. They can also make a rescue dogs life.

I guess my point with this long winded post is education not exclusion. Rescues are always going to have some dogs that have specific exclusions, not being with other dogs, cats, children, etc. It is important for a successful placement that these exclusions be made. However, I find it hard to believe that the majority of rescue dogs can't handle children. There have to be ways to better prepare families for the challenges of managing dogs and kids under the same roof so that all survive and thrive.


  1. I am with you on this. I think there are so many family factors, dog factors that an arbitrary age for a child isn't fair. I work with mostly 20 something year old women, who are all adopting dogs these days. Currently they are young, no kids etc., but it is clear some will be having kids in the near future.
    Our Hailey is a dog who should not live with young children. They completely stress her out. Phod on the other hand is very sweet and tolerant. I think he would be fine.
    Thanks for sharing your views.

    1. This is one of the reasons I'm a huge fan of fostering dogs when possible prior to adoption. I think you can get lots of good solid info that does help with placement. There are going to be dogs that shouldn't be with children, or as I said other dogs, cats, etc. Those are all legitimate pieces of info to know when placing a dog. However, it shouldn't be arbitrary. Some dogs will do well under a variety of circumstances given the chance.

  2. OH MY.... we can NOT pawsibly agree with you more... how can they make a rule that is so AGE SPECIFIC for Every Dog and Child that comes through their Shelter? THAT just seems very WRONG to US...
    They are shutting OUT an entire group of peeps that, we are SURE are Filled to the Brim with Loving Children who live in PERFECT HOMES...
    THAT is very SHORT SIGHTED... It would be sooo much better to say... homes with children under 12 will be given a chance to FOSTER for 3 or 4 weeks... to SEE if things work out... Before being able to flat out Adopt...
    We are glad that you brought this all to light... MUCH to think about...

  3. I understand what you're saying but in this day and age where parents are not teaching their children how to interact properly with dogs, I sort of have to side with the rescues. I've seen children do some horrible things to dogs while parents sit there and take a video of it while laughing. Some little dogs are just to fragile and it's easier to teach older children how to safely interact with dogs.

    1. The problem is they don't get better while you wait. They still have to be taught. If potential adopters aren't teaching the 6 year old you can't be sure they are going to make sure the 12 year old is supervised either.

      You shouldn't punish all families for the ones who won't supervise their children. It reduces the potential population of adopters and leaves dogs homeless.

      If they are going to make these rules they have to stop complaining that people aren't adopting. If you won't let them adopt they will use breeders.

  4. I wonder if they are less worried about the dogs and more worried about potential lawsuits?

    And not all 12 year olds are created equal either....seems like things should be decided on a case to case basis.

    1. It is possible. However, if they are going to eliminate families they have to be honest that more people are going to turn to breeders. People aren't going to wait until their youngest child is in Middle School to get their first dog.

  5. I hope the shelters take notice of what you've written here. You're reasonable and absolutely right. A dog can be an ideal member of a family with children of any age. All depends on temperament and training of both humans an animals.

  6. I'm on a rabbit rescue forum so topics about rescue are often discussed and this comes up a lot. I would struggle to adopt due to us both working 'full time', (I'm not quite but still) even though virtually all of my at home time is devoted to the dogs.

    1. I think rescues again have an obligation to be open to a plan. We adopted Bailey as a puppy during the summer while I was off while I was still teaching. Clearly that was great for the summer, but I was going back to teaching in the fall. We had to have a plan. We talked to a bunch of people about options and found a horse farm in the area that did doggy daycare. Bailey attended full time for two years and then still went once a week to keep a slot open for emergencies and travel. (She was amazing and it was hard to get time.) My point was it could have been easy for them to say NO. However, what they asked was if we had a plan for what we'd do with him during the day when we were working.

      I know that this puts a burden on the rescues. However, I'd have hated to miss out on Bailey's life because they didn't want to consider daycare a viable option. He loved playing there and missed it when it closed.

  7. you have made some fabulous (and valid) points. I know here in Michigan many of our shelters DO allow families with children to adopt. I think those that don't, it is more for the safety of the DOG than the children.
    What I would love to see happen, (which goes along with what you mentioned) is MANDATORY child/dog safety classes FIRST......before even obedience training. I see more problems that children bring to the table in reference to interaction with dogs, than the dogs do.
    Educate the humans first, then obedience classes. (Which BTW I don't completely agree with obedience classes either.) Dakota HATED obedience class and dropped out. He is a gentleman at the Vet, the park.......the only problem is he doesn't adore other dogs, he wouldn't adore other dogs whether he had a class or not.

    1. It is the trend that concerns me. Not all here are doing it yet, but its becoming more common and accepted. As more start the practice, it is going to reduce the population of available adopters. It can take a while for the youngest child to turn 12.

      Obedience classes seem to be showing up more as requirements and I'll say I have mixed feelings. It worked out well for Bailey because he was our first dog as a couple and we learned more about our management than I think Bailey really learned. He enjoyed class for the most part.

      However when Katy came along we, along with Bailey, did her training at home. I was concerned the group aspects that Bailey was OK with would have terrified Katy. However, we did train her at home and that is the difference, not everyone does. I hate getting punished for what others don't do.

      I also recognize some dogs need training to make good house pets. With Katy is was a matter of teaching her leash manners, recall, and the basics. Some dogs need more and without it can end up as adoption fails. Again this is where individual some discretion can help.


I enjoy reading your comments and try to respond back on your blogs.
I am sorry I cannot comment on blogs which require Google + or Facebook to comment. I am not a member and have no plans to join.