How to do a "Home Check"
on a prospective adopter
This article deals with how to do a "home check" or a "home visit" to inspect and evaluate the premises and lifestyle of a prospective dog adopter and to helpfully advise the adopter on how to make the adoption go more smoothly . This step follows one or more interviews and preceeds the "try-out" phase of the dog moving into the adoptive home. The adopter may or may not have already met the dog under consideration and the dog may or may not come along on the home check visit.
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This article deals with how to do a "home check" or a "home visit" to inspect and evaluate the premises and lifestyle of a prospective dog adopter and to helpfully advise the adopter on how to make the adoption go more smoothly . This step follows one or more interviews (by telephone and possibly also by e-mail) and preceeds the "try-out" phase of the dog moving into the adoptive home. The adopter may or may not have already met the dog under consideration (ie at the home of the foster person) and the dog may or may not come along on the home check visit and if so this may or may not be with the idea that if no problems are discovered the dog will then move into the new home .
Normally the home check will have been preceeded by an extensive interview, as described in the article "Interviewing Prospective Adopters", and that interview may have identified items that will need attention during the home check.
Some Rescue people consider a home visit to be an essential part of the process and some merely regard it as a desirable one. My own opinion is that it depends partly on the prior experience of the adopter and partly on whether the preceeding interviews have raised any concerns or red flags in my mind. For adopters who are inexperienced with dogs generally or with Bouvier in particular, there can be extreme value in visiting the home in order to advise the owners so that problems can be minimized and so they can be advised on locations for dog doors and stretch gates and so they can be helped to move the breakables and chewables out of the dog's reach to create a dog-proofed area. Also I want to inspect the fencing with an eye that is much more experienced and critical than that of the inexperienced adopter. Also sometimes I have been a bit undecided about the people when I see them in my home, which is after all an alien environment for them, but I get a much clearer picture when I see them in their own home. Also in their own home I can get a much better picture of how their current pets are going to accept the prospective addition, whom I have brought along. Or perhaps I would like to be present the first time the dog encounters their beloved cat -- and maybe I want to have a muzzle and a shock collar on the dog in case I need to use it . Or maybe the dog should be wearing eye protection, because the cat is quite formidable with its claws. Maybe there is a family member who is unable to travel to my home because of injury or illness, but I still need to evaluate that person's interaction with the dog and be sure that person really welcomes the dog into the family.
For expereinced Bouv people, and especially for my "repeat customers" (I've been doing this for long enough that many of my earlier placements have completed their lives and their adopters have come back to me. Or the earlier adopted dog is still alive and well but the adopters want to enlarge their doggie family) , I don't see a home visit as useful unless the adopters ask me to do one to help them in some way -- or if they are marvelous cooks who will insist on feeding me something delicious !
Some Rescue people regard the home visit as primarily investigational, an essential part of deciding whether or not to trust this adopter with any dog. Others regard it as primarily a way to assist the adopters to minimize problems and to fix situations that need changing before the dog actually moves in. My own take is definately the latter, as I have eliminated the less worthy homes during the interview process. Of course if the adopters originally told me that they lacked fencing but would install same, then I certainly want to visit to make sure they have actually done so and done it adequately. If the people have indicated to me that they have recently moved into a nicer more upscale home, or if the people themselves impressed me as maybe being ones who might be overly concerned with the neatness and good order of their physical home and posessions, I may feel the need to assure myself that their home is "dog friendly" and preferably a bit "dog worn", ie showing clear evidence that the dogs spend plenty of time in the home and that the people are not dismayed if a dog tracks in muddy paws onto a clean floor or shakes its wet and dirty coat in all directions onto a previously clean everything. I want to be sure that the dog is completely welcome in the house and that its comfort has been provided for. Now there is a wide lattitude of lifestyles in this regard. But if dogs are not welcome on the sofa then there should be a sufficiency of dog cushions on the floors.
Another factor is that doing a home visit is a lot of work for the Visitor. There is the round trip drive plus the visit itself, which usually consumes at least two hours. It can be very pleasant, but it is time consuming and it does take you away from your own home and your own dogs. I was much more willing to do this back when I had a roommate who remained home with the dogs left behind. Often I combined the home visit with delivering the dog to its new home, and on occasion I stayed overnight to help the dog to feel comfortable in the new home as well as giving myself rest before a long drive back. Nowadays, being older and being the only non non-human in the household, I am less willing to do the driving and absent myself from home. If the prospective home is very far away, doing the visit yourself may be completely impractical. Then the question is whether you know someone who lives nearby whose judgement you trust who can do the visit for you. The e-mail list for your breed can be a big help here, as well as that network of dog friends you have built up over the years. This present article is inspired by my having recently phoned a good friend and expert dog person, a good buddy from my herding competition days, who lives about 300 miles north of me to ask her to do a home check on a home maybe a dozen miles from her own.
