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.

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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