Do dog rescue groups make it too difficult to adopt a dog?



I’ve fostered several dogs, so I know where rescue groups are coming from with certain adoption requirements.

But when the adoption application process for these dogs is too difficult, it creates a bottleneck in the sheltering system. Currently, 3 to 4 million healthy dogs and cats are killed annually in U.S. shelters, and I believe it’s a shame we aren’t trying harder to get them into good homes. They don’t even have to be perfect homes.

Today I am featuring three women who have found it difficult to adopt a dog. (Two of the women asked me not to use their last names.)

Two senior black Lab mixes

Here’s what they had to say about the adoption process:

Adopted dogs can make great pets

Jennifer P. said it’s important to her to adopt a dog because she feels these dogs deserve homes and can make great pets. Her current dog was adopted from a humane society in Illinois and is “absolutely the best dog.”

“Getting rejected multiple times while trying to give a loving home to a dog has been frustrating to say the least.”

She has been attempting to adopt a second dog for the last six months and has faced several rejections.

“Getting rejected multiple times while trying to give a loving home to a dog has been frustrating to say the least,” she said. “I want to be able to give a home to a dog that doesn’t currently have one.”

She’s not alone.

Kristyn S. also tried to adopt a dog a little over two years ago, and she said that same dog is still available for adoption through PetFinder.

“It’s so sad to see that he could have had a loving home for two years, but instead they chose to keep him in a foster situation with lots of other animals,” she said.

Kristyn had dogs growing up that were adopted through the ASPCA. She said her parents always emphasized the “importance of giving rescued animals a chance at a better life.”

Not having a fenced yard is a barrier

To Jennifer, one of the most frustrating obstacles in the adoption process so far is that she does not have a yard. She currently lives in a two-story town house with a large patio area.

She said she has applied for several dogs and has been rejected each time based on her written application.

“I don’t even get to speak to anyone on the phone about my application or get to meet the dog,” she said. “This is the most frustrating part, not even being considered. I feel they are missing out on helping a dog.”

She said she is willing to hire a dog walker and will do anything to give the dog the best life.

Woman with her adopted dog

Not having a fenced yard was also a barrier for Kristyn.

She said her previous dog Sis (pictured above) was perfectly suited to apartment living and went for long morning and evening walks with a midday bathroom break.

“She led a happy and comfortable life, even though she didn’t have a fenced-in yard,” Kristyn said.

“She led a happy and comfortable life, even though she didn’t have a fenced-in yard.”

Lenore Hirsch had a similar experience getting rejected.

She “ended up with a wonderful dog” (check out her dog’s memoir here), but first she was turned down from adopting a border collie.

The humane society told her the border collie was not a good match for her apartment lifestyle at the time and would need space for running.

“I was heartbroken,” said Hirsch. “Talk about feeling that you’re not good enough!”

Home visits are a barrier

Black Lab mix with red collar

Another barrier Jennifer has faced is the home visit, where a volunteer will visit your home to make sure it’s appropriate for a dog.

She said she was rejected from adopting one dog because she lived more than 2 hours from where the dog was located. This was too far for the adoption organization to send someone to complete the home visit, even though Jennifer said she was willing to make the drive to meet the dog.

“I was flabbergasted that this was the reason,” she said. She had even offered to take a video of her home or to Skype.

Advice for others who hope to adopt a dog

“I am sure there are places out there that are easier to adopt from.”

The dog adoption process can be challenging, Jennifer said. “A few years ago it was easier, but times have changed.”

She said she wants adopters to know it’s important to keep looking.

“The dog will pick you, and then it’s time to jump the adoption hurdles,” she said. “While I have had a difficult time, I do have a dog and a cat which adds a level of complexity. I am sure there are places out there that are easier to adopt from.”

What could rescue groups do differently?

Jennifer said she understands that some of the adoption agencies have a lot of applications for each dog, making it very difficult for volunteers to follow up on every application. However, she believes every person should be considered and deserves a follow-up call.

