By: Staff  Date: 01/12/2012 Category: | Research Reports |

When I logged on to the internet for the first time in 1992, I realized I'd found a resource with the capacity to change the world. There were few rescue volunteers or animal shelters online then but as they have signed up in ever increasing numbers, it has brought great changes to the way rescue and adoptions are done.

There are now hundreds of rescue groups and animals shelters with web sites reaching out to more potential adopters than ever before. There are rescue e-mail lists and discussion groups. There have even been virtual classes on rescue held over the internet. The speed, convenience, and low cost of e-mail allows volunteers to connect, organize and mobilize quickly when needed.

One of the most striking changes the internet has wrought is the increase in pet adoptions over great distances. The internet has made it possible for a potential adopter to browse lists of available pets at shelters several states away or even on the other side of the country. While this has been a boon for some people, it's a dilemma for others. In this column, we'll look at the pros and cons of long distance, interstate adoptions and how various rescues handle them.

Why would someone in Oregon want to adopt a homeless dog in New York? Judging by the out-of-state letters my Wisconsin Chow rescue service receives, it's often because people have stumbled across our website and become intrigued with a particular dog, not realizing that there's likely to be a similar one in need much closer to home. There's no shortage of homeless Chows anywhere in the country but the public doesn't always know where to look for them. As national rescue coordinator for my breed, I'm usually able to help people find a dog to adopt within their local area, minimizing the need for long distance placements. With rare breeds, though, there truly may not be a dog for adoption near them making it necessary to go further afield.

Not a day goes by on the rescue e-mail lists without several requests for transportation help to get a rescued dog to a new home in another state. Specialized volunteer groups have even been organized just for this purpose. CUR - the Canine Underground Railroad - is the most well known of these groups with stations in many states. Transportation is arranged in relays. People volunteer to drive a dog a specified distance, usually an hour or two in duration, where they are met by another volunteer who takes the dog on the next leg of the trip. Air travel for rescued pets is a more expensive option but some adopters are willing to pay for it. There are also volunteers who offer to take a rescued animal along as excess baggage on flights they've already scheduled for themselves.

Screening long distance adopters doesn't seem to be as difficult as it used to, again, thanks to the internet. Along with requests for transportation help, messages appear daily on rescue email lists seeking volunteers to do "home checks" - a personal visit to the potential adopter's home to verify the location and that it meets the rescue group's requirements. Many rescue groups help each other reciprocally in this process; a Collie rescue in Dallas might do a local home check for an Airedale rescue in Tampa, for example, with each returning the favor at another time. Many rescuers involved in long distance placements report they're careful to check the adopter's personal and veterinary references and correspond with the adopter by phone or email extensively before finalizing an adoption.

Some rescuers will place a dog out of their area but will not provide transportation. Sidney Sachs of Sleddog Rescue in Tennessee says that 80 percent of her adopters aren't local but she requires them to come to her home so she can meet them personally. I also like to meet our adopters face to face and require that they come here to pick up their dogs. If they must drive more than a couple hours, I recommend that they come down on a Saturday and spend the night in a local motel, returning home with their dog on Sunday. Since they don't have to rush, I feel this takes some of the pressure off the adopter and gives them a chance to sleep on their decision before committing themselves. Susan Feingold of Pet Orphans Rescue in Atlanta, Georgia reports that her organization doesn't place pets outside of the city so that it will easy to get them back if the adoption fails. Since a placement can go wrong for any number of reasons, I believe the ability to take the animal back quickly and easily is an extremely important concern and one that some rescuers overlook when planning long distance adoptions. An adopter may be willing to pay airfreight or drive a long way to get a dog but few are willing to go to the same trouble and expense to send it back. I have an eight-hour rule that governs most of my out of area placements - the adopter must not live farther than an eight hour drive away from me so that, if necessary, I can make a round trip to fetch the dog home in one day. As with home checks, some rescue groups work out reciprocal arrangements with other groups to take responsibility for dogs they've placed if the adoption fails.

Shelters have not grasped the long distance adoption concept quite as readily as rescues although several have reported success with it and interest seems to be growing. Shelters in remote states or areas like Montana or the upper peninsula of Michigan where adopters can be few and far between have been more open to the idea. Some work cooperatively with rescues to accomplish out of area placements. Shelters reluctant to place animals out of their areas cite the same concerns that many rescues do: that there is likely to be a suitable pet already available in the adopter's local area and the difficulties of getting a pet back if the adoption doesn't work. They also bring up another very important point - the difficulty of enforcing adoption contracts when the adopter lives out of state. Contracts drawn up in one state may not be enforceable in another. In many states, for example, animals adopted from shelters are required by law to be spayed or neutered within a specified period of time. The Animal Welfare League of Chicago Ridge, Illinois, explained to me that they place their pets only with residents of Illinois because they risk losing jurisdiction over animals that are sent out of state. The enforceability of contracts long distance is an important issue for rescue groups as well. I recommend that rescuers consult with an attorney if they aren't sure how they will be affected. To summarize, when considering a long distance adoption, these questions should be answered before going forward:

  • Is there a suitable animal already available in the adopter's own area?
  • Can the adopter be suitably screened from a distance?
  • How will transportation be arranged and paid for?
  • How much is the adopter willing to provide him/herself?
  • Will your adoption contract be enforceable in another state or country?
  • Can you provide post-adoption support from a distance, especially with behavior issues?
  • How will you get the pet back if the adoption doesn't work out?

About The Author

Staff's photo
Staff -

All Authors Of This Article: | Vicki DeGruy |
Like this article?
Don’t forget to share, like or follow us