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Why we do what we do

May 02, 2017 • by Liz McCauley, Executive Director, Animal Rescue League of Berks County
Liz McCauley

If you have ever been to the ARL when one of our residents is being adopted, you have seen lots of smiles, hugs, and tears of happiness as our staff bids a fond farewell.  We have loved and cared for these lost souls—sometimes for a very long time—and nothing makes us happier than seeing them leave the shelter for what we hope will be their forever home. 

We make a commitment to animals whose life we have saved that we will find him or her a safe and secure home where he or she will be loved for the rest of their lives.  We also make a commitment to potential adopters to help them find the most compatible animal for their family’s lifestyle, experience, and personality.  Our goal is to match the specific needs of the adopters with those of the pet so they can enjoy many years of fun and companionship.  We take this responsibility very seriously.

In order to ensure this “match made in heaven,” we have policies and procedures in place that protect the adopter, the new pet, and any current pets in the household equally.  For example, we require all other animals in your household to be current on vaccinations.  Why?  Well, for one, all cats and dogs over the age of 12 weeks are required by law in Pennsylvania to be vaccinated against rabies.  We are the agency in Berks County that enforces the PA Dog and Animal Cruelty Law; therefore, it’s our responsibility to uphold the laws of our state.  Further, most of the animals that find themselves in our shelter are strays and we have no medical history.  Although all of our animals receive vaccinations while at the shelter, sometimes it takes time for them to take effect and we would not want to risk having other pets at home become sick.  Most importantly, we want to make sure our residents go to homes where they will be cherished and cared for—which means receiving regular veterinary checkups and vaccines.  That is considered responsible pet ownership, which we insist upon.

Another policy potential adopters often question is why we require every member of the family and, in the case of dogs, all other canine family members to come to the shelter for a “meet and greet.”  Folks say, “My dog is good with other dogs—why do I have to go to the trouble?”  Well, let’s face it—dogs are like people more than we care to admit and some dogs just don’t like other dogs or a certain person.  It’s true—we see it all the time with staff.  A dog will absolutely love one staff member but growl at the other.  Again, we often have no idea what these animals have experienced in their stressful previous lives and we need to take every precaution not to send someone home to a situation that just does not work.

The staff at ARL that conducts our “meet and greet” sessions are very experienced in dog behavior and interaction.  Besides the fact that they work closely with these dogs every single day, watching them interact with staff, other dogs, and volunteers, they have all attended training classes.  Several are certified dog trainers and behavior specialists.  All are experienced with dog “meet and greet” interactions—what is going to work and what definitely will not work.  If they observe behavior from an owner’s dog or our shelter dog that makes them uncomfortable, you can be sure the match is not a good one.  Again, we want nothing more for our beloved residents to find their forever home—but we want more than anything for it to be the RIGHT home.

We also need to make sure that a potential adopter owns their own home or their property owner has given them permission to own the animal they wish to adopt.  The most stressful situation for a shelter animal is to finally be adopted, spend a few nights in their new home, only to be returned to the shelter.  It only makes sense for us to make sure our residents are going home to stay, and that requires proof that they are allowed to be there. 

The policy that we receive the most questions about is when we put adoption restrictions on a certain animal (i.e. must have breed experience, no children under eight, no cats, no other dogs, etc.)  Just over two years ago, we completely revamped our dog behavioral assessment procedure here at ARL.  There are many aspects of this evaluation and we spend as much time as we possibly can getting to know each dog prior to placing it up for adoption.  Once on the adoption floor, many of our dogs have individual lesson plans that staff and volunteers put the dogs through daily to work on specific behavior issues.  The cat room staff and volunteers interact with every single cat every day to determine their likes, dislikes and overall personality.  We test each of them with other cats to see if they can live together in our colonies or prefer a private condo.  By the time a cat or dog reaches the adoption floor, our staff has a pretty darn good idea of what kind of home will work and what won’t.  So, if we say that Buttercup the cat does NOT like other cats—guess what—she doesn’t!  If we say Big Brutus the 85 lb. mastiff pup should go to a home with no little kids because he is a tank and will knock them over, he will!  If we say Peanut the Chihuahua will not do well in a home with other dogs—trust us, we tried! 

Again, it is our responsibility to make sure each adoption is a win-win for both the animal and the adopter and that the bond between you and your new companion is forever.  We take that responsibility very seriously.

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