Best Practices: Adoption Process (Part 2)

Today’s post was written by Stephanie Rice of It’s the Pits, a San Diego Pit Bull rescue. It thoroughly cover applicant evaluation. Tell us in the comments section how you evaluate your applicants.

Stephanie’s Take:

Everyone must complete an adoption application either online or at an event to be considered to adopt a dog. Our application is fairly basic, name, address, contact info, dog interested in, personal references, vet references, rent or own, who lives in the house, other pets and where the dog will be while no one is home.  Once an application is submitted the Adoption Coordinator does her best to place a phone call to the applicant within 24 hours for a phone interview. We address the application and other questions during the interview process. We focus on several areas during the phone interview:

  • What part of San Diego do you live in? Some parts of San Diego are known for dog fighting
  • Do you rent or own? If you rent is your rental dog friendly with no breed restrictions? We then ask the applicant to provide a lease their lease to show they can have dogs and there are no breed restrictions.
  • Have you ever owned a pet? If the answer is yes but they don’t currently have the pet. We ask what happened to the pet? If the answer is we gave it away, got hit by a car, brought it to a shelter, it ran away (the list goes on and on). Those are all red flags. We want to know details of why, when, how, where, how did you try to rectify the situation, etc.  If it is a blasé answer that my dog ran away last week we don’t know what happened or we brought it to a shelter because it barked a lot or it got hit by a car and we couldn’t afford the medical bills so we euthanized it, then no we will not adopt to you.
  • Do you have any other pets? If so, are they spayed and neutered? If they are not spayed/neutered there must a medical reason as to why for us to consider adoption. If a family just doesn’t want to spay/neuter will deny the application. If an applicant has a large breed female dog, we in general do not adopt out another female because of dominance issues.
  • Who lives with you? We want to know if they are a couple, family or roommates. We are careful with folks who live with a bunch a roommates.  It is a red flag if an applicant is living with many roommates that this person may be very young and not ready for dog ownership. Everyone in a household must want a dog.
  • We carefully question the applicant on their intentions, why they are adopting, why a pit bull, who is going to watch the dog, what vet, can you afford medical bills in the thousands or dollars if need be, what dog sitter or kennel, have they ever owned a dog, have they ever trained a dog.
  • We also want to know if they have a yard. Is it fenced, how high, what material. Some dog breeds are notorious climbers. If they don’t have a yard how do they plan to exercise the dog?
  • We ask how long are they away from the house? Are they gone a lot on weekends? Where will they keep the dog when they gone?  Crate, free reign of the house, certain room, etc. We never allow our dogs to be outdoor pets. If they are interested in a puppy or young dog, can they come home during lunch or have a friend come by?

Red flags for us that we outright deny applications are: if they have an intact animal and refuse to spay/neuter, if they want to keep the dog outside, if they rent and cannot provide documentation that it is ok to have pit bulls, if someone in the home is not on board with adopting a dog, if a yards fence is 5ft or below and they are not willing to modify it. We will let people know in the phone interview that we cannot proceed with adoption and explain to them why and try to educate them on the importance of spaying/neutering, why dogs needs to be indoor pets, etc.

Sometimes after the phone interview we are not sure about an applicant and the board meets to discuss what we think next steps are. We review the application and notes from the interview. It helps to have other opinions and additional questions may come up. If we are truly not sure we will usually move to the next step which is meeting some dogs so we can meet them in person to see how we feel.

The next step if the interview goes well or we decide to move forward is meeting the dogs. We discuss what they are looking for in a dog (i.e. energy level, size, temperament, sex, color, etc.). We try to come up with a list of 4 to 5 dogs to look at. We will contact the foster home or a volunteer if the dog is currently in boarding to show the dog to the family. We usually follow up in a day or two to ensure contact has been made so the applicant isn’t lost and then maintain contact to see what the families thoughts are.

All of this is done by our Adoptions Coordinator which currently is one person. We get many applications and make the initial call and calls are not returned. Or applications are not filled out completely and there is not address or phone number, we email back to ask it to be completed and we don’t hear back.

During the interview process we want to be sure that the applicant is 100% sure and ready to commit to having a dog. And we want to feel comfortable that whatever dog we place in this home will be the dogs forever home.  If all goes well we then do dog to dog interacts if applicable.

All of our dog to dog interactions take place outside at a neutral location with hopefully a fenced yard.  Our standard policy is no female/female large same type breed in the home. Of course there are always exceptions. We start introductions with the would-be siblings one dog at a time and do a walk by with each dog on leash. We do this until we are comfortable and the dogs are calm walking by one another. Then we do what we call a fly by, which is a walk by but we stop mid way and let the dogs sniff each other’s back sides. We never let the dogs go face to face. We’ll do this several times too. Once we are comfortable we’ll bring the dogs back together to sniff each other and see if they initiate play. We still have the dogs on leash but a very loose leash in case anything goes wrong. We always want to see the dogs initiate in some kind of play before we are comfortable with an interaction.  We repeat these steps for each dog in the family. And in the end we want all the dogs together and able to play.

