When Your Animal Adoption Application is Denied

I volunteer with animal rescue and 

We retain the right to refuse adoption to anyone.

If you read the bold statement above, you are probably thinking, yes, that makes sense, not everyone is set up to be a good dog owner. (You are right.) We choose adopters carefully.

We retain the right to refuse adoption to anyone (even you).

How about that little addition at the end?


Can we talk about how ridiculously upset some people get if they don’t get to adopt the dog they want? I’m talking about people threatening-to-get-lawyers level of upset. Usually it’s just general disbelief and nastiness, sometime with threats of social media smear campaigns. It is ugly. People get seriously upset and they let us know exactly how they feel.

I work with a fully volunteer, non-profit animal rescue. We rescue dogs and take responsibility for them for the rest of their lives. Forever. When you sign an adoption contract, it states that the dog is to be returned to the rescue if it doesn’t work out. We want a forever home. We want it to work out with you. Therefore, we do everything that we can to ensure a successful forever adoption at the outset. If it doesn’t work out, we are still responsible for the dog. If your dog comes back, another dog goes unrescued. Thats how it works. It’s about the dog, we aren’t rescuing the people.

So you apply to adopt Dog X. Of course you feel that you are a perfect and responsible home for Dog X.  I would like to gently point out that you really only know what the rescue has told you about Dog X. Dog X’s foster family knows the most about what the animal needs to be safe, secure and happy. Our animals come from various lousy environments:  stressful kill shelters, hoarding situations, living on the streets, dumped from breeders who no longer need them, families that abused or neglected them, and some come from a wonderful home where their primary caregiver has passed away and they are mourning. It’s not pretty. The situation, as well as the medical history of the animal, is often unknown to the rescue. We care for these dogs in foster homes and we make every effort to ensure they are both healthy and temperamentally ready to go to a new home BEFORE placing the animal up for adoption. They need time to decompress. They need to learn to trust again. They need to learn some basic manners. Each Dog X is different, and each comes with different issues and needs. Foster families learn a lot about their foster dogs. 

These are a few examples of foster dogs I have had: 

Catahoula fence jumper, needs lots of exercise or destructive

Dachshund stray, escape artist, needs really secure fence or leash walks only

Border Collie active, social, very protective, strong, needs tons of exercise

Small Lab mix afraid of men, separation anxiety, crate anxiety, repeatedly runs away from home, needs someone at home a lot and lots of patience with men

Big Lab really mouthy and thinks he’s a lap dog, no small children 

Older Chihuahua from hoarding situation, afraid of children, probably abused, needs calm home without kids 

Beagle stray, long stay in shelter, crate anxiety, escapes from all of them

Each of these dogs needs to find a very particular sort of home and family – and I would not adopt them to just anybody. Not even if the applicant was a friend or family member. These dogs have been failed by humans once, or more than once, and the rescue is their second chance at happily ever after. We take it seriously. Many of them have already had the wrong family, we want to find the right family.

Let’s talk about why dogs become homeless. I’m one of those people who picks up the pieces, so I think about this, and I think about how to prevent it.

Divorce, breakup, new baby, moving to a place that won’t allow dogs, new puppy so getting rid of the senior dog (yes, that happens), can’t afford vet bills when dog is sick or hurt, don’t have time for it, it pees in the house (because you didn’t have time to train it, left it alone too long, or it is sick and needs veterinary care), dog escapes (left outside unsupervised too long without a secure fence, or never brought inside at all). Wait until you hear about puppies! Everybody loves puppies! Why are there so many puppies in need of rescue?! You didn’t spay or neuter your dog and now instead of 1 or 2 dogs, you have 4 or 12 puppies to feed, clean up after, vaccinate, deworm, and keep safe. It turns out that it’s a lot of work, and it costs money to care for them, and they are loud and messy, so off to the shelter/Craigslist/box on the side of the highway they go. And that’s how puppies end up in rescue.

Which brings me to this statement. I don’t understand why everyone thinks that they are entitled to a puppy. 

To be fair, I also don’t understand why some people breed, but that’s a whole other thing… 


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YOU are looking to add a dog to your family. Yay! Dog’s make life better. We applaud your choice of a rescue dog, because there are so many in need. You decide that you want a puppy. 

