Saturday, January 28, 2006
Is that too much to ask?In all the time I have worked here, I have yet to get my hands fully around the concept of returns. "Returns" are animals that we have adopted out thinking that their new home would be their forever home, but come back one hour, one day, one week, on month, one year or 10 years later. I don't think animal shelters or rescues should strive for a 0% return rate. In order to truly eliminate any possibility of having the animal brought back, you would most likely miss out on some really good adoptions. Some clients might be excellent pet owners, but be unable to meet one criteria or fail to jump through one hoop. These clients would walk away empty handed, but then go somewhere else where the requirements weren't so strict and get their animal any way.
despite numerous efforts to reduce the number of returns, it has only dropped slightly in the last few years. The average return rate is about 11%. This means that out of every 100 animals adopted, about 11 will be returned at some point. Sounds bad doesn't it?
Well...on one hand, any adoption that ends in the animal coming back to an animal shelter isn't good. On the other hand, we would prefer they come back to us and get counted as a return then end up in another animal shelter's drop box to be counted as a stray and perhaps not make it to it's true forever home.
Also, if the pet's living situation is less than ideal (ie no attention, no exercise, being abused or neglected) wouldn't it be better to get the animal back then not to?
We tell clients that if they can't keep the animal for any reason they need (not "can"), to bring the animal back to us. Does this give the clients an out? An excuse to not keep the pet? Or does it provide a safe place to bring the cat or dog if they really need it? I don't know, but I hope the latter.
Many rescue groups pride themselves on a having no returns. Their long applications, strict requirements about the kind of house, number of children, work schedule, long question and answer sessions, home checks and other hoops that have to be jumped through are all there to ensure this is a forever home. They can guarantee the animal is in a good place almost all of the time after all that, but how many animals can be saved doing it that way? Can you do that in a public or non profit walk in animal shelter for 2000 animals a year? I am hesitant, but maybe I am wrong and it is possible and I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.
I've also thought about having the clients read more detailed information about returns. About how often it happens. About the reasons people give for returns. About why these issues should be considered now rather than later. About how they WILL most likely move, or have kids, or get a new job, or do remodeling on their house, or have their mom come to live with them. These things happen. It is called "life". The new pet is now a part of this life.
This discussion is all very true and good and although it is a reasonable approach to take when thinking about returns, it all gets thrown out the window when a dog that was adopted 3 years ago to the "perfect home" after being in the shelter a year, gets returned because the client is moving. This just kills you. It takes your heart and rips it in half. It makes you hate the people that adopted him. It makes you hate your self for approving the adoption 3 years ago. It makes you cry alone in your car on your the way home.
I still don't have all the answers and it isn't for lack of trying. If anyone knows the answer, please tell me. I'll try anything. I just want the animals to have forever homes. Is that too much to ask?