Monday, May 31, 2010

Pit bull no match for would-be adopter

After her 15-year-old German shepherd died, Donna Horn of Duluth searched the Twin Ports for another dog to adopt.
Eight days ago, Horn chose what she thought was the perfect pet.
“She wanted to rescue one,” said Horn’s daughter, Jeannie Ball. At Superior’s Animal Rescue Federation she found 4-month-old Lexi, a white American Staffordshire terrier — also known as a pit bull. Lexi sat in her cage calmly winking at Horn.
Horn and her daughter took the dog for a walk, and Horn filled out an application. The petite woman in her 70s indicated that relatives would help exercise the dog. She has a fenced-in backyard and a home to share. Puppy classes were mentioned. Ball called her mother’s home ideal.
“It’s what anyone would want for any dog,” she said.
But the adoption was denied. They were offered other dogs, but not Lexi.
Horn “just wasn’t the right fit for the dog,” said Sheila Love, manager at Superior’s ARF. American Staffordshire Terriers have specific needs, she said, and they need someone physically capable of meeting them.
Animal shelter managers defend their right to deny animal adoptions when the pet doesn’t fit the prospective owner.
“We take a lot into consideration” before placing a pet in a home, said Mike Licari, director of the Friends of Animals Humane Society in Cloquet.
The Cloquet society has an intensive pre-adoption process similar to ARF’s, including a three-page application. Licari said the society denies adoptions several times a month. There is also a wait of at least a day before an adoption is approved.
“The goal for us here at our shelter is to find a good match,” Licari said, which sometimes means making tough decisions.
Ball said they were told that Horn was too old to adopt the pit bull, but Love disputed that.
“It had nothing to do with her age,” the shelter manager said. “Even the youngest, most energetic person who jogs every day — if it is not in the best interest of the animal, we’re not going to place them.”
The pit bull pup is expected to grow into a 60-pound dog with a high energy level and a need for lots of interaction, Love said.
“They have to have a job, they have to be stimulated,” she said. A fenced yard isn’t enough, she said.
Experience has shown Love that expecting family members to help doesn’t work out; they stop helping when the newness wears off. Lack of exercise can lead to bad habits, bad behaviors and a return trip to the shelter.
“We reserve the right to refuse adoption to anyone,” Love said. “All decisions are based on the welfare of the animal.”
The result for Horn was sharp disappointment, her daughter said. “My mom chose her; the dog chose her,” Ball said.
Another applicant interested in adopting the puppy also was turned down, Love said. The woman had young children and worked nights, also not an ideal situation for Lexi.
A trip to the shelter last week revealed that the puppy had been adopted, two days after Horn’s application was denied.
“I wish we had that problem with all our animals — three good homes,” ARF board member Jay Johnson said.
ARF still has four pit bulls among the 48 cats and 12 dogs awaiting adoption at the shelter. All four are young, strong, high-energy dogs capable of taking their owners for a walk instead of the other way around, Johnson said.
He credits the shelter’s screening process for the low animal return rate at ARF.
Two other area shelters take a different approach.
At Animal Allies of Duluth and the Humane Society of Douglas County, the adoption process focuses on what people expect from their new pet. All dogs and cats are profiled by personality when they come to the shelter, said Animal Allies director Linda Baumgarth.
Potential adopters fill out a Meet Your Match survey. It includes questions on whether the adopter wants a dog that is laid-back or playful, if they are willing to train the animal, and how many hours a day the dog or cat will be home alone. Using the answers, shelter staff can direct people to animals that would be a good fit for their lifestyle.
“We don’t screen; we work to find a match,” Baumgarth said. “It’s more about education.”
Adoptions are seldom denied, she said, unless the adopter is planning to break a city ordinance — such as keeping the dog outdoors all the time within city limits, which is prohibited.
“We don’t want to knowingly place an animal into a home where it won’t succeed,” she said.
But education and follow-up calls can help adopters ease into pet ownership, even if it didn’t appear to be an ideal match.
“People are coming and trying to do the right thing,” Baumgarth said. “It’s important for us to help them.”
At the Humane Society of Douglas County, an older woman recently adopted a high-energy German shepherd. Staff at the shelter said they helped her find a way to control the dog for walks through the use of a “gentle leader,” a device that makes pulling uncomfortable for the dog. Adoptions are rarely denied, according to shelter staff.
Baumgarth said five years ago the Duluth shelter used an intensive screening process similar to ARF’s. With adoptions at an all-time low, they looked for a way to improve the number. The shelter adopted the Meet Your Match program in 2008. Although the process is not perfect, Baumgarth said, it helps potential pet owners narrow their focus and get to know the animals better without putting them on the defensive.
Education is one of the keys to a successful adoption, according to shelter staff throughout the area. If you have a particular breed in mind, do some research to make sure it will be a good fit for your life, many said. They also suggested that potential adopters know the adoption guidelines and process at a shelter before stopping by. Not every pet is the perfect fit, and not every application process is the same, they said.

Duluth News Tribune

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