Pet Adoption Tip #1: Don’t ask the Customer Service Desk question
“What is your return policy?”
While this piece of information is important and in fact the answer can help you distinguish good rescues from bad rescues, asking a question like this needs to be handled far more delicately. When you ask in this way, it gives rescue workers the impression that you are already in a temporary or disposable mindset, as though you are already concerned that the shoes you’re buying aren’t going to fit once you wear them for a little while. When something starts to go wrong with a recently adopted pet, your first question should always be, “how can I make this work?” There can be no expectations of perfection, all adoptions come with a learning and growth period that can be short-lived right up to a lengthy period of major stress and worry. When someone is entrusting you with what is to be a new family member, they are expecting that you are already committed to trying to make it work, just as you would commit to any other long-term personal relationship in your life. If you have done your work before choosing a pet to adopt (this will be a future blog topic,) there should be a good chance that your new pet is not completely incompatible and that any problems that crop up are resolvable. This brings up an interesting point, though, that is worth taking note of whether you are the adopter or rescuer:
Some adoptions are going to fail no matter what you do.
This statement is not permission or justification for giving up because your new cat has a bladder infection or your new dog is eating your sofa. There are, however, legitimate situations in which you may be forced to part ways with your beloved new pet; I am talking about totally unforeseeable circumstances here, not “we decided to move and haven’t put the time into finding a place where Samson is allowed.” In these situations, you’ll need to know what to do with your adopted pet.
Rescuers, it is your job to stress to adopters that they need to contact you if some horrible circumstance should necessitate the return of their pet. Adopters, please be sure to use wording that does not lead to the panicky assumption by the rescuers that you’re setting the adoption up for failure before it’s even begun. If you are truly committed to an adoption, the first question you ask should not be “how can I return this pet?” If that’s weighing on your mind, take a step back and make sure you’re ready to give 110% (or 310% or whatever it takes!) to this new pet. And if what you’re worried about is getting your money back from a likely non-profit organization that probably paid far more in vetting than your adoption fee could dare touch, then you really aren’t ready. That money that you’re about to drop is a like a pledge; an investment in a shared future.
Questions you can ask instead might be: what sort of support do you give your adopters and what do you expect of them? Can I contact you if I need help with anything? Can you tell me more about the adoption contract? (the rescue should have included a clause addressing returns.)
Pets are not shoes. They are living creatures that experience stress and with that can come illness, trauma and confusion. Never move an animal from a situation in which it is comfortable unless you are going to give it everything you have. That means asking yourself where you intend to be in the next x years (where x = potential lifespan of the pet you wish to bring home), how you plan on making arrangements if you have to move, what will happen if behavior problems pop up (which may involve expensive behavior and training consultations), how you will budget for veterinary care and emergencies, etc. You may be giving up a small part of a greater whole, but your animal is giving you its whole life.