Laurie Cantillo: Adopting a Pet Shouldn't Be So Hard

Columnist Laurie Cantillo just wants to adopt a dog, but she's found herself wrapped up in red tape.

You'd think pet adoption would be as simple as driving to a shelter, picking out a cuddly creature, filling out a form, paying an adoption fee, and bringing the happy bundle home. But now that I've decided to adopt a "rescue pet" I am beginning to understand why there are so many cats and dogs awaiting loving homes in our state.

Our family recently lost our beloved terrier to a coyote attack. I miss the patter of paws around the house and I no longer have someone to warm my lap at night. I miss having a canine companion in the car to run errands with me, and I now have to pick up stray morsels on the floor.

Knowing that his spirit would never be replaced, I decided to adopt a rescue as both a tribute to my little buddy and a way to put salve on my grief.

As difficult as that decision was, it was a piece of cake compared to the maze of adopting an abandoned pet. I successfully adopted a little girl from the former Soviet Union 15 years ago, and I'm honestly hard-pressed to say which process is more difficult.

Most rescues in the area are not at a central shelter, they're living in "foster homes", and you find them online. At www.petfinder.com you can search for pets by breed, size, age, and the distance. There are so many pleading pets it's overwhelming. After the weeks I've spent searching for a small, younger dog that will get along with kids and a good-natured cat, it seems to me that unwanted cats outnumber dogs by at least 4:1. Unwanted dogs tend to be pit bulls and older or special needs animals with conditions ranging from skin rashes to diabetes. Many have horrifying backgrounds, like the puppy who was tossed away in a trash bag.

After an exhaustive search, I identified a Maltese mix who was available for adoption through a group called Desperate House Dogs of Stamford. Now I know that the term "desperate" applies to the well-meaning souls who try to adopt from this organization. As with many local pet rescue groups, there is no phone number on the Web page, only an e-mail address. I dutifully e-mailed, asking if the Maltese was still available for adoption and requesting an application. No response.

I searched their page again several days later and finally found the application, which resembled a background check for a position at the CIA. I was asked questions ranging from whether my pets sleep in my bed to what brand of heartworm medication I use (I'm not kidding!). Weeks went by as I continued to stare at the sad-eyed Maltese. I e-mailed the phantom address again, still no reply.

Exasperated, I checked out the Westport branch of the Humane Society's page, where I found a poodle mix that seemed to fit the bill, AND there was actually a phone number that I could call to talk to a human being. My heart soared as someone picked up the phone and said the pet I was interested in had not yet been adopted. Then she told me he wasn't available for adoption at the moment due to "medical reasons". Other pets at the shelter were ruled out because they didn't mix well with kids and cats.

So the wait continues.

I have vowed that I will never buy a pet again from a store, given all the negative publicity about puppy mills and I can't afford to pay $1,500 to a breeder. I know there's a pet waiting for my family, but I wonder if I will ever be able to cut through the red tape to find him.


Laurie Cantillo's columns about New Canaan life appear each Sunday in New Canaan Patch.

