Thursday, September 4, 2003
Pet agencies adopt rigorous screening
Groups cite abandoned, mistreated animals as impetus for new, tighter standards
By RON HURTIBISE | News-Journal Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH — If you apply to adopt a Rottweiler from the We Care rescue group, you stand a 1-in-10 chance of getting a dog.
Rosemary Kuehl, founder of the DeLeon Springs-based organization, will scrutinize you with a jeweler's precision before allowing one of her beloved Rotties to live in your home.
The tight standards are part of a growing trend made necessary by the number of pet owners who abandon or mistreat animals out of laziness, ignorance or malice, according to the people who run pet adoption agencies.
"My rescued dogs look at me and trust me to make the very best decisions," said Kuehl, who cares for up to 12 of the large, powerful dogs at a time at her 3-acre ranch. "I have to find the very best homes I can for these dogs. I cannot have them ending up in the very same situations I pulled them out of."
Still, not every animal shelter — especially humane societies handling thousands of animals each year — has the luxury of being so choosy. And strict adoption policies by rescue groups can make applicants question whether they'd have an easier time adopting a human baby.
Adoption policies vary depending upon pet-care philosophies of people who run the agencies, breeds of animals, size of a community's homeless pet population and prospective uses by people seeking to adopt.
Any number of factors can trigger rejection: Toddlers in the house. No fenced-in yard. Spotty vet records for other pets. Plans to have puppies or kittens. Desire for an "outside pet." Desire for a guard dog.
Some groups won't adopt to anyone who plans to clip a dog's ears or tail, or who smokes in their home. Others reject anyone who won't agree to a home inspection.
"I feel if you don't want us coming to your home, what does that say about our dog coming into your home?" says Karen Young, founder of Ocala-based Suncoast Basset Rescue.
Some applicants question whether groups might go overboard.
Randy Belaus of Holly Hill says Kuehl rejected his application because he wouldn't agree to enroll a dog in an obedience class run by her organization.
"I'm very good at training," Belaus said. "I've had Rotts all my life."
Kuehl said Belaus raised red flags because he said he had a pregnant female dog.
Some applicants even find themselves on a blacklist — assigned the letters DNA for "Do Not Adopt" — in messages posted on a Yahoo! newsgroup for pet adoption volunteers.
The list includes suspected breeders or dog-fight organizers, adopters who failed to live up to their contracts and applicants who were rude during interviews.
Not everyone resents the rigorous screening process.
Patricia Weller, a Deltona mother who adopted two Rottweilers from We Care, said Kuehl deserves to know her adoptions will succeed in return for her investment in sterilizations, housetraining, obedience training, blood tests, vaccinations and medical care.
Some adoption groups resist the trend toward tougher standards.
Animal Rescue, Need & Intervention, or ARNI, a private pet ownership assistance foundation based in Daytona Beach, weeds out a small percentage of prospects if workers decide, based on applications and personal interviews, that they're not ready to make the commitment, says spokeswoman Drew Perry.
However, "we are interested in sending (animals) home right away because the more we can get out of here, the more we can rescue and save," Perry said.
Officials who run the Halifax Humane Society fear people will stop coming in if their screening process becomes too invasive. The publicly-funded shelter adopts just 3,500 of nearly 17,000 animals taken in each year. Most of the others are euthanized.
"We want to avoid mismatches, but we don't want to make (the process) so difficult that they buy from (pet) stores," said Michelle Pari, community relations coordinator for the nonprofit shelter.
At the Humane Society and ARNI, workers counsel applicants about ownership responsibilities. They ask how long applicants plan to be home each day, how they'll react if their pet becomes destructive, and whether the desired breed will be a good match.
At the Humane Society, pets aren't adopted without first being sterilized. And no one may take a pet home the same day they commit to the adoption.
"It's very emotional for people who work hands-on with the animals," Pari said.