So, I had a thought. It may be completely wacky, but if you have time to hear me out, I would love your input. I’ve been thinking about the word adoptable, which is stuck in our animal welfare vernacular. What it means changes based on so many factors, from individual perspectives to available resources. Recently I have been thinking that maybe the word itself puts the wrong glasses in front of our eyes.
Many of the dogs and cats I have observed in animal welfare organizations who could be potentially labeled as “unadoptable” are often dogs and cats who may just be “un-shelterable” (or shelter-challenged). The over-aroused, pushy, mouthy 9-month-old big dog… The fearful cat or dog… The easily over-stimulated kitty… The dog-reactive dog… These dogs and cats are often faced with long shelter stays, and depending upon the organization, may not be candidates for adoption. However, in all of these cases, the animal is likely to thrive in a supportive home environment—they are very home-able.
Sometimes it’s a marketing game
Take that pushy 9-month-old. He can quickly become the dog in the shelter who is restricted—only experienced volunteers are allowed to interact with him, and only specific adopters are allowed to adopt him. If we send this same dog off with a foster who is empowered to find an adopter for the dog (utilizing a program like the one we call Adoption Ambassadors), he is moved into a fully enriched environment and can be marketed appropriately to any adopter looking for a high-energy, mentally engaged pup to share a life with. Home-able.
Now, take that fearful cat who has been socialized prior to relinquishment and hides constantly. She may simply need to be marketed as a cat who needs extra love and patience. Again, here is a kitty who will likely warm to a home environment after a time of adjustment. In the shelter, she is impacted with change and unpredictability. In the home, she can more quickly learn patterns and adjust. Home-able.
But how can we get her home?
Teddy was a real jerk
I have blogged about a dog named Teddy (AKA Eddie), who was adopted from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley. Teddy is a good example of a potentially unadoptable dog who is home-able. Teddy was highly dog-reactive and could be a bit snarly around some people when overhandled. The organization shifted their message from that of negative to transparent—Teddy may be a jerk, but you will love him. And love him, someone did! Teddy was home-able—and now he is home.
By shifting our vocabulary from “adoptable” to “home-able,” we may open up options for the dogs and cats who tend to deteriorate in the shelter, dogs and cats who may not get a chance to go home, and dogs and cats we try to fix before they go home. What dogs or cats truly need behavior support before they can humanely (and/or safely) live in a home, and who simply needs to go home to live safely and humanely?
Does the concept of home-able shift the way in which you see?
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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