Jessi September 09, 2010 at 06:43 PM
Please don't give up on rescue, Laurie. I've been involved in many dog rescue organizations for over 20 years and can attest--it's heartbreaking work. Most rescue orgs, especially the type that don't have facilities but depend on a network of individual volunteer foster homes, rely on email for communication. It's nothing personal, just easier to communicate with folks that way, when you are doing rescue on top of working full time jobs and caring for your own family. Filling out an application that asks where you live, does your yard have a fence, do you have a vet, and how will your dog be exercised? Those are basic questions to make sure you'll be the right match for the dog. Folks who work in rescue want to make the right match, that's all. They want to be sure that the dog they took into their org (and have spent time, money and no doubt much heartache over) will be in the right home for the rest of their life--the right match for both the people and the dog! That way, there's less of a chance that the dog will end up back in rescue again. Rescue orgs deal with the worst side of humanity, more often than you'd think: people who dump their dogs, abuse their pets, and don't care. Their hearts are broken on a regular basis. Would it be ideal if every rescue org. had a welcoming Customer Service line with friendly personnel ready to take your call at any given moment? Sure. But with funds always lacking, the care of the animals usually comes first. Jessi, DogParent.com
MPM September 09, 2010 at 08:21 PM
Local dog breeders and owners of show dogs would be great resources for rescues of pure and mixed breed dogs. Most breeds have their own rescue society, and list pure and mixed breed dogs on their sites. There's PAWS in Norwalk, a ton of signs for available pets and pet rescues on the bulletin board at the Post Office, check in at dog loving Elm Street Books, speak to your veterinarian. Also, North Shore Animal League in Long Island. Good luck
Leigh September 15, 2010 at 03:38 PM
We just rescued a dog about two weeks ago. Very good communication, process was very fast, yet I am sitting here with a dog with extreme separation anxiety and a problem chasing my cat. I feel somewhat deceived by the rescue - I stressed that we have a very social cat and two kids who I don't want to out through the agony of having to get rid of a dog. I explained that I wanted a family dog - not a dog with several "issues" who I would need to work with for a long time to get into family shape. I've had dogs all my life - the last one for nearly 15 years and I have never had the issues I am having right now. I think rescues have to be more honest about the dogs, including the breed of dog. Now we are struggling with guilt and stress. Don't tell me a dog is ok with cats and then I find out that I have a hound mix who wants nothing more than to hunt cats!
Jessi September 29, 2010 at 11:09 PM
Leigh, have you contacted the rescue group yet? The cat issue is more serious in that it's a harder problem to solve. I would hope the group would want to help you with that. It might be a reason for the dog going back to the rescue group. As difficult as that could be for your children, it might help them to understand that the dog is going to be okay----he is just going to find another loving home, where he won't be tempted by a kitty. (Taking care of kitty is important, too!) Separation anxiety can be fixable----there are lots of sources for info on that. In mild cases, for ex., changing the way you enter and leave the house (totally ignoring the dog for 5 - 10 minutes). With more severe cases, it’s best to contact a Behaviorist (who can help with the kitty issue, too). Some sources of info: http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/separation_anxiety.html, http://www.canis.no/rugaas/oneqanda.php?id=469. You are absolutely right about rescues needing to be honest about the pets they are adopting out. Sometimes, though, a problem doesn't present itself until a dog is in a new environment (that can happen with any dog, rescue or not). And breed isn't always an indicator of how a pup will react or how much prey drive they have. But with a problem as serious as getting along with cats, in my opinion, that would be cause for thinking about whether this pooch is the right fit for your family. You should not be going through guilt and stress. :-( Jessi, DogParent.com
Sally June 09, 2011 at 12:22 AM
Don't think of all rescue groups as being like Desperate Housedogs. I've been perusing Petfinder looking for puppies for a few months and have dealt with almost a dozen groups, all which were lovely, helpful, and responsive. I also contacted Desperate Housedogs, and never heard from them in response. One month later...I'm not sure what's going on with that rescue, but I would not adopt a dog from them after the way the treated me, and you. I realize that they are volunteers, but the majority of these groups are run by volunteers, and they function far better.
cmac January 11, 2012 at 05:16 AM
I must say I agree with the writer of the article. I've tried several times to adopt and I think the process is really frustrating. You have to fill out an app which is most often 3 (or more!!) pages long, looking up phone numbers and addresses of personal references, writing little essays about dog training etc etc, before you've even met the dog. Then they write you back and tell you, oh, he's not available. Or oh, she has aggression towards men. Oh, he comes with another dog...can you take two? No? sorry. Rescues need to be more accommodating to people who want to meet the dogs. I know, they get a lot of requests from people, but dont forget, the people searching have to look at a lot of dogs online with very little information and fill out a lot of applications to even get a response. It's super frustrating and can only result in dogs not getting adopted. Possible solutions: Most rescues have similar questions on their applications. Someone create a Common Application like some state universities use, let someone fill it out once, and then they can email it to whatever rescue has a dog they are interested in. If this can't happen, rescues could lower the barriers by not forcing people to do a full application just to make initial contact. Create a contact form with just a few pieces of info that are vital to you deciding whether to bother with the potential adopter. Then after they actually want to adopt the dog, they fill out the app. No?
Patti March 17, 2012 at 04:10 AM
We actually had great luck with Desperate House Dogs in Stamford which turned out to be basically a referral service for a wonderful shelter in Beebe, Arkansas. The application process was pretty intense, but once we got through it, we did not have to reapply when we decided to adopt a second dog a little over a year after the first. The Beebe dogs are carefully analyzed and both were exactly what was promised - small, sweet, loving and grateful. They arrived in CT via the "puppy bus" - a made over RV that delivers cats and dogs to waiting adopters at designated exits along the I95 corridor in NJ, NY, CT, RI and NH. Google them - it's the Beebe Humane Society, Beebe AR. Jaxie Hepner is in charge, and they do wonderful work. I do think you'll have to fill out the Petfinder's application, but once you do, you'll be cleared for any dog they offer. So sorry for those who had a bad experience, but I agree with the writer above - don't give up - they're worth the wait and the trouble!
Sandy May 07, 2012 at 11:17 PM
