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Terms of Endearment: 12 Ways to Become a Responsible Breed-Placement Partner

1. Go where you're needed.

1. Go where you're needed.

Maybe the shelters in your area already have a high adoption rate for purebreds, or perhaps they have a policy of not releasing animals to external groups. That doesn't mean you can't help in other ways. "You might have to establish yourself first as a volunteer," says Pat Tetrault, who operates a breed-placement group for Siberian huskies in upstate New York. Tetrault suggests that interested individuals go to their shelters and offer to take photos of animals for promotions to the community. They can also offer to walk, groom, or train dogs, and to help pay for spaying and neutering or routine medical treatments.

2. Educate yourself.

Shelter policies vary from region to region, state to state, even community to community. They are usually a long time in the making, and are most often based on community demographics, resource limitations, and animal intake statistics. If a shelter tells you it has a policy against releasing animals to groups, don't take offense; there may be a very good reason for it. Similarly, if a shelter director says that space and funding restrictions and a fear of disease outbreaks make euthanasia the only option for animals with kennel cough or URI, you have to respect that policy. Unlike groups that can pick and choose the animals they decide to take in, open-admission shelters must provide refuge for all animals who come through their doors; many of these animals are of unknown origin and may have illnesses that aren't immediately apparent. Additionally, maybe the design of the facility is outdated and conducive to the spreading of infection, or maybe staffing and funding limitations prevent the shelter from administering medical treatments for such conditions. In these cases, your services may be put to best use if you become the shelter's advocate, lobbying for more funding for a better kennel system or more staff members. But you never know until you ask, and you should always operate under the premise that all parties want to help as many animals as possible.

3. Assume nothing.

When you enter a shelter, you are in someone else's "house." It is not only common courtesy to treat the shelter and its employees with respect; it behooves you to do so. Very few people respond well to unconstructive criticism or ridicule. How you approach shelter employees and directors sets the stage for how productive your relationship will be. The failure to understand this concept is often the biggest mistake an external adoption group can make. Shelters are already safe havens for animals; the dogs, cats, and other creatures in the care of a shelter have already been "rescued"—from uncaring owners, from the streets, or from just plain ignorance. Of all the things you need to know about shelters, this concept is by far the most important.

4. If at first you don't succeed, change your approach.

If the shelters you approach are less than amenable to your offers to assist, try to understand why. And by all means, if you want to do right by both the shelter and its animals, don't badmouth its operations. Perhaps the shelter wants to retain autonomy over its adoption processes, but that doesn't mean you can't help in other ways. In an age when so many people still obtain their pets from backyard breeders and pet stores fed by puppy mills, shelters need all the help they can get in promoting their wonderful but often misrepresented animals to the public. If a shelter does not receive your offers for help kindly, consider that other groups may have set a bad precedent. The shelter may just be trying to protect its animals from potential animal hoarders, buyers of animals for research purposes, or breeders who disguise themselves as "rescues." Be persistent but never pushy; continue to send the shelter information about who you are and what you do. Put together packets with information about the temperament, health issues, and special needs of your breed of choice; include in the packet your contact information and details on your experience with animals.

5. Remember that a dog is a dog is a dog.

Whether it's the romping rottweiler or the gentlemanly Scottish terrier who steals your heart, chances are you hold out a good deal of affection for dogs of all flavors. Make that clear when you are trying to develop a relationship with a shelter. There's nothing more aggravating to shelter employees than canine social stratification. Shelters see thousands of beautiful, happy, smart, loving dogs come through their doors year after year, and, on average, 70 to 75 percent of them are mixed breeds. It's okay if you want to help with the breeds you know and love, because in the end this can free up time for employees and make more space for other animals. But never promote your own breed at the expense of all the other dogs out there who just happen to have a little bit of the best of everything in their genetic makeup.

6. Understand the need for euthanasia.

No shelter wants to euthanize animals. The fact is, there are not enough homes for the millions of animals left homeless each year. Each person can play a part in changing the statistics. But if you build a Web site or create promotional materials that portray your group as the savior of animals from "death row," you are actually hurting more animals than you are saving. For the last hundred years, shelters have worked steadily to improve conditions for animals and to create innovative outreach and adoption programs. If you one day jump in the middle of all that progress and scream to an unknowing public that animals at the local shelter are all under a "death sentence," you are not only painting a highly inaccurate picture but also deterring many potential adopters away from the best resource for pets. Euthanasia is still a fact of life in the animal protection world, and the best way you can help change that is by promoting homeless shelter animals, educating adopters about the realities of pet care, and discouraging purchases of pets from stores and irresponsible breeders.

