Why I do not do long distance adoptions

I am not comfortable doing long distance adoptions and very rarely do them. So in this article I set out my principal reasons why I think that long distance adoptions are a bad idea from the viewpoint of the welfare of the dog, the adopter, and the rescue person. Other rescue people and groups with different situations and resources may find these reasons less relevant or less important. There is more than one right way to do Rescue..

Why I don't do long distance adoptions

Some rescue groups are comfortable placing dogs in homes that are a long distance away from the rescuer's location. I am not comfortable doing long distance adoptions and very rarely do them. So in this article I set out my principal reasons why I think that long distance adoptions can be a bad idea from the viewpoint of the welfare of the dog, the adopter, and the rescue person. Generally I instead refer adopters to rescue people or groups in their own vicinity and advise them to cruise their local shelters in person and on line (especially through Petfinder.com)..

The "Blind Date" factor :
To ensure the best chance for an adoption match (match between dog and adopter) to work well, I want the adopter to meet the dog and spend enough time with the dog before taking the dog home that the adopter can be 95 to99% sure that the adopter is willing to make a lifetime commitment to this dog. I want to be present during this initial get acquainted meeting so I can evaluate the interaction between dog and adopter. When the adopter is a family, ie more than one person, I want all of them to participate in this meeting. Ideally if there is already another dog in the family, that dog would also participate.
I joke with the adopters that surely they have had the experience of being "fixed up" on a bilind date by a match-making friend who knows one or both persons fairly well and is sure that they will get along famously, but it turns out that the pair can barely get though dinner together without killing one another. (Or at least that they find themselves totally incompatible or disinterested in one another.).
Now it's true of course that adopters living far from me may be able to come here to meet the dog. In some cases they have relatives or friends in the area to visit, or perhaps some other event will be bringing them to my area. Maybe just maybe I would have a suitable dog available at that particular time. If so, the other difficulties can still be a factor.
The difficulties of getting a pre-adoption home visit done :
Obviously if the adopters live far away from me, then it is really difficult or impossible for me to do a home visit in person. I could of course ask a rescue collegue to do the visit for me, as I have sometimes been asked to do for other rescuers. In the case of an adopter who is relatively inexperienced with dogs, I think that doing a pre-adoption visit can be very helpful in order to check fencing and advise on such things as moving chewable and breakable items out of the dog's access and installing dog door and stretch gates. For experienced adopters, I feel comfortable just advising them over the phone on these matters. Sometimes people send me photos or diagrams of their living situation so I can better advise them.
For those multi-person rescue groups who have members in many places, they will often have someone who lives close to the adopter and can do the home visit.
The hazzards of long distance travel for the dog:
I am unwilling to have any of my foster dogs travel by air plane to their new home. I do not trust the airlines to view the dog's life and welfare as precious, or indeed to treat the dog as move valuable than a suitcase full of dirty underwear. That same airline that so often sends your luggage to the wrong destination is just as likely to do so to your dog., possibly never to be found. I've heard too many cases of dogs somehow escaping and never being found again. I've heard too many cases of dogs arriving dead in their crates.
Now it is somewhat less risky if the adopter/owner is traveling on the same flight and insists on seeing the dog's crate actually loaded into the plane (the crate being marked in some way that clearly identifies it from a distance) and if the flight is a non-stop one . Of course it is essential that the weather be neither too hot or too cold and that the cargo cabin be pressurized and temperature controlled just as well as the passenger cabin.
Note that I'm not dealing with dogs so small that they can fly in the cabin as under-the-seat cargo. The only way an adult Bouvier gets to fly in the cabin is if the dog is a Disability Service Dog (aka Disability Assistance Dog).
The hazzards are less if the adopter comes here to get the dog and then drives home with it, assuming an experienced and prudent adopter who will take great care to avoid risk of the dog escaping from them at a rest stop or other stop in transit. Of course the dog should have adopter's travel itinerary and adopter's cell phone number attached to its collar throughout the journey.
Sometimes it is possible to arrange for car transport by the Canine Underground Railroad, which is a chain of drivers who each take the dog on one leg of the trip and then hand it off to another driver. There are a few other transportation systems that have cropped up from time to time.
The difficulties of getting the dog back if the adoption goes sour :
My very biggest reason for being unwilling to make long distance adoptions is that it becomes very difficult for me to get the dog back or to make a second placement if the original placement goes sour or if some personal catastrophe overtakes the adopter. While the adopter might have been willing to go to great trouble or expense to obain the dog from me, expecting a wonderful partnership with that dog, the adopter is most unlikely to be willing to go to great trouble or expense to get the dog safely back to me if the adoption goes sour and the partnership proves dissappointing..
One way of dealing with an adoption falling apart at a long distance is if one has rescue buddies who live near the adopter's home who are willing and able to respond to a distress call and go pick the dog up or accept the dog's return by the adopter. Then that buddy would have to be willing to either ship the dog back to me (with the attendant risks and expenses, the latter to be borne by me of course) or else to foster the dog until a new adoption can be arranged in that vicinity. That means that the buddy has to be someone I really trust and who really trusts me and who is very dedicated to the welfare of dogs. It's not a burden I'd want to have to lay on someone, though there are some buddies with whom I've long had a reciprocal arrangement to be the "safety net" for one another's foster dogs adopted to one another's vicinity.
Now I have had very very few of my adoptions actually come apart, because of course I do take great care in my match-making. But many years ago I did have two long distance adoptions fail, one in Alaska and one in Arizona. I was extremely lucky in both cases to be able to arrange for other waiting adopters in those areas to go get the dog and adopt it. One cannot count on such luck. Closer to home, I had an adoption end because the adopter died, a misfortune one can neither predict nor prevent. I've only had two other dogs need to come back to me.

Policies evolve over time. So mine has become one in which I encourage all adopters to look first and look long for dogs in their own neighborhood, ie within a hundred miles or so (or whatever they consider a comfortable driving distance). I encourage them to spend at least most of a day with the dog at the foster home. Sometimes it's good to make more than one visit to the foster home so the dog knows the adopter before going to the adopter's home. But I have made adoptions to people as far from me (I'm near Sacramento , CA) as the greater Los Angeles area, Reno NV, and Oregon. In such cases I try very hard to describe the dog as accurately as possible over the phone, with great emphsis on any undesirable behaviors or health issues. I don't want someone to make a long drive and then be dissappointed when they meet the dog. I've made a very few placements further away, in WA and AZ ; these have been adopters heavily vouched for by rescue buddies who know the people very well. In all these cases the adopters came to my home, then drove back home with the dog.

Those rescue groups that are national groups, with foster homes all over the country or over a wide area, will probably be able to cope with all of these issues except the first one, the "blind date" issue. They often can arrange transportation by a "bucket brigade" of members each driving a few hours and handing the dog over to the next link of the chain. And they may have another foster home ready near the dog's destination to take the dog if the adopter doesn't make the commitment or later backs out.

Anyone reading this article should consider how my reasoning applies to your own situation and resources, which may be very different from mine. Also those groups who deal in breeds where there are huge numbers of dogs coming through rescue usually need to make placements as soon as possible and don't have the luxury of holding a dog for a longer time to wait for the very best match. So I am not trying to tell you what you should do, but only give you whatever benefit you can get from my experience and reasoning.

May Goddess (Doggess Above) bless and sustain all Rescue people !!


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 2/05/09 revised 2/05/09
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