A Shelter Checklist: Working with Breed-Placement Groups
So you've decided you want to work with a breed-placement group. Or maybe you just want to improve your existing relationships with the groups in your area. What can you do to ensure you're acting in the best interests of your shelter and its animals? Here's a checklist to help get you started.
Do we have matching missions?
Do the groups in question seem to understand your goal to help all the animals in the community? How do they promote their services? If a breed-adoption group is tooting its own horn at your expense—saying it "rescues" animals from sheltering facilities—maybe it's time for some educational meetings to help explain who you are and what you do.
Are our partnerships clearly defined?
A common perception among shelters is that if they open their doors to one breed-placement group, they will be opening a floodgate to harassment and criticism from those groups they'd rather not work with. But the fact is, every group is different, and you don't have to have the same relationship with each one of them. Do only what your time and comfort levels allow. Remember that releasing animals is only one of many avenues; breed-placement groups can also help you by simply referring adopters to your facility. And remember that the decision to work or not to work with a breed-placement group is entirely yours to make.
Do we have a system for deciding who should stay and who should go?
To make the process as smooth as possible, determine in advance which situations will call for placing an animal with a breed-placement group. Has the animal been showing signs of stress in the shelter environment? Does the animal have a minor but highly treatable medical problem? Would the dog make a great pet but, for whatever reason, hasn't successfully shown his true colors to visitors? Setting parameters in the beginning will help you create a system that everyone can understand and abide by.
Do we have a fee structure in place?
How much shelters choose to charge breed-placement groups for released animals is more than just a matter of arithmetic. Sure, the fee will help pay for the cost the shelter has incurred in caring for the animal. But it can also act as a deterrent to potential animal hoarders, who most likely would not be able to foot the fees over and over again. For these reasons, some shelters charge a higher fee initially, and then lower that fee once a group has proven itself trustworthy. Other shelters charge only the cost of a spay/neuter surgery, a microchip, or vaccinations; some may also factor in the costs of health evaluations and behavior assessments. Whatever you do, just make sure you're comfortable with it; reputable groups understand a shelter's constant need for resources and funds to pay for basic operations.
How well do we screen the screener?
The best relationships derive from a mutual understanding of philosophies and practices. Through careful screening of a breed-placement group's adoption guidelines and mission statements, you can ensure the groups you're working with are just as concerned about the appropriate placement of animals as you are. Those groups that place aggressive dogs, for instance, should not be welcomed as breed-placement partners. And those that set loose adoption guidelines—or guidelines so strict that dogs rarely get placed—will also create problems for your shelter.
Are released animals going into safe environments?
In some states, such as Colorado and Missouri, breed-placement groups are subject to regulation and inspection. In others, such as Washington and Michigan, breed-placement partners have formed large alliances and developed codes of ethics or policy handbooks. (See the Michigan Purebred Dog Rescue Alliance code of ethics from the July-August 1999 issue of Animal Sheltering.) Where applicable, adoption groups that approach your shelter should already be tuned in to these resources. If you are going to release animals to a breed-placement group, someone at your shelter should conduct periodic home visits to help you ensure you're not working with an animal hoarder or with someone who cannot guarantee a humane environment.
Will working with a breed-placement group put my shelter at risk of potential liability?
Some shelters require breed rescues to sign forms releasing the shelter from all liability in cases of dog bites or other injuries caused by or inflicted upon released animals. Other shelters retain the ownership of released animals, requiring final adoptions to be processed back at the shelter. For specific help on this issue, you should ask for assistance from your shelter's lawyer.
Do I have an effective method for keeping track of breed-placement group activities?
You can monitor breed-placement groups more easily by maintaining files on each one you work with. These files should include the names of the groups, their contact information, and the nature of your relationships (release, referral, or both) with them. Does the group accept mixed breeds? How much advance notification does the group require for picking up released animals? Answers to these questions should be noted. Create a form for recording interactions with each placement group and the outcomes of those interactions; keep the form in the file. Disapproved placement groups should be clearly labeled as such.
Do I know our animals have ended up in good homes?
When you allow a breed-placement group to bring home an animal, it is best to have a contract that transfers ownership of that animal to the group. But your shelter should still require notification as to when and where the animal is placed. Ask breed-placement groups to forward copies of adoption paperwork so contact information and other details about new adopters can be duly recorded. This adds an element of accountability to the process and gives your shelter the opportunity to follow up if necessary. By keeping track of the number of animals you've released to a given group, you can also keep an eye on the group's activities and make sure you haven't got a hoarder on your hands.
Will animals released to breed-placement groups go back into the community sterilized?
As an organization charged with stopping the cycle of breeding and pet homelessness, your shelter should always ensure that every animal leaving your facility is sterilized prior to placement with adopters or breed-placement groups. (For more information on shelter spay/neuter programs, see the feature article, Ready, Set, Spay!:Making Sure Adopted Animals Won't Reproduce, from the September-October 2000 issue of Animal Sheltering.) Never release American Kennel Club (AKC) records to breed-placement groups; instead, send a photocopy to the AKC to show breeders that many of their animals end up homeless, and then tear the originals in half and save them for your files.
Do I know how to spot the warning signs of a group that may not have my shelter's best interests at heart?
In trying to help as many animals as possible, it's easy for breed-placement groups to overextend themselves. Be wary of groups that start to expand—those that start off with two or three animals one year and have 20 cats and 14 dogs the next. Red flags should also go up when groups try to find exceptions to your spay/neuter policies; these groups may be more interested in breeding than in helping animals. Lastly, if a group is less than forthright about its activities, or if it becomes more vague as to the status of the animals in its care, that's a good sign there's something amiss in the way it's operating.