Adoption policies -- how strict is too strict?

Sarah D. Bunting

Emily Yoffe, whom you may better know as Slate's advice columnist, "Prudence," wrote an interesting piece for Slate today on the veritable inquisition prospective owners often have to endure when they want to adopt pets. Even with millions of pets in need of homes in the U.S., many organizations seem like they're trying to discourage hopeful adopters with obstacles like reams of paperwork; repeated interviews and home visits; and trick questions about work schedules and even family planning. Many sources Yoffe spoke with got so fed up with the process of trying to bring home a shelter animal that they did the "wrong" thing and went to breeders instead.

On one hand, I understand what these groups are trying to prevent. They want to make sure that the homes they find for the animals in their care are permanent, and some people really do not get that a pet is a commitment. Of my three cats, Hobey was dropped off in a box at the ASPCA as a "teenager" when he and his sisters stopped being tiny and cute; Little Joe was let out of a car at a busy intersection near Columbia University, because his last family was moving to an apartment that didn't take pets; and Mabel's previous owner had a four-day business trip and couldn't find a cat-sitter -- so he dropped her off at a Manhattan kill shelter.

It's tough to find good placements for animals, and when you volunteer at a shelter organization, which I also did years ago, you really don't want to see the same cats and dogs back in their cages in two weeks. One cat, "Olivia," came and went three or four times while I was there, because the various people who adopted her couldn't seem to stick to her (very simple) prescribed diet, deviation from which led to horrible diarrhea. They'd give her too much kibble or let her "try" their yogurt, she'd get sick, and they'd bring her back. It was heartbreaking. (She did find a nice lasting home eventually.)

But it's possible to take that conscientiousness too far. For example, the organization I volunteered for had a blanket policy of never letting store owners adopt cats. Every deli or bookstore cat I've ever seen is content, well cared-for, beloved by the employees, and friendly -- but the shelter felt that store owners were really acquiring a cat for the purposes of catching mice, which was unethical, and wouldn't take good care of the cats, which they had no evidence of.

Other organizations view children as rampaging tail-pullers who will inevitably traumatize companion animals, and won't let parents adopt pets if they have young kids. My colleague Sarah Weir shared this sad ASPCA tale with me: "I went to adopt a kitten with my two stepchildren, who were then 5 and 7. They wouldn't let us adopt an animal who was less than a year old because we had kids in the house. They gave us an adult male who ended up ripping open my husband's hand and stalking my 6-month-old baby. We returned the cat." I'm all for encouraging adopters to consider an adult pet, because they're harder to place -- but not giving children a chance to learn "gentle" (or parents a chance to teach it) is unfair, to the humans and to the pet. My childhood cat, Ding, weathered a hail of alphabet blocks when I was a baby, but we became best friends.

What do you think? Is it really important for pet-adoption organizations and no-kill shelters to weed out the irresponsible -- even if it means that a few innocent people (read: kids) get shut out as a result? Or is it MORE important for pets to find homes, even if the circumstances aren't perfect? Tell us on Twitter or talk to us in the comments!

More from Shine Pets:
Finding a responsible dog breeder (WebVet)
Introducing another pet into the family (YCN)
Does your boyfriend hate pets? (Vetstreet)