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Has a Dog Rescue Found You ‘Unfit’ to Adopt?

Multiple groups rejected me, and now I advocate for more lenient policies to increase pet adoptions.

Wendy Newell  |  Nov 15th 2014


Nine years ago, I lived in a third-floor apartment off the famous Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles with my boyfriend and our dog. I no longer have the apartment, nor the boyfriend, but I still have my love of my life: the dog, Riggins.

Puppy Riggins doing what he did best: Be cute! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Puppy Riggins doing what he did best: Be cute! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

We had moved into the apartment because I wanted a puppy and where we lived didn’t allow dogs. Once settled into our new home, I reached out to three or four popular rescue groups in the area and was told the same thing over and over again: no.

The rescues wouldn’t let me adopt a puppy. It wasn’t that they didn’t have puppies; it was that they didn’t think I should get one. I was a first-time dog owner (other than a family dog when I was young), living in sin with my boyfriend in an apartment that we both vacated during the day to go to work. We were labeled “not puppy material.”

Riggins and Wendy begging for treats. (Photo by Fusaro Photography)

Riggins and Wendy begging for treats. (Photo by Fusaro Photography)

One day, my folks emailed me a flyer they had seen of a family offering puppies for sale in their neighborhood. I was on vacation at the time, but rushed over the day after I got back. I knew I should go through the steps of adopting from a rescue group, but the ones I had contacted left me discouraged.

The family’s two dogs, a German Shorthair Pointer and a Samoyed, had had an accidental litter. I should have lectured them on the importance of having pets spayed or neutered. I didn’t. Instead, I fell in love with the only male left, named Gargantuan.

I handed over $5 and walked away with my sweet baby. After a bath to de-flea, trip to the local vet, and drive home to meet his new daddy, Gargantuan became Riggins. The rigorous adoption rules of the rescue groups may have kept me from adopting one of their pups, but the situation led me to the best dog in the world!

One big happy family: Darrell and Lori Fusaro with Gabby, adopted from Karma Rescue, and Sunny, adopted from the Los Angeles County shelter in Carson. (Photo by Rita Earl)

One big happy family: Darrell and Lori Fusaro with Gabby, adopted from Karma Rescue, and Sunny, adopted from the Los Angeles County shelter in Carson. (Photo by Rita Earl)

Open adoptions such as the one that brought Riggins and I together are necessary for ours to become a “no-kill” society. In an open adoption, the goal is to place as many animals as possible with the acknowledgement that no one is perfect. This means no house checks, no vet checks, and no reference checks. Adopters aren’t denied if the pet will be home alone while they work nor if the home does not have an enclosed backyard.

Many in the rescue world do not approve of this type of adoption. Some have nightmares of dogs being scooped up to become bait or to be used for breeding. I currently volunteer for Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles, well-known for its open-adoption policy. Some believe that this means cuddly animals are handed out like cars at a very special taping of Oprah. “A dog for you, a dog for you, dogs for everyone!” That is simply not true. Groups that follow open-adoption policies still have guidelines.

Gabriella's first picture with her new pup, Bonnie, who was adopted from Best Friends. (Photo by Lori Fusaro)

Gabriella’s first picture with her new pup, Bonnie, who was adopted from Best Friends. (Photo by Lori Fusaro)

If you want to adopt from Best Friends, you have to fill out a survey so your adoption specialist can better understand you, what you are looking for in a pet, and your living situation. You are interviewed, although you may not know it is happening. The specialist guides you to the dog that will best suit your life. Then there is an adoption fee and an extensive adoption agreement, which is gone over in detail before you sign. The entire process takes hours, not minutes, and not everyone who applies gets what they want.

I have had to turn down potential adopters based on what I learned while talking to them. I had a nice couple looking to adopt a cat, but they were adamant that he or she would be happiest living outside. Despite my best efforts to educate them on why an indoor cat’s life is longer, they wouldn’t budge. Best Friends, along with most rescue groups, requires that cats who are adopted be inside-only pets. This is usually in the adoption agreement and cannot be negotiated.

Best Friends also has a no-kill policy for the life of its animals. If an adoption doesn’t work out, the organization ask that the pet comes back to the facility. This less-stringent adoption policy allows more animals to be adopted. That means more animals are pulled from shelters and saved from euthanasia. Is there a chance that after all the time and effort, someone with an ulterior motive will walk off with a pup? You can never say never, but if you are evil there are easier ways to grab your prey.

Tricia Pierce and Beaux, who was adopted via a courtesy listing by Angel City Pits. )Photo by Wendy Newell)

Tricia Pierce and Beaux, who was adopted via a courtesy listing by Angel City Pits. )Photo by Wendy Newell)

The rescue groups who don’t have open-adoption policies take additional steps to make sure the connection between the pet and the owner is a good one. This can include house checks. I’ve heard from a number of people who are great dog owners, who said they were originally denied a pup because there was no one at home during the day (darn those humans for having to go to work!), their backyard wasn’t big enough, or they lived in an apartment. Some (like me) were just told no.

Sometimes more thorough research is best for a dog. I recently rescued a very unsocial Chihuahua, Sparky, from a family who had him living in a small cage in their kitchen. They were more than happy to sign over ownership to me so that I could find him a home that would be a better match. He was a hard case: not fixed, not up-to-date on shots, and he acted like he was possessed by the devil upon first meeting a person. Eventually he became my cuddle bug and friends with the other dogs at my house, but he did not make a good first impression.

Michelle Cramton enjoying a pretty day with her pretty Sadie, adopted from NKLA. (Photo by Lori Fusaro)

Michelle Cramton enjoying a pretty day with her pretty Sadie, adopted from NKLA. (Photo by Lori Fusaro)

After reaching out to every rescue group I knew of, I finally found The Fuzzy Pet Foundation in Santa Monica, which was willing to take Sparky. Because of the difficult cases it deals with, the organization does extensive research on potential adopters to find the best fit for each animal. For Sparky, this was the best adoption policy. He needed to find a family who would give him a chance to settle, all the while providing love and patience. Sparky now lives in a happy home with a Chihuahua sister.

Alexander West, Kevin Calvo, and the newly adopted Paisley Blue with adoption specialist Pam Nelson of Best Friends. (Photo by Monica Calvo)

Alexander West, Kevin Calvo, and the newly adopted Paisley Blue with adoption specialist Pam Nelson of Best Friends. (Photo by Monica Calvo)

There is a place for all rescue groups and their different adoption policies. Each one services a purpose: saving animals and placing them in loving, caring forever homes. If you have doubts about the positive aspects of an open-adoption policy, I ask you to visit a group that utilizes it, see how it works, keep an open mind, and then think of Riggins sitting here on my lap — the lap of someone who was deemed “unfit” by many rescues to raise a puppy. This dog is living the life of Riley!

Has a rescue group ever deemed you “unfit” to adopt? What did you do? Tell us your story in the comments!

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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy with hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area ,where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.