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Policy? Schmolicy!

What happens when you get rid of those strict black-and-white requirements for adoption? In this rerun of a classic blog, Dr. Emily Weiss talks about research that addresses that question at one shelter.

I recently met with a shelter moving toward conversation-based adoptions. When I asked what the most difficult thing to let go of was, this one flagged high: “Unaltered and/or unvaccinated pets in the home.” 

Knowing that 1) denying a person adoption of a pet in your shelter does not mean he won’t obtain a pet elsewhere, and 2) knowing that denying the adoption means shutting the door for future interaction with such an individual, the pathway becomes clear.

Allowing an adoption to a home where pets are unaltered or unvaccinated does not risk the health or welfare of the pet being adopted, as he is already vaccinated and altered. However, not  allowing the adoption may mean risking the health of another pet in the community. Just because you denied this person, that does not stop him or her from getting a pet from another source, and that pet may not be altered and vaccinated. Further, by allowing the adoption, you have built a bridge to engage the adopter to learn more as to why their pets at home are not altered or vaccinated, and you’ve opened the door to ensuring that the welfare of those pets is supported. Saying no in this situation does nothing to improve the lives of anyone of the players in the story…including the shelter pet, who still has no place to call home!

Late last year we published a manuscript focused on the impact to the bond and welfare when policies are removed and replaced with dialogue – I shared the results in the following blog from last October. Take a peek and share your thoughts.


Policy Schmolicy!

Originally published October 30, 2014

What happens when you get rid of those strict black-and-white requirements for adoption? Dr. Emily Weiss shares new research that addresses that question at one shelter.

You may have heard me tell this story before, but back when I was a student in college I adopted a dog – his name was Benny. I wrestled to obtain Benny, a 3 ½-year-old intact chow mix with thunderstorm phobia and some unique behavior challenges (Read: “Not high on ‘run to shelter to adopt’ list”) from a shelter that had policies that I did not meet. Well, I got him…he was my best friend for many years thereafter. You can see the story of how I obtained Benny (as told for the PBS show Nature back a few years ago). As you might guess, policies have been a bit of a bugaboo for me for a while…

The field has been thinking about policies for a long time – and there have been some great strides in moving away from black-and-white policies in many organizations around the country. It was back in the late 1990s that PetSmart Charities sponsored the first Adoption Forum to “address and reassess typical adoption criteria used by adopting agencies.” This led to Adoption Forum II in 2003 and its resulting publication. Many of the attendees of that forum had made the shift to open adoptions or conversation-based adoptions, and had not found risk to increase.

Fast forward to today – and we found ourselves at the plenary session at HSUS Expo exploring these same issues. Not because all shelters and rescues had made the shift, but because there is still concern around the notion of starting with ‘Yes.’

While we have data from many shelters that have made the shift – data showing that returns do not increase, clients are happier, and adoptions often increase – there were concerns about what happens when the pets go home. Is care different in the home when we remove policies at adoption? We decided to conduct some research to find out. Thanks to the hard work of the Toledo Area Humane Society, we collected baseline data where some black-and-white policies were still strongly in place and then again when the shift to conversation-based adoptions had occurred. We placed an intern at the shelter to assure the shift was practiced as consistently as possible, and we followed up with adopters approximately 4 weeks post-adoption to learn about the care of the pet in the home.

We asked if the pet was still in the home and if not, where he was, as well as questions around care (had they gone to the vet, for example), and questions around where the pet slept, and more. We found no significant differences between the groups.

One of the most tightly held policies was one around requiring dog meet-and-greets for adopters with dogs at home. We made sure to include questions around how the adopted pet got along with the other pets in the home. And we found – yep, you got it – no difference between the groups. Dropping the requirement to conduct meet-and-greets did not increase the likelihood the pets did not get along, and did not increase the likelihood that the pet came back to the shelter.

We did find a trend that the animals in the experimental group were less likely to receive flea/tick or heartworm preventative, but we suspect this was due to the fact that the data for the experimental group was collected in the middle of the polar vortex winter in Northern Ohio, while data for the baseline group was collected in the fall.

You can read the peer reviewed study here. While this study represents just one shelter, we know that many of you have made the shift to policy-free, conversation-based adoptions. I understand some of you made the shift well over a decade ago, while others made the shift more recently. We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences – please share them here, and maybe we can close the door on these policies, and open more doors for dogs and cats to go home.


Related Links

Download the research: “Do Policy Based Adoptions Increase the Care a Pet Receives?”

Go Ahead, Try It: Open Adoptions