I live in CT and have adopted two beautiful dogs from Desparate House Dogs Rescue and find this article appauling. These dogs are in Arkansas and the rescue/humane society director is a saint.... let me repeat that ... A SAINT ! She is also the county animal cruelty officer and covers cruelty, abuse and neglect calls on a daily basis. She and her family have saved and placed thousands of dogs and are a first class operation. They also arrange transport with a group that are as professional as they come. You happened to have a tough time contacting them during your search, perhaps they had a family emergency...or perhaps there was a problem with Petfinder's transfer of the application. I have never had any difficulty getting a response when I contacted them via email. Their director never is able to go on vacation, and works for those dogs 24/7 x 365 /yr. All their dogs to the best of my knowledge are on sight. To call them out by name as done in this article is a low, cheap shot and I think the author owes them an apology. For the record, I have no official connection to the rescue, and the statements I made here are my own opinion and not reflective of anyone at Desparate House Dogs Rescue. My two successful adoptions from them have been life changing for me, and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to adopt. And IMHO anyone who doesn't have enough patience to go through the required process probably shouldn't adopt a dog.
KG July 13, 2012 at 12:21 AM
I've also had a bad experience with Desperate House Dogs. I've contacted them multiple times via email, and even filled out an application, and never heard from them. I feel ridiculous that they make people fill out lengthy apps, that are a bit intrusive (asking for annual income, property value, etc), only for them to never respond. I'm wondering if there is some way to complain, or if their organization is really just a scam.
kimberly cole August 02, 2012 at 04:18 PM
i have been going thru the same thing with desperate house dogs! my family and i were so excited that we found a dog that seemed to fit what we were looking for. i filled out the application,sent if off and waited. and waited. and we are still waiting! its been 2 weeks. the site says please be patient so i didn't bug them but then i decided to write to them just to ask if the dog was still available. still nothing! what is going on? some of these letters say they have had good luck but i have not. am i doing something wrong?
Courtney Schubert September 20, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I also filled out an application and sent a follow up email to Desperate House Dogs and never heard back from them. The dog I applied for over a month ago is still listed on Adopt a Pet. What gives? I have been looking for a rescue dog for over 3 months now. Everytime I find one I would like to have my application is outright ignored, I am told the dog is not a good match ("A young dog is not a good match because you work 9-5, here are some senior dogs you can adopt"..what?), the dog turns out to be sick ("You'll have to pay $2,000 for his surgery on top of the $375 adoption fee"), or is unavailable (Then take the listing down!). Honestly just about to head on down to the pet store and buy a dog.
julie October 29, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I recently contacted Desperate house dogs yesterday, i filled out an application for the dog i wanted. i was wondering how the volunteers are, how fast the process is, etc. any feedback would be great! thanks so much Julie
Meghan March 17, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Years ago I gave up on rescuing after it took so long, I went to a reputable breeder and got my best friend in the world, a cavalier king Charles named Bentley. I promised myself I would not give up on rescue the next time around.. We we are in the process of trying to adopt a second canine companion, and those breeders are getting very tempting, We have AMAZING vet references, and references from our trainer.. you would think someone would get back to us.. we have been approved for one we like, but we can't meet the dog through the rescue it is at before we take it.. I am not sure I am comfortable with that. We also are a little specific, small, shih tzuish type mix. Why is it so hard to get anyone to even answer a phone or acknowledge, your emails?
susan Rancourt March 24, 2013 at 12:26 AM
desperate housedogs is a wonderful organization. I am in process of adopting my 3rd dog from them.
TPenske March 30, 2013 at 11:55 AM
I am dismayed to read your article which referenced Desperate House Dogs. I live on Long Island and have two rescues from Desperate House Dogs. Adopting rescued and abused animals is a huge responsibility and not always for the faint of heart. Our first rescue from DHD was abandoned and left for dead while our other rescue was a ferrel-yes born and surviving with her mother and litter mates in the wild. He had to be completely rehabilitated. The director is very careful because she knows rescue work is not for everybody. Please do not give up on adoption but just be aware that you are not getting a dog from a breeder with documented lineage. Rescues are amazing dogs and often make great members of the family but, they can be very different.
joan young July 07, 2013 at 07:27 PM
I agree that the process is difficult, my daughter and I contacted the local pet rescue, we went over to pick out our kittens, bringing along a pet carrier. After we chose the kittens we connected with, we were told wecouldn't take them. We had to complete an application, wait at least 48 hours, come in for an interview and if we passed, they would set a time that we could take the kittens. First i have never abused an animal, have gone without a pet since 1996 because of living in apartments and i had young children. My youngest is now 18 and I have just bought a home. I originally was only going to take 1, but I love cats and I don't want the cat to be lonely, but in all honesty, if I am told tomorrow that they are not ready to interview, I will go to the pet store and purchase 2 kittens.....and this is why there are so many rescue animals without homes, people trying to adopt are treated like criminals and if they pass the backgound they are forced to interview and wait...these are kittens not children, and btw I raised 3 children alone, they not only survived, they thrived. I agree with a background check, but 48 hrs plus hours and an interview...the rescue shelters are a bit over the top!
Melissa January 11, 2014 at 08:25 PM
I'm absolutely disgusted by those complaining about how difficult pet adoption is. Anyone can walk into a pet store and purchase a puppy or kitten, it takes a real human to rescue. The author's comments are absolutely ludicrous regarding Desperate House Dogs (aka Beebe Humane Society) maybe you never heard back because you weren't a proper candidate for the animal you were interested in. We have adopted 2 amazing dogs from Beebe and are proud to be apart of the elite group of adopters, which is like an extended family. Jaxie and any other rescue program directors have the most difficult jobs on the planet, they must put families through a rigorous process to ensure the safety of the animals and to protect the family from any issues that may arise. Also, those running rescues do have lives, jobs and are doing this because of their love of animals. Frankly there should be more people like Jaxie. It's too bad those complaining about the lengthly adoption process, if you were in their position would you not do the same? Perhaps you can't answer that because you would be that family that dumps their dog at a shelter. Good luck with your puppy mill extracts from the pet store.


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