The following is a list of questions to ask the prospective adopter. You might want to take notes as you talk to the person. (There’s an adoption screener’s worksheet below that you might find useful.) From the answers to these questions, you can start to build a profile of the person. Try to ask the questions in a conversational style, so it doesn’t sound like you’re conducting an interview. To start, you might say: “This dog/cat is very special to me, and I am looking for just the right home for him/her. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions about yourself and your home?”
“Is the pet for you or someone else?”
If the dog or cat is for someone else, then tell the caller that you need to speak directly to the prospective adopter. A gift of a live animal for another person can be a terrible mistake. If the pet is for a child, tell the person that the dog or cat needs to be seen as a family pet, not exclusively the child’s pet. The parents must be willing to take on the responsibility for the day–to–day care of the animal for the rest of his/her life. Children can be involved in the animal’s care, but their attention span is often sporadic. Many pets are turned in to shelters because the children have lost interest.
“Do you have other pets at home? Would you tell me about them?”
Their answers can help you to determine whether the pet you are placing will fit into this household. For example, if you are trying to place a dog who hates cats, and they have cats, this is obviously not a good choice.
If they don’t have pets now, ask these questions:
“Have you had pets before? If so, what happened to them?”
Responses to these questions can reveal a lot about the person’s level of responsibility. One negative incident in the past shouldn’t immediately rule that person out; accidents can happen to even the most caring people. But, if they tell you that their last three dogs came to an untimely end because they were run over, poisoned, stolen, etc., you are not looking at a responsible home. On the other hand, if they tell you of the many pets they had until a ripe old age, it’s a sign that these people are willing to make the commitment to a pet for life.
“Do you have children? If so, how old are they?”
Children can be either a blessing or a curse to a pet! Many of the dogs and cats that we take here at the sanctuary have been involved in negative incidents with children. Small children often do not know how to differentiate between a live animal and a stuffed one. And even the most vigilant parent can’t be watching the child all the time. We often advise against puppies or kittens for families with children under six. We have had experience with small children being hurt by puppies or kittens, because they treated them roughly or didn’t know when to leave them alone. And then the animal, however reluctantly, is taken to the shelter. This will be your own judgment call with the pet you are placing.
Of course, if the animal you are placing has had any kind of biting or nipping incident around children, it would be irresponsible to place that animal in a home with children. Even if the prospective adopters have no young children, they need to be aware of the history of the animal, since adults–only homes may receive visits from grandchildren or neighbor kids.
On the other hand, an adult cat or dog who is used to being around small children can make a wonderful family pet. A larger animal is less vulnerable to being hurt by children, and an adult animal is usually more tolerant of a toddler’s inquiring hands pulling at his/her tail or ears.
The child/animal bond is very special and can be of tremendous value in producing a compassionate, caring person who will bring those qualities into his/her whole life. So the decision to take on a family pet needs to be made with great care. Look under the RC Pets Academy on this website for more information about caring for a new pet.
“Do you live in a house, a mobile home, or an apartment?”
It’s not necessarily a negative thing if they live in an apartment. Many dogs and all cats do very well in apartments. The proximity encourages close companionship and bonding.
“If you rent, does your lease allow pets? May I have your landlord’s number?”
If the people are renting, you will need to ensure that they have permission in writing to have a pet. You will also need to determine if there are any size restrictions (especially for dogs, since some landlords restrict the size of dogs.) It’s not fair to the pet you are placing to put him/her in a situation where he/she is at risk. We have known people who try to sneak a pet by the landlord, only to be found out. And guess who has to go!
“Can I come to your home, to see where the animal will be living?”
If they are unwilling to let you visit, you should cross them off your list. If they are willing, we strongly recommend that you do make the visit, for your own peace of mind. Seeing the other pets (if any) in the household will tell you a lot about the level of care your pet will receive.
Also, you might notice something that needs to be taken care of before the adoption takes place. For example, let’s say you are placing a dog who is an escape artist and the person’s fence has large holes in it. Some discussion about repairs could solve the problem, but make sure the repairs are done before the animal goes to live there. Promises are just that – promises – until the job is done.
“How many hours would the animal be alone during the day?”
The number of hours that an animal will be alone during the day needs to be taken into account. Young dogs and cats can get very lonely and bored – and consequently very destructive – if they’re alone a lot. Many adoptions do not work out because prospective adopters were unaware of their pet’s social needs.
Dogs have an especially hard time being alone for long periods of time. They are pack animals, so they need companionship from either the family or another pet. A lonely, bored dog or puppy can chew through the couch, rip up the carpet, destroy the table legs – just for something to do!
Prospective adopters should be encouraged to make provisions for a young dog if the family is away every day for long hours. There are dog–walking and doggie daycare services in most cities. Perhaps a neighbor or a local retired person could spend some time with the animal. Locking a dog outsid
e all day can present a target for thieves, particularly in a big city. An ideal situation is to have a companion animal as a buddy and a doggie door into a dog–proofed area of the house with lots of toys to chew on.
Cats do not appear to need the pack in the same way as a dog, but anyone who has had more than one cat knows what a difference companionship of their own kind makes to a cat.