WE rescue. We post pictures of lovely, sweet little puppies that need homes. And we typically get more applications for those puppies than there are puppies available. It seems there are endless puppies at the larger animal shelters, (and even shelters don’t adopt to everyone who applies), but if you want this particular puppy from rescue, healthy and cared for in a foster home until abound 8 weeks, when they are weaned onto solid food, dewormed, and have had their first set of vaccinations, well, we have a stringent process. I get it, you saw the puppy photo, you fell in love. Me too. I fall in love with puppies every day from those photos. I wish they could all come and live with me, and I love getting to foster them. You are a great person, I’m sure, but please don’t lash out at me or other rescue volunteers if you do not get to adopt the puppy that you have fallen in love with on Facebook or Petfinder. We will find the best homes for the dogs in our care. It might not be you. I really hope you can live with that.

Take a deep breath. This is not an ego thing, not a power trip for me or the rescue. One of my adopters pointed out that I’m a dog social worker (He’s a people social worker). I’m looking out for the best interests of the dog and trying to make a great match for your family. If an adoption application is denied for a particular dog for a particular reason, I will end by saying, I would love to help you find the right dog for your family. And I would. 

Some of the dogs in rescue have had truly terrible beginnings. Some have been crated and bred for their entire lives, some have been chained outside without shelter, some have been left in abandoned homes and backyards, some were tied to something and abandoned, some dropped from a moving car on a highway. We do not rescue perfect dogs. We rescue dogs with a past: abandoned puppies, seniors, dogs ill with heartworms. We rescue blind dogs, deaf dogs, dogs missing a limb. We rescue dogs that have lived in a loving home all their lives and have lost their only caregiver. We take in beaten, starved, and abandoned dogs. Each rescue dog has its own particular needs. We realize that not everyone is open to the accommodations needed by a special needs dog, not everyone can devote the necessary time to care for and train a puppy, not everyone is going to give that Siberian Husky the exercise it needs. That’s why we have our application process and why we carefully interview our applicants. We are in the business of providing wonderful endings to make up for the awful beginnings. 

My rescue won’t do same day adoptions. Why, when there are more dogs than good homes available? We rescue dogs and do our very best to put them in the right FOREVER home. If you want to go to the shelter and pick out a dog, go for it. You just pay and walk away. We (the rescue) want to make sure that you have a vet and plan to use it, that you have an appropriate home and lifestyle for the dog that you are adopting. Why? Because we see what happens when it doesn’t work out. We see dogs killed in overcrowded shelters. We see puppies adopted from shelters only to be returned when they are grown and not so cute anymore. Shelters do not have the resources to do interviews, vet checks and home visits, but rescues have volunteers who are devoted to doing all of those things  – each dog is adopted into the best possible forever situation.

Home visits. If you are uncomfortable inviting someone from the rescue into your home, well, I’m confused by that….I do all of my own home visits because I want to know the family and the home that my foster dog is going to. It makes it so much easier to say goodbye if I know the dog is in a great home. I am not there to judge you. I am not there to spy on you or invade your privacy.  I’m there to talk to you about how to contain the dog and keep it safe. I may point out that a dog will eat your cat food if it’s left on the floor and could get sick. I point out to children the danger of rubber bands and lego and small choke hazards on the floor and let them know that they will help be responsible for keeping their things away from the dog so nothing is damaged and the dog isn’t hurt. I help the new dog meet the existing family pets and suggest ways to smooth the transition. I answer lots of questions. I can’t really understand why this type of interaction would not be wanted on the adopters’ side, but some people seem offended by the home check. We are just being diligent.

So, what are some issues that may prevent you from adopting a particular rescue dog?

Young children in the home. Usually, young children (under 5) cannot be expected to handle puppies properly. Many rescues will not adopt to homes with young children. Dogs (of all ages) cannot predictably be expected to behave properly around babies and toddlers. We know that it is important for a dog to be socialized with young children in order to be comfortable with them. For everyone’s safety, we do not wish to place dogs with an unknown history into families with very young children. Young children always need to be supervised around dogs. They just don’t know how to behave around one another. Some rescue dogs have been abused, some have not had much training, some were not socialized properly. The dogs may treat the child like a puppy, and the child can get hurt. The dog may not understand which toys he can’t have, which food can’t be snatched away from a little hand. Does this mean no one with a small child should have a dog? No. Is it ok for a rescue to refuse to adopt to a family with small children? Yes. We don’t have a full history of the dogs, and we are looking for the most positive outcome when we place dogs. Please don’t take it personally. It isn’t about you. Mishandling is likely to result in injury to the animal, to the child, or both. This is a situationthat we strive to avoid.

All too many dogs are surrendered because of a new baby in the family. It’s heartbreaking. For many couples, a dog is acquired before a child comes along, and then one day, poof, the dog isn’t considered safe anymore. It snapped at the toddler. It isn’t considered a family member anymore. It is disposable. And either the dog is abandoned, it goes to a shelter (risking euthanasia) or it goes to a new family, often through a rescue organization. Do I expect you to put a dog before your children? No. I do expect you to treat your dog as a member of the family. Absolutely. Family isn’t disposable.


