Every now and again someone connected with the media takes the decision to re-home a pet from an animal charity.
Like many people, their expectation is that with so many animals needing homes, rescue centres will be falling over themselves to thrust a lead or cat basket in their hand. However the reality proves somewhat different as they discover there are procedures to follow to a greater or lesser extent so they put pen to paper.
In Dog’s Monthly magazine last year a vet wrote of her experiences in offering a home to a lurcher, which was entitled ‘Jumping Through Hoops’. Here at NAWT we felt it was important to send in a response to explain why our procedures are so important in ensuring the next home for the animals in our care is their forever home.
Authored by CEO Clare Williams, it was published, virtually unedited, in a subsequent edition of the magazine and we wanted to share it with you:
I can sympathise on a personal basis with how the writer felt as when I got my first rescue dog I found myself being questioned very intently on my relationship with my then partner to the point that I genuinely thought they were going to insist we got married before we could have the dog. Thankfully they didn’t and that wonderful dog literally changed my life by taking me into the world of dog training and changing my career from retailing to animal rescue.
However, it is not until I started working with the National Animal Welfare Trust and I saw ‘behind the scenes’ that I started to understand how important the rehoming process is for the animals, the owners and the charity.
The dogs that come to us will have had at least one home, sometimes more, and our overriding aim is that the next home should be the forever home. We do know that things happen in life that don’t always make that possible but we feel it is our duty to try.
Our view of the world is informed by our day-to-day dealings. Whilst a lot of people make the responsible decision to reluctantly bring their dogs in to rescue due to changes in their personal circumstances (relationship splits being top of the list), some of the reasons increasingly cited seem to reflect a new normality in which pets are regarded as an impulse buy.
Dogs that bring out the new boyfriend’s allergies, are too affectionate, or simply not liked anymore, are just some of the examples our centres have come across. It is little wonder that re-homing organisations like ours need to make sure prospective owners are committed to dog ownership.
Whatever we learn about each dog, it is important to ensure the next owner is going to be able to give it all the support the dog needs. It is no coincidence that many dogs arriving at rescue centres are adolescents whose behaviour has become too much to cope with in the home.
Since many missed out on the training they needed as a puppy, we increasingly need to do provide basic training, but also need to be confident that any new owner is prepared to continue that training once the dog is homed. That is why we ask about working hours and the amount of time a dog is going to be left, or even about fencing heights – we have had dogs who are capable of jumping a fence faster than the owner can run down the garden.
The homecheck is sometimes another area of contention, but to many rescue centres this is a crucial part of the homing process simply because sometimes the answers given on questionnaires or in interviews are not always matched by the realities of life back home.
I recall one homecheck I made to an older couple who were potential new owners of a dog who we had assessed as not being suitable to live with younger children. Having assured us they had no young children in the house, I noticed a pile of toys in the corner of the room during the homecheck. They explained that these were the grandchildren’s toys as they took care of their young grandchildren after school each day.
Another time, on another homecheck I noticed there was no fence between the potential owners and their next door neighbour - ‘oh that’s ok’ they said ‘it’s been like that for ages and we’re not going to fix it as our neighbour won’t mind the dog’.
Rehoming charities are finding themselves operating in an increasingly challenging environment these days. The recent very tragic case of Lexi Branson, who was killed by the family’s pet rescue dog highlights the risks and responsibilities of any rehoming organisation to ensure that they complete full assessments on each dog, and they match the right dog with the right owners.
All rescues are aware that despite all the assessments that are carried out, there are still no guarantees that behaviours cannot arise in the home environment that are never seen in kennels. Thankfully this is very rare but if it does happen, the rescue may be required to produce documented evidence that it did all it could to ensure the homing was safe and appropriate. This is the risk every rescue lives with on a daily basis and part of the reason why they are so thorough in their rehoming processes.
Each rehoming organisation will base its homing policies on the experiences that have gone before. Some may be stricter than others about particular matters such as the use of dog walkers or fenced-in front gardens, but for most of us it is a judgement call based on what we know about the individual dog, and the potential new owner and the only way we can find that out is by asking questions.
Because rescue homes operate 365 days of the year, it means staff and volunteers work on a rota basis so the only way to maintain consistency is to use questionnaires and interviews to ensure the correct process has been followed by all. We accept that this does mean some more experienced owners may be slightly offended, but at the end of the day it is a relatively short process in the lifetime of owning that dog and as long as it helps make the right decision for dog and owner we will continue asking questions.
From the moment animals come into our care our staff and volunteers start to build a relationship with them. In the case of dogs that can be quite intense due to the regular interaction during each day, so we are all naturally concerned that the right home is found for each animal.
Thankfully there are lots of people out there who were prepared to jump through a few hoops to now share their lives with a rescue dog and we make no apologies for continuing to care about the future of our dogs and their owners.
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