Should there be an “adopter blacklist”?

Should there be an “adopter blacklist”?

Dear PetRescue,

I adopted a gorgeous labrador cross to a family two months ago only to receive a phone call today from the local pound informing us that the new owners had surrendered her.

The family presented themselves as nice professional people. They already had a dog who got along with this new girl and all in all it seemed like the perfect adoption.

Our adoption contract states that if there is any problems, they were to return the dog to us. But these lowlife creeps never phoned us and had to drive not only past us, but three quarters of an hour to take the dog to the pound. When they surrendered, they said that this dog barked constantly although it had never been a problem before and hasn’t been one since.

Could you please create a blacklist of unsuitable adopters so that creeps like this will never be able to get a pet from a rescue again?

Adoption blacklists certainly exist in certain rescue circles and other industries have used them to screen out potentially unsuitable people - rental accommodation being one that has come under scrutiny recently.

Although no agents will say it openly, hundreds of thousands of Australians have been dumped on computer blacklists which are used by landlords and agents. People with physical disabilities often end up on the databases. So do women and teenagers escaping domestic violence. Community workers and social service groups report it is also common for people to be black listed because of their ethnic origin.

Being named on a tenancy database is a serious matter. It makes it impossible for families and individuals to find rental accommodation.

How does this happen? It’s simple – there are virtually no restrictions on the compilation of these databases. Run by private companies, they operate without specific laws governing their conduct.

So therein lies the problem; how does anyone actually become judge-judicator-and essentially executioner of such a list?

Well essentially, they don’t. Given the nature of a ‘black ban’ list no one can put their name and credibility behind them without then spending the rest of their lives at the small claims court. So these lists form and develop in secret and become a hub for prejudice and misunderstanding.

Yucky. No thanks.

So what can we do?

Rather than try and get a list of people to blackball, is it possible to examine why these people felt they couldn’t come back to rescue with their problems?

Sure, they could be ‘creeps’. There will always be jerks in the world, that’s a given. But they’re not majority of people and if they are in fact jerks, they’ll not be pinned down by a ‘headhunting’ style list. They’ll simply apply in another name or lie. Call it the ‘because they’re jerks rule’.

But wouldn’t that level of jerkiness also lend itself to ridding oneself of the pet in the easiest fashion? Opening the front door and letting it loose comes to mind. Or tying it to your door knob. Surely handing the pet over to you would have been easier than driving 45mins out of their way?

Nope, there’s something bigger at play here…

They’re avoiding you.

Why do these people not feel like they could come forward with their problems?

Think about it - these adopters show up and look fine. You run your internal ‘d*ckhead’ radar over them - still fine? You do some background checks - still fine. You homecheck - still fine. You speak to them a few times organising the adoption - still fine. But two months later - not fine?

But worse - not fine and not happy to come back and tell you they’re not fine!

Do you do everything in your power to promote returns?

But! I can hear you thinking; why on earth would we promote returns?

For the same reason we make it easy for people to surrender; because it’s part of what we offer. And the alternative is often much, much worse for the pet.

Did we follow up often enough to check the pet was settling in? Were there questions that could have been asked that would have revealed that the pet/owner bond wasn’t developing? Was there anything extra in the way of services these new owners could have been directed to, to help the bond form? (training etc?). And was there at least a couple of different (easy) ways for people to reach us should they need to?

In short, did we show these people how much we’d love them to return their pet?

Do you really, really, truly love returns?

Do you truly embrace returns or do you snipe under your breath when these ‘irresponsible’ and ‘irrational’ owners show up trying to give you a pet back?

Often we don’t see the value in returns. But we should be saying; PLEASE RETURN if this pet isn’t working out. We would LOVE you to come back if you’re not happy. Please consider us a RESOURCE should you be having any problems at all. And please come back ANYTIME in the future of this pets’ life - even if it’s just to surrender - and we’ll be GLAD to see you.

Returns are an opportunity. They’re a chance for us to seriously examine why this pet didn’t stick and whether there is another pet that would suit these people better - after all, these pet owners now know exactly what they don’t want - and for people who up until quite recently had no idea, that’s very valuable information indeed.

