Doing Referral Placements
How to help an owner place their dog with a good adopter.
When the owner is unable or unwilling to keep their dog, but wants to take responsibility for deciding on an adopter and is able to do so..
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Most of the time when owners contact me about putting their dog up for adoption, they intend to surrender the dog to me for foster care and placement. However sometimes the owner is willing and able to keep the dog for a substantial period and wants to be the one to make the decision as to which adopter gets the dog and hopes to maintain some contact with the adopter afterwards. In that case, I can help by referring adopters I have already screened to the owner. My role would be that of a middle-man. I call this "referral placement" but others may use different names for it. The Southern California BDF Club calls this "direct placement", as the dog is going directly from the surrendering owner to the adopter.
Before discussing the issue of surrender to Rescue versus getting adopter referral help, ideally I want to explore whether there is any way the owner might be willing and able to keep the dog permanently. In particular is there some behavior issue that the owner has been frustrated about which is motivating the desire to place the dog; and if that issue could be solved, would the owner want to keep the dog and offer it a good quality of life and companionship ?
I probably should add that I tend to be less optinistic about the results of this sort of relationship repair counseling than I used to be. Unless the owner is very attached to the dog and very willing to take responsibility and willing to make changes in their own behavior , the outlook for long term solution is not very good. Too often an attempt to repair a shaky relationship merely post-pones the decision to surrender, by which point the dog may have further deteriorated in attitude and behavior and thus require more rehabilitation. So unless the owner is very committed and only seeking training/behavior help, I'd just as soon get the surrender of the dog into my hands done now rather than later and avoid the risk that a frustrated owner will "snap" and either dump the dog into the nearest pound or demand that their own vet kill the dog right now..
(Note : I caution rescuers against offering to be the boarding place. If you do so, it is imperative that your contract specifies that if owner does not take dog back by a specified date, Decision Day or DDay, the dog is thereby surrendered to you irrevocably ; attach a copy of your normal Surrender contract that is signed and dated as DDay. Also charge them enough board per day that they don't ask for an unreasonable amount of time to make this decision, and have them pre-pay your normal surrender fee in a separate check which can be dated DDay. The board contract should also make clear that the owner remains responsible for all vet expenses and any other expenses and remains liable for any damages the dog might do to any person, animal , or property while in your care.)
Is it appropriate to charge a fee for doing a referral ? Damn right it is !
Ideally the surrendering owner would make a significant donation to the Rescue and the adopter would make a donation in amount similar to the Rescue's usual adoption fee. If so, then this works very well for the Rescue financially and the added gain can subsidize the many other dogs whose expenses result in red ink for the Rescue.
Unfortunately unless you insist on a fee being paid up front, you will be relying on the owner's and adopter's sense of obligation or honor, which may prove to be very slight or non-existant.. If you do charge a fee up front, then your potential for legal liability for a bad placement resulting in injury to someone could be higher than if you simply encourage a donation afterwards.
My own policy has been to ask for donations and say that as to amount "let your conscience be your guide", with the adopter being reminded of the organization's usual adoption fee or at least being reminded of the local shelter's fee. I tend to take the economic circumstances of the parties into consideration, especially right now (end of 2009) when so many people are in lessened circumstances. (Example : one of my very responsible surrendering owners lost her job mid-way through the process. She says she would like to donate but can't right now ; I've assured her that a donation at a later time or a series of small donations over a range of time would still be very welcome.)
Note : I may have to re-evaluate and change this policy as so far it has not been as productive of donations as I'd hoped. Maybe it's just too damn easy for surrendering owners to decide they can't afford a donation because there is something else (such as a new 96" wide flat screen TV) that they want for themselves and they'd rather spend their money on that.