“It is very hard to judge a family based on a paper answer,” she said.

If the dog the family applied for is not a good fit, then perhaps a different dog could be a good match, she said. Sometimes you just don’t know if the pet is right for you until you meet the dog in person.

Hirsch also wonders if there is a better way to match potential adopters and pets. She suggested some sort of survey to hand out to potential adopters. That way, each person can determine the type of animal that would best suit their family situation and lifestyle.

“Better to let the human rule out certain types of animals than to let the person fall for an animal and then be turned down,” she said, which is what had happened to her.

For example, if the pet is too skittish, too aggressive, needs too much grooming or too much exercise.

Woman with her adopted dog

If you are a foster parent to a dog or a cat, Kristyn (above) suggested you ask yourself this question:

Would this animal be better off in a loving home being offered by this adopter, allowing me to take in another animal that would otherwise be killed?

“Obviously there have to be standards,” she said. “Many of the animals were rescued from abuse. And the foster parents are very attached, and want them to have good homes.”

Still, a fenced yard doesn’t make a good home, Kristyn said. “Good care makes a good home.”

“Good care makes a good home.”

What suggestions do the rest of you have for finding the right balance on this issue?

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  1. slimdoggy on April 17, 2014

    Great post – I think that the pendulum has swing a little too far towards cautiousness. I understand the rescues reasons for their caution, but I think they need to be a little more flexible.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 17, 2014

      I think so too, although every organization is unique of course.

    • monica on June 1, 2014

      I know I drove 6o miles for a cat yesterday n got rurned down cause I told her I had a patio. I told her I have a 1 years old n another cat n its safe for them but she said the cats not allowed to hang out on a patio. Ok on but she said no I couldnt adopt. She was mean. I complained n yelped about it. I guess theyd rather have the cat miserable with them than outside getting fresh air. Its too bad. Cause she was a cute chubby cat. There was no way she wouldve ran away. Oh when I complained her boss came n asked what happened me n my husband were listening as she said I had a 2 n a half foot gate . Lol ya on a second story get real. I had to go n correct her. Her boss was so confused I just walked away but left my number with petsmart.

  2. Jessicavy on April 17, 2014

    The fenced yard rule has always baffled me. I do more in the side of cat rescue than dog rescue, but if I was adopting out a dog my #1 question would be, “Will this dog get a good walk every day?” I would be incredulous of someone who came to me and said, “I can have an active dog ’cause I have a huge yard!” It’s not like the dog is gonna tie on his running shoes and do laps in your garden while you’re watching tv every night instead of walking him.

    I was floored by this local German Shepherd rescue (pretty sure it was this one: http://www.gsroc.org/2013/events.gsr ), when I happened upon one of their adoption events. I loved the dogs; they were all friendly and well-mannered. When I told a volunteer, “I don’t have space for a German Shepherd in my little condo right now,” he quickly assured me, “Oh, you don’t need a yard!” I was impressed. I did, however, also mean that there was LITERALLY no space for a giant dog in my tiny home when I had 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 2 rats already. They just moved to the top of my to-consider list if ever do get another dog, though.

    I also love that you point out how we should match adopters to a pet that suits them. Whenever someone comes to the adoption center thinking about getting a cat, I always ask them what kind of cats they like (mellow, playful, affectionate, quiet, etc) and point them to a cat that fits the bill.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 17, 2014

      I really like German shepherds, and now you have me checking out that rescue group! :) So good to hear they are down to earth and don’t require a fenced yard.

    • Colby on April 17, 2014

      The German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County helped us place some of the Shepherds we were fostering several years ago.

      By the way, when I lived in the condo I probably walked my dogs 5+ times a day. Usually one long walk and several 10 minute walks for potty breaks. Now that I have a nice backyard I only walk the dogs 2-3 times a day (the potty break walks have been replaced by the yard). Every situation is different. I think some of these rescues need to dig a little deeper with potential adopters to find out if one of their dogs is a good fit.

