Ada on Interviewing

(interviewing adopters to prevent bad placements)

by Ada Brann, © 1996

This is an article, written by Ada Brann in 1996 (when she was Rescue Chair for SCBDFC) and used with her express permission , on her approach to interviewing prospective adopters. She wrote it for the Dog Rescue e-mail list in response to a question on how to reposess dogs if an adopter was not treating the dog well; the message is to avoid such placements through proper screening. My own ideas about interviewing have been influenced for the better by Ada. I used to talk too much and listen not enough. There's a reason we have two ears and one mouth.
I am re-printing the material exactly as Ada wrote it, adding only some formatting to make it easier to read. If I should need to add any comments, I will do so in a way that makes it absolutely clear that the added material is mine, not hers, by putting it in as {Pam's comment : blah, blah , blah} or just as {blah}.

Interviewing Adopters to Avoid Bad Placements

by Ada Brann, © 1996

Just wondering, but how many people on this list have had the experience of having to recover a dog because of a bad placement? or, better still, how to prevent some of these situations from happening in the first place.

We're a very small operation, we handle Bouvier des Flandres rescue in the southern California area, only 34 placements year-to-date. To us it's *a lot*, but compared to many of you it's not even a drop in the bucket. I'm sure our day will come when a "good home goes bad" despite our best efforts.

To prevent future problems down the road, screen screen screen! I try to keep a light-hearted attitude when interviewing. I want anecdotes from the families, not just a yes or no answer to a question. I try not to interrupt the people when they're talking only because I feel a "lecture" is inappropriate (I make a note to discuss a subject later). I want to hear their philosophies, what happened with a past behavior problem, how did they interpret it, what did they do to handle the situation, how they felt emotionally. sometimes I might say "ohmygawd, I bet you were ready to rip that dog's lips off!" or whatever to keep them telling the story. In sharing some negative behaviors, some people will say "oh well, you can't do anything about it, all dogs do ------". I might not think that's true, I just make a note to discuss that topic with them, and encourage them to continue sharing their thoughts. Sometimes you get some good insight this way.

It's important to me to make the prospective family feel at ease when talking to you, even the ones who try to hide some things will inevitably slip out a line or two to give you some insight. Get them to *visualize" life with one of your rescues, somehow they've decided on your breed, there's got to be some mental images in their mind, coax those images out of them. How do they see a routine day with their new rescue, why this breed, why rescue vs a breeder. Okay, they get up at such n such time, what happens from there, is their dog supposed to be waiting bedside with a steaming cup of coffee and an unshredded newspaper? Should they have awakened all the children and laid out the kids' clothes to wear for the day? Sorry if I sound unprofessional, but I tend to say off the wall stuff like this to put people at ease. Some have not even thought about what they *realistically* want from a dog, so you get to find that out too and decide if they'd be a possible, with a little more homework or research.

Anyhow, screening and interviewing really takes chunks out of your day, but it's worth it. After a while, you get to know the family as a friend, and it helps you in matching up a dog whose personality will fit the family's lifestyle and expectations.

I rarely tell a new caller that we have a rescue available. My usual line is for them to fill out our questionnaire, they might hear from me tonight, next week, or maybe not for a month, but I welcome them to call me any time day or night, if they're so excited and antsy in the waiting period, please by all means call me to share it as I enjoy hearing them say things like "I was at Home Depot and thought how nice it's going to be to have my Bouv walking next to the shopping cart". Then I get another picture of how they want their dog to behave in this public place (i.e. sitting every time the cart stops, sit to be pet, or just casually behave), and I can eek out some thoughts on obedience training. Or ask them how much time they spent in Home Depot, then tell them to double that the next trip because taking your Bouvier always draws a crowd and you only get half accomplished of what you planned to do (hahahaha). Then I get their reaction to that, which can insight me if they'd absolutely love that, or if they'd leave the dog home due to time pressure. What do they expect a dog to know automatically, and what do they think they will have to train for, once trained are we all done, or is it an ongoing process. You get little clues about all kinds of things just by chatting.

Once we feel we have a match between a rescue and a family, we have already established a relationship, a friendship. I would like to think that helps keep the lines of communication open, they know to call me at 3am whether it's good news or bad, so I hope the families won't be embarrassed to call me with a problem, or feel they will get chastised or lectured, but they will get support and together we'll discuss how to work thru it. I don't have all the answers, never will, it's a constant learning process for me as much as the families.

I got a call at 11:30 one night, a male we placed had just broken the front window in an attempt to chase something outside. The owner had mixed emotions, part of him was so pissed he was ready to drop the dog at the pound that very moment. Instead he called me and told me this. We talked for two hours, detail by detail, discussed his feelings about it, where do we go from here, he didn't want to curtail his dog's alerting abilities, we made a list of do's and don'ts in watchdog responsibilities, covered the options including finding the dog another home, and worked thru it. We also talked about what happens when dogs go to pounds, of course after we dealt with the problem at hand, and he's glad he called before reacting. Now when I talk to him, we can tease and joke about "that night".

Sorry I got to babbling here. We do other things besides just talk on the phone (ha), but I've gone on too long already! There's no guarantees no matter how much effort you put into the placement process. I'm all for hearing how you repossess a placement, I'm sure it's going to happen sooner or later, and I too would like a clue on how to go about it.

Ada Brann (the long-winded!) So Calif Bouvier des Flandres Rescue


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1996 by Ada Brann posted 8/2/03
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