What do animal-adoption references get asked exactly?
April 9, 2022 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Our dog Sheba (dog tax) died at the end of February. We'll start looking for a new dog in late May / early June, and I'm eager so I've been looking at area shelters to see what the process is like. Many shelters and rescue organizations want personal references and specify that family and veterinarians can't be used, leaving me kind of confused about what sort of information they ask for, then, because it seems to me like nobody else could realistically provide meaningful information about whether we'd be a good home for an animal.

I'm reasonably confident that our vet will say positive things, a home visit would be fine, we have the money for adoption fees, we've had a dog before so we have a pretty good idea how it works for us and could describe it in exhaustive detail -- this is the only element of the process I'm uncertain about.

Aside from immediate family, nobody visits us physically. So who do I ask for a reference? Next-door neighbor? Down-the-street neighbor I've interacted with like twice in thirteen years? My therapist? Pharmacist? Family doctor? A good internet friend I've never met in person? A former co-worker I haven't worked with for over a decade or spoken to for like 4 years? Old college friend who now lives in another country? Cortex?

And, when I ask if they'd be willing to serve as a reference, what exactly am I asking them to do or say for me? What will they be asked, and why do shelters ask those things?

(Sheba came from a shelter also, and we were approved by a second shelter just before Sheba, but had to return that dog in that case because it turned out to be one of the 20% or so of dogs to which I am allergic. Neither of those shelters asked for personal references at all, so that element is new. Hence the beanplating.)
posted by Spathe Cadet to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don’t know if anyone can tell you what a specific organization will ask, but I can tell you what I was asked as a reference for a pet adoption a few months ago. I was asked to do this by a friend who I don’t see very often.

1)What is your relationship to (person), and how long have you known them?
2) Is there any criminal history you are aware of that would prevent (person) from owning a pet? If yes, please explain:
3) Is (person)someone you would trust with something valuable of your own (pet, house, child jewelry, etc.)?
4) Is (person)financially stable enough to meet the basic needs of a new pet?
5) Does (person) have experience owning pets in the past?
6) If the new pet has any behavior problems, how will (person) handle it?
7) Is there any reason we should not allow (person) to adopt a pet from us? If yes, please explain:
8) Is there any other information you would like to add?

posted by Glinn at 12:35 PM on April 9, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: cortex would do this for you.
posted by jessamyn at 12:53 PM on April 9, 2022 [10 favorites]

check your memail
posted by fluttering hellfire at 1:43 PM on April 9, 2022

My sympathy toyou for your loss.
posted by Scout405 at 4:09 PM on April 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I did this for a mostly-Internet friend years ago. It was like a five minute conversation. They asked me even fewer questions than Glinn, none of them specific to the physical home environment, and clearly just wanted a sense of my friend's general character. I think a good internet is a great choice.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:16 PM on April 9, 2022

Best answer: This NY Times article should give you some sense of the type of information requested by rescue groups (here's a non-paywalled version of the same article). If I were you, I'd consider going to a shelter first, rather than a rescue group. Rescue groups tend to be more idiosyncratic, capricious, and unreasonable in making decisions as to who can adopt from them. The shelter I'm most familiar with doesn't require any personal references.
posted by alex1965 at 8:23 PM on April 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had to submit two(!) references when I adopted my dog. One was my BFF, the other a coworker. Both just had to send emails attesting that I’m a nice normal person who is responsible enough to take care of a dog. Don’t overthink it.
posted by cakelite at 9:34 PM on April 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've done this repeatedly. The questions I've been asked are how long have you known the person, have they had any previous pets, do you think they would be a good pet owner, and then questions about the previous pets, which generally are trying to confirm that you haven't abandoned, surrendered or neglected an aging or sick animal.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:40 AM on April 10, 2022

Best answer: Oh, and when I was in your situation, I reached out to someone who had watched our old dog for me in the past. She happened to be my favorite barista from the last city we'd lived, and was happy to do it.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:59 AM on April 10, 2022

Best answer: I recently was a reference for a friend and in addition to the questions already mentioned here, they asked me if the person had a fenced in yard or area outside where the dog could safely play.
posted by silverstatue at 7:46 AM on April 10, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks to those who have responded so far; I feel like the question has more or less been answered, but I'm not going to mark it as such yet, in case more people want to add comments. To address some specific points:

The application that prompted the question is a breed-specific rescue organization (German shepherds) that wants three non-vet, non-family references. We don't necessarily want a German shepherd, would prefer not to have a purebred anything, and wouldn't necessarily get involved with this group if we decided we did want a GSD, but some of the animals they have are absolutely gorgeous (e.g.) and there's some time yet before we start officially looking, so they're still under consideration.