  3. jan on April 17, 2014

    I can understand that they don’t want a revolving door for the pets or to place them in danger, but some of the rescues I’ve heard about are more like hoarders. And a blanket requirement for a fenced yard is just stupid. A person who wants a dog will find someplace to get one.

  4. jan on April 17, 2014

    We have some people in our neighborhood with fenced yards and they keep the dogs there full time with no walks or indoor time. Definitely not a good situation.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 17, 2014

      Yep, I’ve definitely known of a few similar examples!

  5. Sean on April 17, 2014

    I am sympathetic to people who want to adopt and face barriers from running into the wrong rescue groups or people. There are many dysfunctional rescue groups (and “rescue groups”) out there. Doesn’t take much to put out a website or even get non-profit status. So you will find hoarders or well-intentioned people without any time/resources to do rescue right.

    I am also sympathetic to people working in rescues and shelters who have to come up with a general set of policies or guidelines for adoption, even though there might wind up being ‘exceptions’ to the rule. For example without knowing more, when someone is denied a border collie when they lack space for that dog to run, I understand why, even though there will be always be a marathon runner or equivalent without a home/yard interested in adopting the dog among the many other people who have unsuitable lifestyles that are weeded out by a no yard rule. In an ideal world, the rescue would be able to hear your plans for exercise for the dog, not rely on shorthand (or presume that someone who HAS a yard will exercise the dog). Many rescue groups are simply doing the best they can with the resources they have.

    I also suspect that many people trying to adopt dogs from rescue groups expect people volunteering in dog rescue to devote the same amount of time and resources to re-homing dogs as full-time shelters do – sometimes even more! I think “dog matching” is a great service in re-homing dogs, but it’s not necessarily something that smaller rescue groups are set up to be able to do. It’s something that many shelters are very good at – steering you to the dog based on a short survey you fill out when you walk in and want to adopt a dog.

    There are limits to what rescue groups can do, and it does take a little effort to find a suitable rescue group to try to adopt through. What I advise someone who wants to adopt through rescue is to figure out the group (or two) that you can work with first, and then look at the dogs second. Finding a dog you want and then trying to get that dog from the specific rescue group listing it is a recipe for frustration. Figure out what rescue group is your best bet to find a good match for you and adopt that dog to you, and then look at the dogs they have or wait for them to get one that is appropriate for you.

    Also, for the person working in rescue, having to make some decisions based on paper is a difficult but often necessary evil. Reducing the paperwork to a thumbs up/thumbs down decision based on checking a box for fence, kids, or homeowner, however, is just a sign of a poorly informed or poorly resourced rescue. If they can’t even take the time to read your comments explaining why your lack of yard should not disqualify you, then you are probably looking for a dog in the wrong place/from the wrong group.

    I chose to adopt from a specific large rescue group in part because I knew it would be better at helping me find the right dog from among many available at any given time (even if I couldn’t get that “one” dog I fell in love with online) and because I could observe that this group was interested in moving dogs into homes. Dogs couldn’t stay long-term in foster because those were spaces needed to bring in new dogs who also needed to find new homes. Each dog I wanted to consider bringing in to my home would have a person handling their file as well as a foster home. Lots of people took the time to care for these dogs (including my future dog), and the time to speak to me and meet with me, and let me consider whether to adopt a specific dog or not. This was after someone reviewed my paperwork to at least pre-screen me as a potential adopter. Multiply me X many other potential adopters and other potential homes, and it becomes clear that while we want personalized attention for ourselves, the volume of dogs and time involved in rescue can be enormous.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 17, 2014

      It’s so nice to see a reasonable discussion on this topic. It’s definitely not a black-and-white issue.

      I think one problem is there is a social pressure to “do the right thing” and adopt. So, a new dog owner might think she can just walk in and rescue a dog in need that same day. Sure, you can do this through most shelters, but not through a lot of rescue groups. The adoption process might take weeks.

      As you said, it’s definitely important to find the right rescue group for your unique situation. Luckily, there are plenty of them out there. It’s just not always easy to find the right group.

