PetRescue's 'adoption policies' devalue the work of rescue groups

October 17, 2017

Adoptable pets listed by reliable rescue organisations have not only been health-checked, they’ve also been assessed for temperament, basic manners and toilet training. That means they should be able to help you find the perfect pet-match for your family and lifestyle.The four signs of a good rescue group

1. Attentiveness
They are willing and happy to spend time discussing your requirements, lifestyle and expectations, addressing any of your concerns and answering any questions you have. They should also be open to offering pet advice, should you need it after you adopt.

2. Commitment
They demonstrate a genuine interest in the life-long welfare of their animals. Read your adoption contract and make sure it includes a clause that you can return the pet to them should the adoption not work out.

3. Attention to detail
They have an in-depth adoption screening process. While it can be intimidating to have a stranger ask personal questions, the more open you are with the group, the better equipped they’ll be to match you with the right pet. It’s also a great opportunity for you to screen the rescue group!
PetRescue information page; Why Adopt (cira 2014)

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Animal advocates have long implored people to consider community rescue and foster care groups when getting a pet. The adoption process was pitched as superior to other sources of pets, with rescue acting as a matchmaker between families and animals, and as a way for potential pet parents to get the information they need to make a good pet choice.

Compared to a shelter or pound, the conventional wisdom has been that rescue groups have carers, caring for the pet in their homes, so will have more data on how the pet behaves as a housepet. As an adopter you'll spend more time interacting with a rescue group, as they'll want to get to know you, including having them visit your home and make an appraisal on whether you’re a good match.

This attentiveness, commitment and attention to detail has traditionally been seen as a benefit of seeking out pets offered for adoption by rescue groups. The matches they make are designed to be beneficial to the pet as an individual, and the group's pledge to care for the welfare of that pet extends beyond the adoption; to guarantee care for that pet without question, for the entirety of that pet's life.

But in a startling change in strategy, PetRescue this week emailed rescue groups and asked that they nominate what kind of adoption policies they support;

These differences in enquiry, application and adoption policies and procedures can be pretty bewildering for pet seekers, especially for those who have never adopted a rescue pet before.

Currently, breeders are the number one source for obtaining a dog in Australia, and 75 per cent of cats are acquired from non-rescue sources. Converting pet seekers who currently get their pets from breeders and other non-rescue sources is vital if more rescue pets are to be rehomed. Adoption should be the number one option for obtaining a pet!

To see more pets adopted, we want to make the search process a little less bewildering for the 20,000 pet-seekers who visit each day.

This latest phase of the Matchmakers Project is designed to help your rescue organisation set adopter expectations from the start of the enquiry process, which means better matches, faster. And that means more lives saved!

So, flexible, moderate, strict - what’s your policy?"

PetRescue seems to be indicating that moving forward they will be looking to promote groups willing to compete with other sources of pets for ease of pet acquisition. The clues are right there in the names flexible, moderate, strict.

So what does a 'strict' rescue group process look like?

An organisation with strict adoption policies and procedures undertakes a detailed and involved screening process prior to a prospective adopter meeting the pet. This MAY include:

- Full application form required before the group will contact a prospective adopter
- Lengthy and detailed application form
- Interview via phone or face-to-face
- Universal requirements regardless of individual circumstances (i.e. all adopters must be over 25yrs, no young children etc)
- Home check required
- May require vet reference or other checks

A comprehensive form for applicants. An interview. Some group-specific rules around adoption. A homecheck. And a reference check. Detailed and involved. But certainly not uncommon. And exactly the approach we'd sold as valuable to pet owners in the past, now being painted as a bureaucratic approach to rescue adoption. 

In contrast, what is a flexible approach according to PetRescue?

An organisation with flexible adoption policies and procedures is one that embraces open adoption philosophies. The enquiry and adoption process is simple and straightforward, with ongoing support available after adoption. This MAY include:

- Short or no application form
- Phone chat or email contact
- Meet and greets
- Interstate adoption may be available
- Adopt-on-the-day may be available under certain circumstances (ie. in a shelter or vet situation, in-store adoption events etc.)