So you might be doing the home check on an adopter for your own foster dog, on an adopter for a dog someone else in the club is fostering, or as a favor to a fellow Rescue person (possibly in another breed) who lives far away. If it is for your own dog, you may be bringing the dog along and it may or may not be the first time the adopters have met the dog.
The questions arise as to (1) whether or not the adopter should already have met the dog at your home (the foster home) prior to the home visits and (2) whether or not the dog should accompany you to the home check visit. There are advantages and disadvantages each way.
There are advantages of having the adopters meet the dog at your home before you do the home check. If they don't like the dog, then you don't have to do the home check and you have saved yourself some work. If you don't like the adopters or don't like the way they are interacting with the dog, then there isn't going to be any adoption and you don't have to do the home check. Conversely if they really like the dog and if they impress you very very favorably as being both totally responsible and highly knowledgeable , you may decide you don't need to do a home check and you can let the dog go home with them that very day. This saves you a lot of effort and makes the adopters very happy. Or it could be that they like the dog and they impress you very well, but they want to go home and "sleep on it" ie think and talk about it so as to make a well thought out and unimpulsive decision. In which case you may still want to do the home check, mostly as a helpful measure, and deliver the dog at the same time. Or you might invite them to come pick up the dog a day or so later if they decide "all systems are go" and you could send them home with a checklist to self-inspect their home and especially fencing.
The obvious disadvantage of having the adopters meet the dog at your home before you do the home check is that they may really want the dog but you may feel very uncomfortable about letting them have it. Maybe you see clear reasons why you don't want to let them have any dog from you or maybe it's just that you see that this dog is a real mis-match for them. Now maybe they will accept your tactful explanation of why this is the wrong dog for them (I've been fortunate in this regard) , but maybe they won't take "NO" for an answer -- and of course now they know where you live and they could come back sometime when no one is home , etc etc. Or maybe they like the dog , but their fenceing still isn't complete and they want to take the dog home today, and again they may not be happy to take "not yet" as an answer. Or equally bad, they like the dog but they are about to go on vacation for 3 weeks and they assume that of course you don't mind holding the dog for them -- and by the way they are only 90% sure they want to adopt the dog but they will think about it on their vacation. Do I need to tell you that "holding" a dog for an adopter is usually a bad idea ? (Of course I would do it for any of my proven wonderful home repeat adopters, but they would ask such a favor only if they were certain they wanted the dog and only if the reason for postponment were something very serious. Yes, I have done it in some cases.)
Do I need to say that if you have any sense of discomfort about inviting a stranger to visit in your home, DON'T do it !? I myself feel quite secure with all my Bouviers about me. And amoung the photos on the wall, amid the herding and tracking photos, there are a few of a Bouvier doing protection work , ie giving a crushing bite to the "bad guy's" arm or leg. This tends to discourage anyone from acting up with me, as they can't know which of the dogs milling about are the ones who starred in the "kill the bad guy" photos.
If you do invite someone to meet the adoptable dog at your home, it is also a good idea to have other dogs somewhat out of the way while the adopter spends quality time with the adoption candidate. You don't want a crowd of dogs that would be confusing to the adopter and you sure don't want one of your own dogs "upstaging" the adoption candidate. So it's OK to introduce your other dogs, but then get everyone except the adoption candidate or candidates out of the way so all attention focuses on the candidate(s). And do I need to tell you that if the adopters are bringing their own dog to meet the candidate, and you know or suspect that one of your own dogs will be unpleasant or hostile to the visiting dog, that potential troublemaker should be completely out of the picture from start to finish, ie should be in a crate or bedroom or whatever.
Whether or not the meeting of dog and adopter has previously occurred, the advantage to taking the dog along on the home visit is that if no problems are revealed that can't be fixed on the spot, the adoption can commnece immediatly. Also it's a very good oppertunity to see the dog interact with the resident dogs and resident children in their own environment, usually with the parents behaving more as they normally do at home than they might if it were in your home. The disadvantage is that if you are dissatisfied with the home or with the adopters interaction with the dog, but the adopters expected to adopt anyway, you may have to be very firm about leaving with the dog going with you and you may wish you had thought to switch license plates on your car (only kidding).