  6. Kimberly Gauthier on April 17, 2014

    Although I understand why rescue groups can be so stringent with the rules; I also believe that many get in each other’s way.

    Not having a fenced yard was a barrier for us until we met a rescue group who judged US and we went home with Rodrigo and Sydney (not many rescues will adopt out 2 puppies to a couple). One thing I suggest to people is to get to know one rescue that has great references – once the people realize that you are a true and responsible dog lover, they may relax with the rules.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 17, 2014

      I think it also helps a bit to attend adoption events and meet the decision-makers in person before filling out an application. It’s easy to reject a faceless person on paper. It’s much harder to judge someone face to face.

      I hadn’t even thought about rescues not adopting out littermates together. Clearly, raising siblings hasn’t been a problem for you guys!

  7. Julia at Home on 129 Acres on April 17, 2014

    We were fortunate in our adoption experience that our rescue was fairly flexible. The fact that we have unvaccinated barn cats and no fenced yard weren’t automatic vetoes for us. We were rejected because our original plan was to keep our dog outside in a run during the day when we weren’t home, and they were concerned that our very short-haired boxer-lab would be too cold in the winter. I literally begged to be reconsidered, and they did. And I’m so thankful. Our dog (who it turns out hates the run and shivers at the slightest temperature drop) is a perfect fit for us.
    Upon reflection, though, I think our rescue was a little too flexible. Our dog was only fostered for two weeks, and I really don’t think that’s enough time to know his true nature and determine what’s truly best for him. The rescue had a detailed questionnaire, they called our vet and did a home visit, but the first time we met Baxter was when we went to pick him up from the foster. We were with him for all of 15 minutes before we loaded him in the car and brought him home.

    We had done a pretty extensive search before we found him, and I had talked extensively with his foster family, so I had a pretty good sense of what was important to us, and I was reasonably confident he was a good fit, but we still took a chance. (And yes, in hindsight, we could have insisted on more chances to get to know him, but at that point I was so paranoid from our rejection that I didn’t want any possibility that we wouldn’t add him to our family).

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 18, 2014

      Oh I’m so glad it worked out with you and Baxter. He’s perfect.

      I did a home visit for one of my foster dogs and the family had an outdoor run attached to the garage for a dog. The rescue wanted to reject them because of this.

      The adopters were friends of mine and said they thought the run would be good place to leave a when home alone. That way she could go to the bathroom.

      Well, the adoption went through thankfully, and as it turns out they never use the run either for the same reasons you described. The dog would rather be in the house, and that was no problem for her new owners. They just thought she might like the run, which was already there with they bought the house.

      Another example of a very happy, loved and spoiled dog living the good life. Thank goodness the adoption went through.

      • Julia at Home on 129 Acres on April 20, 2014

        That was our philosophy about the run as well. We just thought he’d be happier there. I’m glad that you were able to convince the rescue to let the adoption go through.
        (And yes, Baxter is perfect.) :)

  8. nancyspoint on April 22, 2014

    It’s probably never a good idea to rely too heavily on generalizations, such as making a fenced yard a requirement. That one is absurd. I can’t figure out why a rescue agency would want to make placement difficult, although, obviously some standards or guidelines must be met. Do they worry too much about dogs being sent back? And I’m wondering who sets the policies anyway.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 22, 2014

      Some groups have just gone too far to “protect” the dogs. They have good intentions, but they have simply lost touch with reality. Obviously it’s hurting the dogs, and it’s preventing good people from offering good homes. I would also be rejected from many, many adoption organizations.

    • monica on June 1, 2014

      I agree my neighbirs have a small apartment patio but walk their dogs a few times a day. My father in law has a fenced yard & his dog never gets walked. Who would have been given the dog? Who would the dog had been better off with ?

