What happens when adoptions don't work?

copyright (c) Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

When it comes to finding a new home for any pet, rehoming is a tough road to travel. Mostly for the pets shuffled around in the process along with the rescuers and the fosterers involved with them. The biggest fear for those working with animals those who do the caring and feeding and socializing and taming and training and treating, is that the standard of care the pets will receive in the future will not equal the care they have been receiving from the rescuer, fosterer, clinic or shelter. In fact, it won’t be, it can’t be. The care received can never be the same when the individual care giver is changed (and this is no small factor in stressing an animal—a humane and consistent caregiver is vital to an animal’s welfare). If even this change is a stressful one, how then can this ever work? Finding new places for companion animals to live without the companions they have developed relationships with?

What makes rehoming work, the theory or hope behind it, is based on the animal being first, placed into a new environment where a universal standard of care is adhered to which will benefit the animal’s welfare and second, that after an inevitable adjustment period (which the new guardian must successfully facilitate) the animal will thrive. And when a supportive environment and guardian come together for the animal so does a “forever” home. But what happens when this is not the case? What about when the reasons industry people fear most come to fruition the guardian who says they want the pet and then realizes they would rather not consistently buy and open smelly cans of pet food, change a cat box or walk a dog several times a day or come home early from a night out to do any of these? And what about any of the horror stories we would rather not hear about but that happen every day whether we hear about them or not? What happens when the universe drops the very same animals you thought were in that forever home right back in your world? What then?

Not long ago I received a phone call from a woman I had never met who was traveling southbound on the New Jersey turnpike. She was calling from a rest stop somewhere in southern New Jersey, not being from the area, she could not tell me which one she was at. She was calling to say she had “found” my cats (and she did not sound happy about the discovery), right there at the rest stop. I live in Manhattan and when I heard this I was confused, concerned, taken aback -all three. My pet greeting behavior on arriving home includes personal interaction and all pets were present and accounted for.

“My cats are all home”, I said. Why, did she think the cats were mine? The traveler explained that she had been taking her dog for a relief walk and found the cats in question behind a bush, huddled closely together in the back of a carrier with the door ajar. It did not look as if the cats had left the carrier and they appeared clearly terrified, all huddled into themselves and each other. She had called me because the carrier had a sticker pasted on the end, one with my name on it, the sort of sticker a veterinary clinic places on a carrier with the identifying details of the pet along with the owner information. My information was on that carrier for a spay surgery I had facilitated. I started thinking about cats I had worked with and carriers I had given away and I realized which cats these must be and who had “adopted” them. I asked what the cats looked like: were they long haired? Was one grey and one orange and white? Yes to both. I knew who these cats were. (Continue Reading Below)