7. Formalize and standardize.

If you're really interested in helping as many animals as possible, you need to establish your legitimacy and show shelters that you're serious about what you're doing. Develop a code of ethics such as that of the Michigan Purebred Dog Rescue Alliance, Inc.; the document outlines standards for foster care, adoption procedures, and general operations. (See the sampe Code of Ethics for Fostering Groups from the July-August 1999 issue of Animal Sheltering.) Create bylaws and grievance procedures, and require group members to embrace them. Include in these documents information about such issues as remuneration for "rescue" work, maximum number of breeds a placement organization may represent, the volunteer nature of the work, the required training of volunteers, the maintenance of waiting lists, and the educational and referral services provided by group members. Fostering guidelines should detail the required care of animals in foster homes, outlining sanitation protocols, routine veterinary care procedures, temperament evaluations, and humane, professional euthanasia of animals deemed unadoptable. Address standard adoption procedures such as interview methods, sterilization requirements, acquisition of veterinary and landlord referrals, the nature of the adoption contract, and the handling of dogs who are returned.

8. Emphasize quality over quantity.

If you are fostering shelter animals and then rehoming them yourself, it's your responsibility to ensure those animals end up with a loving family. Just as most shelters do, you should focus mainly on the quality of the homes you're sending animals into—not the number of animals you place. Use a written adoption application and contract, and interview all prospective adopters. Check references, including those from landlords, veterinarians, and groomers. Before the adoption is approved, you should ideally conduct a home visit. Help animals remain in lifelong homes by providing follow-up guidance and assistance to new adopters as questions arise. Require that animals be returned to you if an adopter must give up the pet for any reason. When the adoption process is completed, forward copies of the paperwork to the shelter you're working with. Also, make sure you comply with all state and local laws regarding licensing and vaccination.

9. Help stop the breeding cycle.

Just as a shelter must ensure that no animal leaving its facility will further contribute to the problem of pet homelessness by reproducing, breed-placement groups are charged with the same mission. If an unsterilized animal comes into your possession, you need to make sure that animal is spayed or neutered before placing her in a new home.

10. Get a referral, make a referral.

Some shelter employees would rather place all animals directly from their facilities—maybe because they have no trouble finding homes for purebreds, or because they prefer to retain control over the adoption process. And many breed-placement groups do not have the time, space, or appropriate setups to take in released animals. For these reasons, a referral system is often the ideal solution; you can keep a waiting list of potential adopters, referring those adopters to shelters that may be housing the breed being sought. Shelters likewise can refer adopters to you when specific breeds are not available.

11. Know your limits.

In this field, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Once you've helped one animal, there are three more waiting at your door. Shelters are all too familiar with this phenomenon. When Kenton County, Kentucky, became strangely overrun with Afghans several years ago, an Afghan adoption group took in as many dogs as it could. But eventually the animals' neediness, grooming requirements, and high-strung mannerisms made them harder and harder to place. The group told Kenton County Animal Shelter Director Aline Summe they could no longer take in any more. "I know it was real hard for them to have to do that," says Summe, "but they realized they couldn't handle it." By setting limits on how many animals you can realistically help at one time, you can avoid becoming too overwhelmed—and you can provide better care to those animals you are able to help.

12. Don't forget—timing is everything.

For animal shelters, time is always of the essence. Too many shelters have had bad experiences with breed-placement groups that say one thing and do another; the groups often hope to buy more time for an animal but really have no means of following through on their promises to pick him up. This will not only be of no help to the animal in question but will also likely destroy a potential relationship with a shelter. Also, if you're planning to send someone from your group out to possibly pick up a dog, be sure to alert the shelter that you'd like to do so, says Jennifer Davis-Yates, volunteer coordinator for Wayside Waifs Humane Society in Kansas City, Missouri. "If for some reason we've had a dog here for 10 weeks, say, and let's say the local Shepherd gal doesn't call me [to tell me she] wants to send somebody out the next day [to pick up the animal],"says Davis-Yates. "What if we need that cage and that animal is euthanized the night before [the group arrives to take him]? I would hate for something like that to happen. So I have them call me and let me know."


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