  9. Susan Ryan on April 23, 2014

    I have owned 2 labrador retrievers previously and now have a very active terrier cross. I have never had a fenced yard but I both train my dogs and exercise them at least an hour per day. We live in a recreational cottage area which is deserted half the year so our dogs have been able to be outside and we can just watch them when they do their business. In the busy season we have an overhead clothesline which we put our dogs on if we can’t watch them while outside. I think my dogs have always had an exceptionally happy life, well exercised, well fed and well loved. I know many dogs which live with people who have yards who never get exercised. I think that is much more detrimental to the dogs well-being than being taken on walks and runs regularily. I think asking if people have a fenced yard is the wrong question.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 24, 2014

      Yeah, the questions should not be focused on the fenced yard itself, but “how will you contain your dog?” Or, “how much exercise will you give this dog?” “How do you plan to train the dog?” Etc.

  10. Beth on April 23, 2014

    While fenced yards can be a bonus, they certainly do NOT qualify someone to be a good or responsible pet owner. I understand the need for guidelines and perhaps certain dogs need to have a fenced yard, but I think its a terrible blanket policy. They are automatically ruling out people who live in apartments, condos and many houses. Most rescues (or so I want to believe) have the dogs’ best interest at heart, but it can be frustrating to be denied on something that isn’t really necessary. I know people who live in apartments who are amazing pet owners and those dogs go on good long walks several times a day.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on April 24, 2014

      I think most rescues have the dogs’ best interest too. They just seem to lose touch with reality sometimes.

  11. Lara Elizabeth on May 6, 2014

    The fenced yard thing is so silly. I think that in many cases, dogs *without* yards are getting more exercise and enrichment because their owners have no choice but to take them walking several times a day.

  12. Lita on July 7, 2014

    Hi, I live in Canada. I just went through a terrible experience filling out an application and conversing with a rescue group via email. She pretty much insulted me, called me a irresponsible dog owner, many assumptions on her part, no phone call and many more manic emails from her. Basically she runs a rescue and dog training facility and if I didn’t buy her services and special collar than I was not good enough to adopt a rescue. It is a long story, but very upsetting. I will never contact a rescue again, no wonder the puppy industry is thriving. I will not allow myself to be mistreated, it was so bizarre and upsetting. Sadly the real victims are the dogs that they say they want to re home. So ridiculous.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 7, 2014

      That really does sound terrible. The good news is most rescue groups are not as bad as that one. If you want to adopt a dog, I hope you will try another group or a shelter, but it’s so unfortunate this one group had to ruin the whole experience for you. Imagine how many others they treated this way. So sad.

  13. Jennifer on August 28, 2014

    Beyond frustrated here. After having 2 goldens in my life I have been blessed. We had to put 1 of our furry babies down due to cancer 3 years ago and our 2nd had to be put down due to neurological issues in April of 2013. We have been without a dog on our lives now for over a year and wanted to adopt instead of going to a breeder. We felt that shelter dogs need another chance and we were willing to give them one. Well problem # 1. We had looked at a dog previously and had been approved on the adoption process and my husband had wanted to see the dog first since he had not had a chance to see out potential new family member. When we arrived the staff was so rude and unwilling that it was such a turnoff. #2. My husband did want to look at the other dogs at this particular shelter and we were told no because they only allow staff back by the dogs and people walking back there only gets the dogs wound up. (your a shelter and your holding pets back?) #3. My daughter was looking at the cats when one of the staff told her that some of the cats are sick and so then asked us not to go from cage to cage looking at them. (So many issues with that statement where do I begin? ) That is when my husband said he had enough. That was his first time in that particular shelter and it will be his last. I don’t think all shelters work this way (I pray they do not) but after this visit I honestly am so turned off. AND….this is a biggy this particular shelter is in jeopardy of shutting down due to losing it’s main donor. I have had countless friends of mine give up at adopting from shelters with the issues and hoops they had to jump thru that they ALL had went to a breeder. After the experience we had I am thinking of going that road too.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 28, 2014

      How unfortunate that this happened to you. I hope that you can find a different shelter group or rescue in your area that is not so difficult to work with. Adopting a dog is a wonderful thing, but I agree it can be quite difficult to get through the adoption process.

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