The advantage of leaving the adoption candidate dog home when you do the home visit is that gives you and the adopters freedom to focus your complete attention on the inspection. It may also give you oppertunity to immediately set about fixing fixable problems, eg to run to the lumber store to get boards to replace the broken one in the fence, or to remove the cord of firewoood that was stacked up against the fence to another location. Additionally it ensures that both sides will have a "sleep on it" oppertunity before being asked "is that your final answer?" If the answer on your part is going to be "no", this allows you to give the final unappealable "no" from the safety of your phone and not face to face. Sometimes you will luck out and the adopters too will have recognized that this isn't a match made in heaven and you will be spared having to be the one to say "no". (And if you find saying "no" too distasteful, maybe you can let your club Rescue Chair deliver the bad news -- unless of course you are she.)
The disadvantage is of course that if the decision is to go foreward with the adoption , someone , either you or they , will still have to make another trip to deliver or to pick up the dog.
The physical factors that will affect the dog's safety are always at the top of the list. Factors that contribute to ease of living together are also very important.
You can start the check either outside the house or inside. I would advise beginning outside if there is only an hour or so of daylight left. Also begin outside if you have brought the candidate dog along and the adopter has one or more dogs : the fenced yard is a better place for them to meet than the inside of the house, because there is more room and less territorial tension, and also because you can have a garden hose laid out and with any sun-heated water already run out of it, just in case you would need the hose to break up a dog fight. (Note : I know that many advocate having dogs meet on "neutral" ground, ie which is not the teritory of either dog. It can be hard to find neutral ground that is safely fenced. Meeting in the yard of the home of the resident dog, who is probably more mature than the newcomer and whom the adopter probably hopes will be the more dominent of the two, tends to give added security and confidence to the resident dog and so help that dog maintain the higher rank without the need of a fight. In any case I have had good luck with this method.) The outside of the house is where the worst hazzards are usually to be found, especially in the form of fence or gate problems. Otherwise beginning inside may seem more natural and more in accord with human notions of hospitality.
On the outside of the house, the single foremost factor is fences, fences, and fences. While fences are always important, they become increasingly so in proportion to the hazzards that would await outside the fence, such as automobile traffic, farm machinery traffic, livestock at a neighbors, etc etc, all of which you may have noticed as you approached the home.
Other hazzards might await inside the yard.
And now let's go inside the house. Actually you may do the inside first and then the outside.
The first thing I would observe about the inside is whether it seems excessively neat and clean. Is your adopter far towards the Felix end of the "Odd Couple" scale ? If so this may be time to re-discuss the negative impact any dog will have on the housekeeping , emphasizing that Bouvs are amoung the worst of breeds in this regard. Now some folks have figured out how to keep everything looking wonderful without obsessive labor. Eg one of my favorite adopters have beautiful white slipcovers over all their furniture, so it looks great but is still dog friendly. But pristine white or off-white carpet is just asking for trouble in the form of dirty footprints. I'll confess I am more comfortable with adopters whose housekeeping is on the casual side, though they certzinly don't have to be anywhere near as slovenly as I am myself (even Oscar might cringe !)
Hand in hand with the neat and clean aspect, observe whether or not the house seems dog-friendly and , preferably , a bit "dog worn". I want to see evidence that dogs really do spend a lot of their time indoors (or some portion of it) and that their comfor thas been provided for. Eg if I don't see the resident dog curled up on the sofa or some evidence that the dog does so and is welcome to do so, I sure want to see some dog cushions on the floor. I want to see ample supply of water available for the dog where it is easy to get to; normally this would be in the kitchen (and there might additionally be a float valve self-refilling water dispenser outdoors). If I have brought the candidate dog and he should happen to have some obvious dirt clinging to his feet or coat, how do the adopters react ? (Would I be so devious as to walk the dog through mud before bringing him over? Who, me?)
In the kitchen I want to know where the kitchen garbage is kept, in particular any edible garbage or anything with food odors or particles clinging to it. It has to be somewhere that the dog cannot get into it. Idealy it is on the other side of a door the dog cannot open. I usually encourage people to move the kitchen garbage can out to the garage , which does mean a few steps more walking each time they put something into it. If the dog whose adoption is contemplated is one who has a tendency to "counter surf" , ie look for food scraps on the kitchen table or side counters, I help them to look for items that currently reside there that are breakable and could be knocked off; such items should be moved to higher ground. Even if the adopters don't mind losing the item to breakage , the broken shards on the floor could cut the dog's feet painfully or even with permanent damage.
If there are children, I look to see if there are children's toys scattered around where the dog might pick them up. If so , this can be an issue of safety if the toys are such the dog might swallow them or parts broken off of them. It can also cause a lot of problems if the dog carries off toys and chews or slobbers them, as the child and parents may object to this. This is an issue that needs to be discussed. Are the parents willing to take on the responsibility of policing and refereeing these issues ? Needless to say, any dog who has shown any inclination to object guarding of toys should NOT be placed in a home with children !