Returns support good people who’ve made an error of judgment.

Lists of unsuitable people? That’s just wasting energy trying to punish jerks.

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5 Responses to “Should there be an “adopter blacklist”?”

  1. Great article, Shel. It behooves us all to see the “value” in returns than to try so hard to mitigate them and get stuck in obsessing about the jerks. Returns will probably always happen; it’s human nature and human right. What I see in shelter staff is a complete disconnect and lack of compassion for the people in the adoption equation. Nothing they say and no issue is valid enough for the staff; it’s like they don’t listen to anything being said. Let’s say it’s just a matter of a wrong energy match and the adopters cannot handle the dog … so what? It’s all about trying to make good matches, and we should welcome and honor returns and use that wealth of information we gather to do a better job next time for the animal and the human.

  2. I think that some people fear that returns will put a black mark on the dog’s permanent record. Of course it makes no sense to take the dog to a high-kill pound. However, some people may come to believe that the dog is better off getting a fresh start.

    I met a man in SF who had a beautiful pit bull. He said that the way he got this dog was from a kid who handed him off at 2am. If the pound kills all or most pit bulls, it is not necessarily irrational or cruel to hand off your dog to someone who seems like a nice person - in this case, the kid’s gamble paid off.

    Rescues cannot control people who are just jerks. The part they can control is their own communication, both direct and indirect, about how they can help a person who is having a problem.

  3. Lynn Orbison says:

    I volunteer for a rescue organization that has been blacklisted by our municipal pound! Who’s the jerk?! (Tee hee hee…it’s okay, you can call me a jerk, sometimes I am.)

    But that’s the point…sometimes ALL of us can fall into that space.

    I think every creature is here to teach. I think I need to butt out and let the connections (or lack thereof) happen because THAT is how the animals teach! Some lessons are hard. If I can love an animal enough to welcome it back, then I can love the person who is willing to bring it back to me.

    If they don’t bring it back, maybe the animal needed to go teach somebody else a lesson? Which article was it that said the #1 source for finding a pet was family or friend? There are a LOT of animals finding homes that way…why can’t we say thank you and bless the process?

    Also, I think a lot of “average joe” people don’t really understand the difference between No-Kill and Animal Control or a typical Humane Society that kills for space. (They call themselves shelters, right?!)

    So part of our job is education. TALK to adopters, before, during and after. If we’re judgemental or busy or short tempered, and we only see them once, just think what impression they’ve gone home with.

    Education is good, but support is better. Rather than bossing them, lets try to help them so that more matches can be successful and fewer animals will need to come back!

  4. More and more, I’m adjusting my thinking to compare the ways we think of human-animal relationships vs. human-human relationships. Human-human relationships are not always permanent. Friendships and romantic relationships - even wonderful, life-enhancing ones - sometimes end.

    Methinks we’re stumbling onto another, very buried, justification for killing: “A pet is a lifetime responsibility,” sounds really solid on the surface, but the corollary to that statement is, “Irresponsible people who don’t take lifetime care of their pets are the reason ‘we have to kill’.” And, then, “This killing is the fault of these irresponsible people.” And, then, “not keeping a lifetime relationship going with your pet is bad because it’s deadly.”

    Again - blame for the killing is deflected from the people actually doing the killing.

    Our job in sheltering and rescue is to support animals and people through the ups and downs - without resorting to killing. Our job is education, support, taking back the returns, helping avoid returns — all of it, in my opinion!

  5. shel says:

    Great comments - thanks so much guys!

    > More and more, I’m adjusting my thinking to
    > compare the ways we think of human-animal
    > relationships vs. human-human relationships.

    Is just *such* a great way to look at it. Adoptions don’t work out sometimes, no matter how genuine intentions. And that’s where it’s our job to step up and help the adopter to learn from the experience… just like a relationship breakup.

    Having a policy of making returning owner feel like crap along with taking back the pet, just puts walls between us and the public, does nothing to keep their next pet in its home and certainly doesn’t encourage them to interact with us again in the future.

    Everyone loses.

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