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I had an eye-opening experience last fall when a very popular and highly regarded Los Angeles area magazine contacted us about doing an in-depth article on Best Friends’ NKLA initiative. It sounded like a great opportunity to get the story out in a comprehensive way and reach another demographic to help achieve the mission of making Los Angeles a no-kill city.
However, when I sat down with the award-winning journalist assigned to the story and laid out the scope and successes of NKLA, along with the history of sheltering in Los Angeles over the last 15 years, I was surprised that he wasn’t taking any notes. It was all very cordial, though, and we made preliminary arrangements for him to meet with and interview other driving NKLA Coalition partners, such as Found Animals Foundation and Downtown Dog Rescue. We were expecting to hear back from him in a few days to set up the meetings, follow-up interviews and a return visit to the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Mission Hills.
Crickets! Apparently, the writer intended to take a solid look at our work, NKLA and the rescue community, but the magazine’s editors wanted him to do a story on the wacky world of animal rescue and the difficulties involved in pet adoption. His boss wanted something about why people who run pet adoption organizations are so strange in the way they go about their business. It was going to be an article about animal welfare weirdness, as opposed to an informative story about how the NKLA Coalition, in partnership with Los Angeles Animal Services, was saving lives at a record pace and was on track to achieve our goal of a no-kill Los Angeles.
In the writer’s words: “My editors and I are at odds concerning the tone of my story. I’d say they want to see a piece along the lines of ‘Those kooky, nutty rescue folks: Why do they give Yuppies such a hard time during the adoption process?’ That’s a story I’m not interested in producing, and it would be a waste of everyone’s time for me to show up this afternoon.”
That kind of a reputation — and I’m afraid it’s not isolated to Los Angeles — is literally killing animals. If the public is soured or turned off by rescue organizations when they try to do the right thing by adopting, they will go elsewhere to acquire a pet. Hopefully, they will go to the city shelter, but they are more likely to go to a pet store, a breeder, Craigslist or the family down the street whose dog or cat just had a litter. That means the rescue group doesn’t open a slot for the next shelter pet, and the likelihood of another shelter death goes up.
We need to do better at representing the animals and learn to treat the public as our allies and friends in saving lives. Word of mouth is the best way to build a good reputation.
I understand entirely the rescue mindset. That’s where I — and most of us here at Best Friends — began our work in animal welfare. A dog or cat comes into your care. He was lost or abandoned and was either on the clock in some shelter or figuring out how to survive on the street. As a rescuer, you make an implicit promise to the animal that you will do your best to ensure that, on a quality-of-life scale of 1 to 10, you’ll help him go from somewhere in the minus range to at least a plus five.
As more rehab and care go into getting that animal back on track, the higher your expectations are for his new home. Potential adopters are put through the ringer and asked to pass a battery of tests. Their homes, lifestyles and children are scrutinized and evaluated and, despite their compliance and desire to adopt, they are often denied.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t get a pet; it just means that they will give up trying to get one from a rescue group. Whether or not they would provide a good home is anybody’s guess, because such stringent adoption protocols do little to determine the potential of a home and probably do harm to the all-important relationship between rescuer and adopter if the adoption goes forward.
There is an alternative to the standardized test and interrogation that many rescue groups employ. For lack of a better term, it is called “open adoptions” and rather than go into an analysis of it here, I refer you to a recent blog post by our friend at KC Pet Project, Brent Toellner, in which he lays out a great analysis of the issue.
The truth of the matter is that animals are dying in shelters because of outdated and discredited draconian adoption policies that are designed to protect the emotional well-being of the rescuer rather than to ensure a safe future life for a dog or cat.
It can be an emotionally challenging decision to move from an exclusive to an inclusive approach to adoptions, but it can be done. Shelter animals need us to get over our angst and get those adoptions rolling.
Together, we will Save Them All.
Best Friends Animal Society