Once we determine that the interaction has gone well we do a homecheck. A homecheck can be done by any volunteer who has active within the rescue and familiar with our policies.  During the homecheck we have a checklist we complete to ensure we cover everything. The main areas are:

  • Fence – Walk entire fence line
  • Fence –  Secure and not falling over, no lose boards – push on fence in several areas to ensure that it is secure
  • Fence – Touching the ground or have rocks/cinder blocks, etc
  • Fence – LOCKS on ALL gates
  • Fence – At least 5 feet high
  • Fence – nothing leaning up against fence and no retaining wall next to fence as that shortens fence
  • Fence – no holes, gaps in or under fence
  • Fence – move furniture so that nothing is along the fence
  • Yard – well groomed, no tall weeds or overgrowth
  • Yard – No FOXTAILS
  • Yard – Check for obvious choking hazards
  • Yard – No yard tools, bikes, lawn mower etc left in yard
  • Yard – No bags of trash left where dog can get it – choking hazard
  • Yard – No toys or junk left laying around
  • Yard – No cigarette butts – deadly
  • House – Choking hazards (toys, bottle caps, paperclips, etc)
  • House – No cigarette butts – deadly.  Keep cigarettes up high
  • House – No Wires all over the place
  • House – Somewhat clean and non cluttered
  • House – Toilet seat down – drowning hazard for puppies/sm dogs
  • House – Ask were pet will sleep/set up crate
  • House – be sure to keep crate/bed away from windows to avoid sun

We also discuss the following items:

  • No pig ears, rawhides, greenies, cooked bones – they can cause a blockage
  • No onions, grapes or raisins – can cause renal failure
  • Where will pet stay during the day?  NEVER IN THE GARAGE!!!  We also encourage pets to be inside when they are not home.  This keeps pets safe, clean and warm.  We encourage crating or restricting to a certain area of the home when family is not home.

The final thought to the person doing the homecheck is would you leave your dog here? If the answer is no then we want to know why. If there are certain areas where the homecheck fails we give the family a chance to correct it if they are willing to. We want our families to understand that they are adopting precious cargo and that we the rescue are 100% responsible for them and ensuring they have a wonderful home. That everything we do and look at is for them. There are also those homes that are not willing to fix anything and they are denied. And there are of course some homes which we step in the front door and know we would never leave a dog there and we just conduct a quick look around and then leave. In those cases we will email the folks about why we did not think it was appropriate rather than having a face to face conversation. We find sometimes those conversations can go downhill quickly and you don’t want to be stuck in a strangers home when they are not happy with you.

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3 Responses to Best Practices: Adoption Process (Part 2)

  1. Kyla Duffy says:

    This is a great post, Stephanie. Thank you for laying out the specific items your rescue looks for during a home check.

  2. Excellent resources!

    It’s been a real struggle with reaching our goals. The resources here have strengthened and refreshed us so we can tackle the task again.

    And this time make it fun!


  3. Wonderful post – I got some good ideas from it, thank you!

    One thing SDR does is a basic criminal background check: we look on the court site for the state the applicant resides in and see if they have anything on their public record. We are now adding this for every adult in the home as we ran into a situation where a reference told us the woman’s boyfriend had criminal history we weren’t comfortable with. We also look at foreclosure records because if someone is in financial trouble, adopting a dog is not a good idea.

    Using social media to look at applicants is also helpful if you’re uncertain, or if you want to cross check what they’re saying on the application with what they’re saying online. It’s amazing what people post on Facebook.

    We call vet clinics and landlords as well as three personal references, only one of which can be a family member.

    We have adopted out of state before, but require the applicant to come pick up the dog in person and bring them home by car or in the cabin of a plane. When this is the case, we have another recommended rescue in the area conduct the home visit. On one occasion we had the applicant take photos of every room and the yard for us and send them in. She was from NY and we’re in MN – she flew here to adopt a bonded pair of dogs with special needs. This is just to illustrate that while we have a process, we do modify it if a situation arises where we believe the dogs have a good chance at a great life. Some rescues require adopters to live within a certain distance of the rescue, and while we prefer it, we do make exceptions.

    When doing a home visit, our volunteer looks in every single room – if the applicants don’t allow that, we deny them.

    We also go through the steps of processing an application in a certain order. It is really uncomfortable to have the applicant talk at length with a foster parent about a dog and then find out from the vet that this person gave away two dogs in the past three years (or something else that would prompt a denial for adoption). Sometimes fosters jump the gun and we really discourage that.

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