Big dogs and apartments are a problem. Let me restate that. Some big dogs do not do well in small spaces without sufficient exercise and end up being destructive, and then end up homeless. They were often adopted as puppies. People forget to project how big those cute little puppies get.


Real example:

-We want to adopt this medium sized lab mix from you. He is the perfect size for us.

-Um, it says on your application that you surrendered a dog to a shelter in the past? Why?

-Because our first Lab outgrew our home, we had no idea he would get so big!

-(Responding in my head….you can $@*&ing google that….)

Adorable little puppies grow up and aren’t always good match for their owner’s home and lifestyle. Think ahead. We do when we choose an adopter for one of our dogs.

Not having a fenced yard. This is a deal-breaker with some rescues, but not all. So many dogs end up stray and hit by cars, we want them to have a safe, secure area to run and play. Not every dog does well at a dog park, or only on leash walks. I have adopted to people who did not have a fence, but were adopting a pretty couch potato kind of dog and had a plan in place for leash walks with a dog that did well on a leash. It really depends on the dog. We choose the very best applicant that we can. I have denied an application because the fence was chain link, and the dog they wanted to adopt was able to easily scale chain link fence, and had escaped several homes already. I have denied an application for a tiny, young puppy because the lovely iron fence was not going to be able to hold the puppy in. This was a very small dog, found stray. She could fit through the bars easily. It wasn’t a safe situation because she was the type of dog that followed her nose and went right through any fence she could fit through. Does having the wrong sort of fence mean that we think you should not have a dog? No. It means that your home is not the right fit for this particular dog. She was adopted to an excellent home that had a privacy fence. We often have several homes to choose from, so someone is going to win and some are going to lose, but the dog wins!

Hours per day the dog will be left alone. Ok, people work. And a dog does not need 24/7 attention. They actually nap a lot. However, young puppies can only hold it so long. They need bathroom breaks. They need play and exercise. No, crating a puppy for up to 5 hours is not okay with me. I can find a home that will not need to do that.  An older dog can hold it longer. A dog that isn’t teething can be left out of a crate during the day. There are other options. I have a foster here that lost his home after being routinely crated while his owner worked 12 hour shifts. He couldn’t hold it. And 12 plus hours in a crate is not ok with me at all. I wish I could ask that woman if she skipped all food and bathroom breaks during her shift. 

I have read various articles by disgruntled people who were unsatisfied with the animal rescue process, felt that the rescue was being ridiculous and egotistical and treating all people like they are evil criminals. I have this to say. When you rescue animals you see bad things done by bad people. I have a low opinion of people that abuse animals, they tend to become serial killers. One step below that is negligent abuse, such as abandoning them, or dropping them off at a full kill shelter so that it isn’t their problem anymore. I do not, however, have a low opinion of all people. I do say people suck at least once every day, and some people really do. If you live your life without seeing that, awesome, enjoy that bubble. I can’t get my bubble back. I’ve seen too much. 

People often take it personally when their application isn’t chosen. We are actively looking for the best homes for these dogs. We do not want to set them up for failure, so we make decisions. And in most cases, one application just seems to be a lot better than the other applications. We don’t need to lawyer up or lose our tempers over an adoptable dog. Don’t we all just want the best home for the dog?  Please?! Don’t think we are judging you as a person. We think you are great as a person, because you want to adopt a rescue dog. Yay!

This can’t be overstated: 

The point of the applicant screening procedures used by animal rescue groups is to ensure the safety of both the animal and their new families, as well as to reduce the chance that the animals will be returned because of an inappropriate match. We are looking for a home that meets each dog’s needs, a forever home. 


The more dogs we place in good homes, the more dogs we can rescue and save from euthanasia in overcrowded shelters. But our rescue will never pull a dog from a bad environment and place it in another bad or inappropriate environment. We aren’t doing this just to shuffle dogs around. 

When I am told, as I recently was, that it is easier to adopt a child from China than to adopt a rescue dog, I bite my tongue. I would love to direct this person to friends who have been through the grueling child adoption process. And no, you are not entitled to this particular puppy, but I am sure that there is a wonderful rescue dog out there who would be just perfect for your home and situation. You can be mad at me, mad at the rescue, mad at the world being unfair, but that’s on you. I know that I am doing the right thing.  Telling me that you are just going to buy a dog from a breeder doesn’t hurt me. It hurts the rescue dog that would have been perfect for your family but didn’t get adopted because you chose to support a breeder. 

Adopt, Don’t Shop(and be patient while looking for the right dog for your lifestyle)