How Do You Get to Happily Ever After?
The darker orange guy in this photo is Philip Seymour Hoffman.
He has quite convincingly played nearly as many roles as the real Philip Seymour Hoffman. When he was at the shelter, he portrayed an affable guy who got along with every other cat in a small, hot, crowded multi-cat room. In these photos, you see him in his current role as friend and sidekick to Henry. But in between these two starring roles, Philip played a terrorist at our house. He appeared to get along with everybody, but when we turned our backs he was absolutely terrorizing one of our other two kitties – to the point of screaming and loss of control of bodily functions.
We were beside ourselves. We loved this new guy, but we couldn’t subject our girl Maggie to fear in her home. We also didn’t want to bring Philip back to the shelter. No shelter needs a 5+-year-old cat returned for bad behavior in July. Enter our friend. She wasn’t looking for another cat, but she’s a soft touch with all animals and was more than willing to make a space for Philip in her household. As you can see, it’s worked out quite well.
I share this little saga as a warning. Lots of shelters and rescues (including ours) use the term “forever family.” It’s a great term…it’s got alliteration, it conjures happily-ever-after and it’s simple enough for anyone to “get it.” But “forever family” should be a goal (and maybe a marketing slogan) and NOT a hard and fast rule or expectation. Despite best intentions, sometimes relationships just don’t work out. Heck, by the time we hit our 60s, about 35% of us will have divorced at least once even though we don’t go into these relationships anticipating failure.
The staff at Humane Society of Boulder Valley realized this when they made their successful run for the $100K Challenge back in 2010. Recognizing that their staff and volunteers have a huge advantage over adopters because they get to spend a ton of time with the animals (and can even take an animal home for overnights) – whereas adopters get a few minutes or maybe an hour to make a decision about who’s joining their family – they introduced a program called Satisfaction Guaranteed. At HSBV, if you adopt and it isn’t a good fit, you can bring the companion animal back with no consequence and full money back because the shelter wants to guarantee your satisfaction! Now, lots of shelters require that adopters bring an animal back if the adoption doesn’t work out – but Satisfaction Guaranteed is qualitatively different. We’re talking about welcoming adopters back – with no blame, no fees and a sincere commitment to helping the adopter find the animal who WILL be that “forever family” fit. Not only does this practice help earn HSBV a great reputation in their community, but it also helps them learn more about the animals because they get the details on how an animal behaved in the home – something that’s incredibly valuable for an agency with a high volume of animals transferred in from other shelters.
And here’s an even more radical idea: Empower the adopter to find a new home for the animal and provide you with the updated contact information. This keeps the animal out of the shelter (away from potential stress and disease) and shares the caretaking of the animal with community members. Who says we’re the best at finding new homes anyway? In fact, chances are all of our adopters have people in their personal networks who would make great families for animals but who never come to the shelter to adopt. (Coincidentally, Louisiana SPCA capitalized on this fact when they innovated their Fast Track program during the 2010 $100K Challenge.)
“Forever family” is a great slogan. In reality, we need all kinds of understanding, flexibility and creativity to help as many animals and families as possible to live happily ever after.
Free ebook: “In It to Win it: How the Humane Society of Boulder Valley Won the 2010 $100K Challenge”
“If We Only Adopt to ‘Perfect’ Pet Parents, We’re Not Really Making a Difference”
ASPCA Research: Fosters as Adoption Agents