Alternatively one could require the owner seeking referral to pay a small fee before the process starts , say $25 to $50, and a larger amount , say bringing the total to $100 to $200, when an adoption is actually accomplished. Paying some money "up front" tends to make those who are still ambivalent stop and think and come down on one side of the fence or the other. It also makes them recognize that you are doing some hard work on their behalf, fulfilling a portion of the responsibility rightly theirs. Because for Bouviers, the number of potential adopters is usually greater at any given time than the number of Bouvs needing new homes, I think it is perfectly fair to require a non-refundable up-front partial fee since , unless the dog has serious problems, I can be sure of being able to make a placement. Alternatively, one could require the entire fee to be paid up-front , with a partial refund to be given if a placement cannot be found (and either no refund or smaller partial refund to be made if the owner changes their mind and decides to keep the dog after all; you will have earned that fee by causing the owner to gain a new appreciation for and commitment to their dog).
To surrendering owners reluctant to commit to any fee for referral services, one could point out that the referral fee you charge is lower than the surrender fee you will charge if they later decide to turn the dog over to you and let you carry the entire burden. The referral fee would of course apply as part payment to a later surrender fee. Point out that every well run shelter that claims to be "No Kill" (a term which can have a variety of meanings) will charge some kind of evaluation fee (with no guarantee the dog will be accepted) or charge some kind of surrender fee. (They have to do so if they want to survive.) The public shelters which are legally forced to accept every surrendered pet often charge some kind of surrender fee (and for owner requested killings they also charge a euthanasia fee) .While the public shelter fee is lower than yours, if the dog is evaluated as not adoptable (for any reason, and it could be a very trivial and easily remedied reason) and not taken in by a recognized rescue, the dog will be killed, and those dogs which are evaluated as adoptable but who do not get adopted within a time frame the shelter is able to handle (shorter and shorter time period as shelter budgets get slashed) the dog will be killed anyway.
Note : this is the point at which you should make clear whether or not you have an "absolute no kill" (will keep for rest of life any dog not adopted) policy versus a sorrowful and reluctant willingness to euthanize dogs for severe and/or irremediable medical or for severe and/or dangerous behavioral reasons (eg those likely to bite severely in the future). It's also a good time to discuss the fact that every rescue runs deep in red ink due to the dogs who have serious medical needs or who have to be fostered for extended periods. Also a good time to make clear whether or not you also take into foster care dogs from shelters or only from surrendering owners or some other policy such as giving one category priority over the other. Also a good time to discuss the rather high risks of illness and behavior deterioration for dogs during a stay in a shelter.
As for fees from the adopters, I'd suggest that you let them know what the Rescue's normal fee is for dogs being fostered in Rescue. Pause for their reaction. They may very well say that they are totally comfortable with that, or perhaps that they are comfortable with that but need to divide it into two installments. If so, do not discourage payment of the full fee. But if you don't see them happy to pay the full fee, you can then say that since the rescue , while putting a lot of work (yours) into this match-making, has had less actual expense than for the typical fostered rescue, and therefore a lesser amount of $XXX payable at time of adoption is appropriate. This is also a good time to mention that over the course of any year Rescue is always in the red because of those dogs needing extra medical care. Also remind them if your Rescue is a 501c3 non-profit that their donation to Rescue is tax deductible.
Alternatively, some Rescues charge every adopter applicant an up-front small fee, say $25, for making an application to adopt (perhaps refunded if that application is deemed unacceptable). That fee does NOT guarrantee the adopter a dog, but only goes to pay some of the phone bills and other expenses that Rescue will have in trying to make a match. If a dog is adopted from Rescue or through Rescue referral, there is an additional and more substantial adoption fee/donation that will be required. (Again, the fee for referral adoption might be the same as or lower than the fee for a fostered dog.)
Alternatively, you can use the "let your conscience be your guide" method described above. Do be sure to let them know why Rescue really needs and appreciates donations. It can help to have a specific dog's story on hand with vet cost figures included.
To reiterate, I feel that both the surrendering owner and the adopter ought to make meaningful donations or pay meaningful fees for a referral placement. The same is true of a surrender-to-foster-care situation, where the fees should equal or higher than those for a referral placement, due to the greater costs and work involved and the greater services to both parties. But in every situation the over-riding priority is the need of the dog to be in a safe place while awaiting adoption and then to be adopted into a responsible, knowledgeable, and loving home. If that means letting someone get a break financially, as long as your Rescue can afford to do it, then do what you have to do.