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2012-01-04 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

The New Year is a time to reflect. We continue to learn from our mistakes and successes. No matter how long you do animal rescue work, there are still revelations or refinements, so please ponder a “rescue revelation” about adoptions gathered from last year’s teachable moments:

1) There should be a healthy dose of superstition and suspicion when approaching each adoption. I try not to be too happy in advance; otherwise the “Joanne Jinx” factor will rear its ugly head. Never get too excited about a pending adoption. No pet placement is “happily ever after” or “for keeps” until some time passes with the new dog or cat within the home to cement the bond; and even then, be prepared for an unexpected return. We screen; we speak to references; we do home checks; we eyeball the height of the fence; we interview applicants’ veterinarians about past pets; we even disclose all the shelter pet’s dealbreaker traits, but there are still no guarantees that the placement will stick; nor are there protections against a surprise health crisis for either the pet or the owner. People and pets, like life, can be unpredictable. Revelation #1 has corollaries:

1a) Kenneled dogs or caged cats may not reveal certain behavior problems until they are loose in a home setting. Often these issues are easily fixable if the new owner is patient and persistent. That’s why foster homes and training are so crucial. The rescue group knows more about how the pet will interact in a home before attempting permanent placement when a volunteer has taken the pet home for sleepovers. Proper training can replace unacceptable habits with desired behaviors, thus reshaping hooligans into well-mannered companions. Some pets are easy fits; others need more experienced owners.

1b) Family circumstances also change with little warning. When they do, the same pets become innocent victims once more. Adoptions can boomerang but it seems this occurs more from town shelters than from private rescue groups because of sheer numbers and the scrutiny level of screening. Time and time again we are heartbroken when we see long timers, finally adopted, returned to the town shelters, often through no fault of their own. Unemployment, moves, divorces, or allergies toss these pets aside yet again. Jules & Snowball spent almost a year at Babylon Shelter. Photos of the cats together in their happy new home appeared on the shelter’s Facebook page but recently family circumstances forced their return. The duo is now coping with rejection in the shelter office. Private rescues have the luxury of being “pickier” about home selection; however, nothing is carved in stone.

1c) Never let your guard down about verifying whether someone has proper pet potential. Don’t be so mesmerized by wealth, profession, or claims of owning cherished pets years ago that you forego checking personal references or dismiss the fact that the person hasn’t owned a pet in years, allowing for no recent vet reference, even if the potential adopter seems enthusiastic or a veteran of the breed. Dogs and cats are not bedazzled by fancy homes and huge incomes; neither should rescue folks be blinded by wealth.

1d) Owners differ in the expectations they have for a rescue dog or cat. Some people demand too much, too soon. Shelter pets have been discarded; some have been bounced around quite a bit. Others lack socialization or have never lived inside a house before. These poor animals don’t know if they are coming or going. It may take time for adopted pets to relax and adjust to a new environment, routine and the resident pets. Six months is not an unreasonable amount of settling-in time. Some adopters want instant pet perfection and will return a pet for minor transgressions; others will do everything in their power to make the relationship work. I am not going into detail, but my breed rescue endured a double whammy just before Christmas Eve when a new owner had an emotional meltdown. One dog was reclaimed at midnight and the other returned the next morning.

1e) Don’t place a rescue dog until the secure fence is in place. A promise of a fenced-in yard or patched gaps is not good enough. Even when the yard is a fortress, insist that the dog not be left unattended in the yard even briefly until the owners are sure the new dog is not a getaway artist. (Insist that an adopted cat be an indoor cat.) Many shelter dogs have already escaped from previous homes; what makes anyone think they will not become fugitives again? Also a fenced yard makes the refresher course in housebreaking so much easier.

1f) There is a tremendous, rewarding feeling when lifting a homeless pet out of harm’s way and finding the proper person or family to embrace that animal forever. Each time the adoption gods smile upon a particular dog or cat, and the perfect “til death do we part” pairing is found, you feel like singing Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof; but dare not belt out any specific names, as not to jinx their joy. Let’s wish for many successful pet adoptions in 2012!

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. West Babylon: Here is a photo of the sister cats, Jules & Snowball, cuddling together in the shelter office. It would be wonderful if they could be adopted together, permanently this time. “Frisco” #94624 is a sweet yellow Lab found as a stray in neglected condition. His ears are being treated at the shelter. He deserves MUCH better.

Males: Stray Shepherd mix in Cage 4 with the mysterious surgically shaved rectangle on his back; black & white Lhasa mix; “Marty” brindle Chihuahua mix; “Panda” the handsome Pit; older gray Terrier stray.

Females: “Katie” the tabby cat locked in a closet; “Hope”- Shepherd mix; “Mae” the miracle Pit.

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