No form. Phone chat. Meet and take the pet home. Open... simple and straightforward.

Changing the rules of rescue

When PetRescue started, it celebrated that rescue offered a service which was useful to pet owners and superior in outcomes to pet shops. It also acknowledged that direct from pound/shelter adoption wasn't going to suit everybody and that bringing in rescue groups helped assess pets, and guide owners. Now they seem to be saying that this rescue process is defunct/non-useful and rescue pets should be a choose-your-own-adventure for potential owners. Rescue groups should abandon their processes in favour of walk-in-walk-out adoption policies.

Which, for some groups may be fine, and that should absolutely be their choice. But then how fair is it that rescue groups with more comprehensive policies are punished and branded 'strict' for their efforts to get pets into the right homes? Especially given they're also expected to do all the follow up support; be available if problems arise and care for this pet for his entire life, not to mention accept personal liability for that adoption's safety to pet and owner.

If groups are driven into this new 'flexible' adoption process they risk becoming seen by the public as little more than an few-days-long sleepover for pets from the pound. The benefits that we've seen growing the rescue movement to date - reliable adoptions of pets who have been assessed in a home environment, adequately quarantined, rehabilitated, and matched with new owners carefully with thorough processes - are at risk of being lost entirely.

And this might actually be part of PetRescue's plan

Every element of The Matchmaker Project to date has been to blur the lines between rescue and PetRescue, as being separate things. 

With PetRescue contacting potential adopters up to five times before rescue groups have even had a chance to respond once to the applicant, rescue is already being put at a disadvantage. By speeding up the adoption process and reducing contact with rescue, to the group literally handing over the pet on the day of adoption, it further erodes the rescue group's claim on each pet and rescue's brands deteriorate even more. People will simply assume they adopted a pet from a carer from PetRescue.

It’s not abnormal for rescue to be more conservative than a shelter or pound, simply because they’re more emotionally involved having had the pet in the home. Sure, in a few cases groups get crazy, but mostly it’s well intentioned, trying to make a good fit. However to pathologize this very normal and generally useful behaviour is really kicking rescue in the personals, and rather than supporting rescue, is blaming them for a problem that they have nothing to do with; low numbers of adoptions nationally.

Do rescue need to increase the number of adoptions they're processing?
Converting pet seekers who currently get their pets from breeders and other non-rescue sources is vital if more rescue pets are to be rehomed. 

PetRescue are asserting that rescue need to do more. Which is not wrong - a presentation I gave back in 2015 asserted that we'd need to double rescue's output in order to reach the goal of 200,000 pet adoptions and zero out the killing. And now, like then, the idea of doubling rescues output is an absurd proposition. Rescue simply can't do more.

See also: Why rescue in Australia is burning out

We know that because, according to PetRescue themselves, every single pet on the website finds a home. And I don't know too many rescues who believe they'd have loads of extra capacity with carers and time, if they could just streamline their email processes. Rescue's bottleneck is capacity, carers and resources to do the actual work of rescuing pets, not a communications backlog.

PetRescue claim they have 956 rescue groups working on the website.

In fact, their rescue directory pages there are 68 pages of 12 groups (68 x 12 = 816) and 1 page of 10 groups (10) which is 826 groups

There are 826 'rescue' groups servicing the whole country. That's including major shelters like the RSPCA.

Just 239 groups have more than 10 pets listed (total) as of today.

Rather than hounding rescue groups about their policies or how quickly they can return mail to adopters, maybe PetRescue need to be looking at why just a couple of hundred groups are active in any major way, and whether their own behaviour is somehow contributing to the erosion of community rescue's ability to operate.

At the rate rescues are disappearing (or carers are being forced to quit caring) PetRescue might be left with expensive infrastructure and no content.

PetRescue's distain for rescue is really starting to show, with these new policies just more evidence that PetRescue does not respect rescue or the value and knowledge they bring to their adoptions. Rescue and their needs are continuing to be treated as an inconvenience to the PetRescue system, rather than a vital partner in the process.

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