I always look to see if there is a dog door and if there is not, I would discuss where one might easily fit in. If there is a very young child, then likely the parents will not want a dog door through which the child could exit unsupervised. Likewise if there is a cat.
I ask the adopters to show me which areas the dog would be excluded from , either full time or at times when no adult is supervising. If so , how are these areas blocked off from access ? I do let them know that it is perfectly reasonable and often highly desirable to limit the dog's access to some areas , eg it is mandatory to exclude access from the medicine cabinet and the cleaning goods storeage area. If they don't already know about stretch gates (also called baby gates) , this is the time to explain the value of same. Or of course it may be that simply closing an already existing door is all that is needed. If the dog is an older one or has any mobility problems, I recommend closing off the top and bottom of stairs with stretch gates so the dog does not have unsupervised access and risk of falling.
If there are young children or absent minded adults in the house who might leave the front door open, or if the dog has any tendency to rush out an open door without waiting for permission, then unless the front yard is also adequately fenced, we need to discuss establishing an "air lock." An "air lock" is two doors or gates with a small area in between, such that only one gate is open at a time : ie the same principal as keeping the air from rushing out of your spaceship or spacestation is applied to keep your dog from rushing out. Now if the house is designed with a small entry area, then placing a stretch gate on the inner side of that entry area works well. If there is a porch or corridor leading into the front door, then a gate closing off the far end of that area will work well. Training the dog to wait for an exit permission is also quite important, but cannot be acomplished overnight. I would advise against placing a known door bolter dog into a home that lacks an airlock and has a door-careless human occupant if the home is also on a street with more than minimal car traffic, ie not on a cul-de-sac.
In the bathrooms, if there are any male humans in the house, it becomes nescessary to ask if any form of toilet cleaner or deodorizer are ever ever ever used in the toilets. Make sure that the adopters understand that such cleaners and deodorizers and tank pellets quite often contain ingredients that are dangerous to the dog. Given that it is next to impossible to train the male human to unfailingly keep the toilet seat closed, it becomes imperative to avoid using such dangerous additives ! (And where oh where is the inventor-entrepreneur to put on the market a self-closing toilet ? Inventors, here is your chance to make yourself very very wealthy while conferring a great benefit upon womankind and dogkind !)
If there is another dog already resident or if there is a cat or any other pet, it is a good idea to have the adopters show you how they would separate pets if it were to be nescessary. What area is available for the pet who must be segregated (part time when unsupervised or full time) and how are issues of outdoor potty access addressed? What proceedure and timetable would be followed when it is time to swap the positions of the pets so that each will get adequate contact and companionship time with the humans ? If the separation did need to be full time, how would the adopters feel about having to live in "a house divided" ? Make sure they understand that it is acceptable to return the dog to you if the try-out period shows that this dog is not fully and peacefully compatible with other pets. Now if the other pet is a species (eg rodent, rabbit, ferret, reptile, or possibly bird) that will inevitably be regarded as lunch by the dog, then this needs to be understood from the start and you must make sure that a secure and safe permanent separation scheme will be in opperation.
Make sure to ask the adopters what they see as potential issues concerning the home environment.If they think something is an issue, then indeed it IS an issue ! Then if possible suggest one or several ways of coping with such issues. Most problems do have several potential solutions. In some cases however it may be that this particular dog would be a mis-match to this particular home, and if that is the case you owe it to everyone involved to say so in a pleasant and non-judgemental sounding way.
If the adopters have already met the dog in the foster home or have met and adequately gotten to know the dog during the home check visit, the next step is for you and they to both make up your mind as to whether or not they want to adopt the dog and as to whether or not you (and perhaps other members of the Rescue Committee) approve the adoption. If so, then it's time to have them read the adoption contract , or have you read it to them and emphasize the main points, and determine when the try-out period might begin. If the dog is present on the visit, it may begin right now. Or one or the other side may want to take a day or two to think it over before making a commitment. If you yourself have any doubts, you can always say that all adoptions require final approval of the Rescue Chairperson, then discus your concerns with her and let her be the one to deliver the bad news to the adopters if that is the ultimate decision.
I keep referring to a "try out period" because I do firmly believe that making the first month be a trial period is a good idea. I will take a dog back at any time of course, but after the first month I don't consider that adopters should expect their adoption fee refunded. During the first month, I do give a refund if the dog is returned in mental and physical condition equally good to that in which he left. I think one month is a reasonable period in which the adopters should be able to make up their mind to commit to being a "forever" home for this dog. In theory there might be a dog who has some behavior issue that would take longer than a month for the adopter to fel sure enough that things were going to be OK in the end, but so far it has not happened to me. Usually I find they are absolutely certain within the first few days.