(The dog I'm actually most interested in at the moment is a yellow lab / GSD mix at a shelter about an hour and a half away, but I'm not optimistic that she'll still be available in 7 weeks, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up. The shelter's application is completely reasonable, and only asks for one personal reference.)

None of the shelters / rescue organizations have applications processes quite as onerous as the ones described in alex1965's link, though there have been some items that raised my eyebrows a bit, and a couple places have items so extreme that I'm just not going to consider applying for their dogs. (E.g. the Dubuque shelter that won't let you submit an application without first agreeing to contact them again if you're ever considering euthanizing the animal, for any reason, so they can decide whether they agree that euthanasia is warranted and take the animal back if they think you're making the wrong decision. I understand that the intention is probably benign, maybe even noble, and surely it's not legally enforceable, but as someone who's just had to euthanize a dog,[1] the idea that the shelter we adopted her from could have felt entitled to a say in the decision 12 years later is just infuriating. So Dubuque can go fuck itself.)

Several local shelters don't ask for references at all; some of those that do allow some or all of the references to be family members.

If needed, my non-family references will likely be [good internet friend I've never met in person] and [old college friend who lives in another country]. Thanks to all who clarified that those two would be capable of doing the job. If a third is necessary, we'll figure it out at the time; cortex can probably relax, though.


[1] (Kidney failure, nothing to be done about it, zero question in my mind that we did the right thing.)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:40 AM on April 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Dubuque shelter meant it would still have a say after a number of years like your situation. I think what they were trying to avoid is euthanizing healthy animals for behavioral issues within the first year or two of adoption. But I would not be surprised if that were worded or communicated poorly. I have found few rescue organizations with robust public relations departments.

Good luck finding your new friend!
posted by Glinn at 1:37 PM on April 10, 2022

Response by poster: The exact quote is,
You agree to notify us if this animal is ever to be euthanized for any reason and we will help in determing if this is what is best for the animal? If we decide it is not, then we have the right to re obtain ownership of the animal.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 1:45 PM on April 10, 2022

Best answer: I'm pretty sure that's because there are people out there who would consider euthanizing a healthy pet before returning it to the shelter. I don't think they're necessarily interested in interfering with medical issues. There are definitely people out there who throw their hands up at behavioral issues or other non-medical concerns* and bring their dogs to be put to sleep.

*When I was a kid in the country we were pretty good friends with the local rural vet. Once someone we knew from the nearby horse boarding place brought her two friendly, perfectly healthy dogs in to euthanize because she was moving away. The vet was furious, needless to say, and within a day or two found the dogs homes.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:55 AM on April 11, 2022

You have my best wishes, Spathe Cadet. I hope this works out for you.
posted by y2karl at 11:02 AM on April 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done the dog adoption thing from a rescue group, and they had a requirement for personal references too. I thought it was a bit silly, and it felt more like an arbitrary requirement that just weeded out casuals, rather than a way to meaningfully determine anything about the potential adoptee. But, whatever, we did it. I think we needed two references, and one was a member of the rescue group (the person who clued us in about the dog we ended up adopting), and another was our longtime catsitter.

If you have a dog-walker or dogsitter or someone who's been involved in animal care for you in a quasi-professional capacity in the past, I would certainly use them as one of the references. Roommates and housemates are also good, although in many cases the applications may have a separate section for them.

Other than that, you can basically just use friends or neighbors or whoever you think is most likely to answer the phone when they get a call from an unknown number.

FWIW, it appears that the glut of dog-seekers during the pandemic is now drying up, and several rescue groups that I follow on FB are now actively recruiting adopters and fosters (including for puppies!) which they haven't had to do in years. So I wouldn't be too surprised if some places start relaxing the more-onerous and less-meaningful requirements in the near future. It's one thing to make people do "homework" when you have 10 potential adopters for each dog, but a bit different when you have a list of dogs who will be euthanized if you can't find homes for them and not enough homes, which seems to be the situation we are sadly getting back to.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:19 PM on April 11, 2022

Response by poster: brought her two friendly, perfectly healthy dogs in to euthanize because she was moving away.

what in the actual fuck
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:33 AM on April 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

My thought exactly.
posted by y2karl at 10:43 AM on April 12, 2022

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