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Susan Nix with her adopted dogs, Missy and Dixie, at Saturday’s Walk Your Paws fundraiser for the Animal Friends Humane Society at Wilson Morgan Park in Decatur.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Susan Nix with her adopted dogs, Missy and Dixie, at Saturday’s Walk Your Paws fundraiser for the Animal Friends Humane Society at Wilson Morgan Park in Decatur.

Before giving a pet a new leash on life, consider the adoption rules
Local animal rescue groups weigh in on Ellen DeGeneres’ dog adoption gone bad and explain their own policies

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

Adopting a dog or cat isn’t always a simple matter.

A California animal rescue group was recently thrust into the spotlight after daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres sobbed and pleaded on air for the group to return her dog. She had violated the “Mutts and Moms” adoption contract and given the dog to friends.

The issue caused an uproar among animal lovers and drew attention to pet adoption agencies’ policies. Myra Cook, former dog adoption coordinator for Animal Friends Humane Society in Decatur, said she sympathized with the rescue group, which was probably just trying to protect the animal.

“I thoroughly understand this group’s situation because I was in the same situation this group was in,” Cook said. “I suffered over getting the right dog in the right home. I passed up hundreds of homes for these dogs until just the right one came.”

However, the animal rescue group seemed to have taken its role too far, local activists agree. The group probably would have allowed the dog to stay after evaluating the new home, had it not been for the media storm DeGeneres created and the death threats the group later received, they said.

While many may be surprised to discover how seriously rescue groups take placing animals, it’s common for agencies to require specific adoption rules for the pets’ protection, local groups said.

Small dogs, small children

Common rules among agencies include the age of children at home and the size of the dog being adopted. Small dogs are often a no-go in homes with young children. The high-strung nature of most small dogs does not usually mix well with children, who want to hold and pet anything within arm’s reach. The home DeGeneres had placed her small dog in was not approved by the rescue group because children younger than 14 lived there, which is against its policy.

It’s a common stereotype that households with small children work best with a small dog, said Joel Rich, who runs an animal rescue in Hartselle called Parenting Children of Different Species.

Ellen DeGeneres’ hairdresser’s daughter Ruby holds Iggy, the adopted Brussels Griffon terrier mix that was taken back after DeGeneres gave it to the family. The nonprofit dog-rescue group that originally gave DeGeneres the dog says the talk show host had violated the adoption agreement. It required her to give the dog back to the group if she couldn’t keep it herself.
AP photo/TMZ
Ellen DeGeneres’ hairdresser’s daughter Ruby holds Iggy, the adopted Brussels Griffon terrier mix that was taken back after DeGeneres gave it to the family. The nonprofit dog-rescue group that originally gave DeGeneres the dog says the talk show host had violated the adoption agreement. It required her to give the dog back to the group if she couldn’t keep it herself.
Larger dogs are usually better with small children, he said.

“Sometimes they (people adopting) don’t understand the situation and get mad at you,” he said. “But you’re protecting them and the dog. If the cocker spaniel bit their kid, they might take it back to the pound and we don’t want that.”

The return clause

The return clause the “Mutts and Moms” contract included — that DeGeneres must return the pet to the agency if she could not keep it — is common among adoption organizations.

If groups don’t include the clause, they fear the animal will be dropped off at a local shelter or given to a family that may not be a good fit with the animal. Between 500,000 and 1 million pets adopted from shelters and rescue groups find themselves homeless and in the shelter once again, according to Petfinder.com.

“Our main concern is for the animal going into the home and the families too,” said Sue Bosco, Alabama co-team leader with Small Paws Bichon Frise rescue group. “We want it to work. We want them to be able to have that loving companion in the home and not have something happen.”

Read the paperwork

Bosco said Small Paws volunteers always tell potential pet owners about their return clause so the animal does not end up somewhere that also won’t work out. DeGeneres probably didn’t know about the return clause because many potential pet owners are so excited to be adopting, they often don’t read the paperwork carefully, she said.

“Once they get that new dog, they don’t care about the paperwork,” she said. Which is why Small Paws always tells people verbally about the clause, so there is no confusion in case the animal does not work out, she said.

It can be devastating for animal groups if they do not get their animals back, Rich said. He once spent thousands of dollars on health bills for a rescued dog that was adopted for the group’s standard $95 adoption fee. When the new owner decided he didn’t want the dog, he took it to an animal shelter and the dog was euthanized. Rich still wishes the owner had just brought the dog back.

Other requirements

Small Paws also requires veterinary checks (to ensure you’ve kept up with your pet’s shots and other care) or personal references if you’ve never had a pet. Other common requirements for animal rescue groups are proof that you have a fenced-in yard, or proof that your landlord allows pets.

On the other hand, animal shelters or other groups that cannot handpick the pets they adopt out usually have less stringent rules for potential pet owners.

“If we were too particular and too restrictive, then we wouldn’t get the opportunity to place any animals,” said Mindy Gilbert, director of Decatur Animal Services. “We’re faced with the challenge of handling 4,000 animals per year.”

However, for breeds deemed “at risk” such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, the shelter requires home inspections to ensure the animal will be in a safe, friendly environment.

“We don’t want to see it chained to a circle of dirt where it’s going to become aggressive,” Gilbert said.

While the Decatur animal shelter uses fewer guidelines in its contract — you can often adopt a pet in one day there — the group uses other measures to ensure its animals go to good homes.

It encourages potential adoptees to bring their families or roommates to the shelter to interact with the dog. It also offers informative DVDs to new owners about what to expect when bringing a newly adopted dog home. Animals also may be returned for a full refund within 10 to 13 days if it’s not a good fit.

“It’s not the situation anymore where you just point to any animal and get it,” Gilbert said of the shelter.

“I think in today’s world we are a little more aware of the responsibility involved in owning animals.”

Looking to adopt a pet?

Here are common questions you may be asked by people at an animal rescue group or shelter:

  • Will the animal have a place to sleep inside?

  • What other pets do you have?

  • Does your landlord allow pets?

  • Do you have children? What age?

  • How often are you home?

  • How much time will you have for your animal?

  • If the pet will live inside, how large is the space?

  • Is your yard fenced in?

  • Where will you place a litter box for the animal?

    A sampling of local animal rescue groups and shelters

  • Decatur Animal Shelter, 1802 Central Parkway, 351-7765

  • Small Paws Bichon Frise rescue group, 350-5876, www.smallpawsrescue.org

  • Parenting Children of Different Species, www.pcds.petfinder.com

  • On-site adoptions Saturdays at PetSmart in Huntsville or call 773-2596 to set appointment at Hartselle site.

  • Yorkie Friends Rescue Corporation, Moulton, 974-9116, www.yorkiefriendsrescue.com

  • Fairy Dogmother Rescue & Rehab, Inc., Vinemont, 734-3827, www.fairydogmotherrescue.com

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