Has Adopting Pets Become Too Difficult?

Adoption agencies are putting prospective pet owners to the test.


Oct. 18, 2007 — -- Stacks of paperwork, proof of good credit and homeownership, sit-down interviews and home visits by agency representatives are all part of the game when it comes to adoption.

Even the four-legged, furry, slobbery kind.

While many may expect to have to jump through hoops to adopt a child, pet adoption agencies use similar protocols to ensure each orphaned pooch finds a safe and loving home.

Ellen DeGeneres recently came under fire after she gave Iggy, the dog she adopted from California-based Mutts and Moms animal shelter to her hairdresser. During an emotional segment on her show "Ellen," DeGeneres said that the pup had too much energy to coexist with her cats, and her hairdresser, who is also a friend of DeGeneres', was in the market for a new pet anyway.

It was a match made in heaven, or so she thought.

When people at the animal shelter got news of Iggy's new living arrangements, they were furious and took the puppy back, claiming that DeGeneres had broken one of the rules of the contract that states that if owners can no longer care for an animal, they must return it to the shelter and not take it upon themselves to find it a new home.

And so began a war of words between DeGeneres and Mutts and Moms, both believing they did the right thing for the dog.

"I'm sure she reads the seven-figure contract she signs, and [the pet contract] says clearly there is no right to transfer," Keith Fink, the attorney representing the animal shelter, told ABCNEWS.com. "The [animal shelter] must approve the new adopter."

Fink, who said both he and his clients have received death threats since DeGeneres' on-air announcement, said the dog shelter has these rules in place so it can be certain the dog is getting the best care.

Mutts and Moms also has a policy, Fink said, that says children under the age of 14 cannot adopt small dogs like Iggy, due to the increased risk that they leave a door open or play with the puppy too roughly. So the family that Ellen had given the dog to -- which includes two young girls -- probably wouldn't have been approved as suitable pet owners in the first place.

"Ellen admits she made a mistake, but she really innocently thought she was doing a good thing," DeGeneres' publicist, Kelly Bush, told ABCNEWS.com. "Instead of the dog going back to a crate in a shelter, she found a great home for it."

The days when just about anyone could walk into a shelter and leave minutes later with a new best friend are over, but some may wonder if these animal shelters are going a little overboard with their contracts and screening ordeals.But ever since more rules were put into effect at shelters, pet adoption experts told ABCNEWS.com, more animals have been put in more stable homes. After all, they say, the rules and paperwork are in the best interest of the animals.

"Five years ago, we didn't have an application process," said Paula Werner, program manager at Lake County Animal Care and Control in California. "It used to be that if you could breathe and cough up the money, you had a pet. It created a revolving door."

"Today we have better-qualified adopters," said Werner, who said her shelter does require paperwork and sometimes even home visits. "If you're not willing to spend the time on a three-page application, how are you going to spend time on a pet?"

The application and contract is certainly not uncommon, either. Several animal shelters ABCNEWS.com contacted said that to adopt, customers have to provide references and details about any previous animals they have cared for. And sometimes even a long conversation about the responsibility that comes with having a pet is required, especially if the agency is a bit hesitant about the potential owner.

With as many as 7 million stray animals entering shelters each year, industry members said that these rules are the only way to ensure that the animals they find homes for won't end up on the street again.

"We have to enforce our adoption agreements because we have enough trouble finding them homes once, we don't want to have them recirculated or having puppies," said Carolyn B. Matlack, an animal rights attorney and managing editor of The Animal Legal Report. "In order to ensure that, pet adoption agencies have to enforce their agreements."

While fans seem to be rallying behind DeGeneres, national animal organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the American Society to Prevent Cruelty to Animals, are split on whether they believe the pet adoption rules -- like the one DeGeneres flouted -- are too strict.

"We know that Ellen was trying to do the right thing in finding the dog a new home," PETA spokesman Michael McGraw said in a statement to ABCNEWS.com. "She just missed a step in neglecting to contact the agency first. PETA does think that the agency's policies of doing home checks and not allowing people to transfer animals to others are good rules that protect animals."

On the other hand, the ASPCA seems to agree more with what many of DeGeneres' followers are saying -- as long as the dog is safe, why should the contract matter?

"Had a similar situation been encountered with an ASPCA adopter, and had the new home met our adoption criteria, in all likelihood we would have encouraged the new home environment for the animal," said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres in a written statement. "We would encourage Mutts and Moms to revisit its approach to this situation and look forward to a positive outcome that reinforces the importance of pets in our society and the human-animal bond."

"I can understand the high priority that adopters give to the contract," said Matlack, who is also the author of "We've Got Feelings Too!' "You can never be too safe, for far too long we have treated animals as disposable goods."

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