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What happens
when
adoptions
don't work?


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What happens when rehoming goes very, very wrong
copyright (c) 2021 Frania Shelley-Grielen. All rights reserved.

When it comes to finding a new home for any pet, rehoming is a tough road to
travel.  Mostly for the pets shuffled around in the process along with the rescuers
and the fosterers involved with them. The biggest fear for those working with
animals; those who do the caring and feeding and socializing and taming and
training and treating, is that the standard of care the pets will receive in the
future will not equal the care they have been receiving from the rescuer, fosterer,
clinic or shelter.  In fact, it won’t be, it can’t be.  The care received can never be
the same when the individual care giver is changed (and this is no small factor
in stressing an animal—a humane and consistent caregiver is vital to an animal’s
welfare).  If even this change is a stressful one, how then can this ever work?  
Finding new places for companion animals to live without the companions they
have developed relationships with?

What makes rehoming work, the theory or hope behind it, is based on the animal
being first, placed into a new environment where  a universal standard of care is
adhered to which will benefit the animal’s welfare and second, that after an
inevitable adjustment period (which the new guardian must successfully facilitate)
the animal will thrive.  And when a supportive environment and guardian come
together for the animal so does a “forever” home.  But what happens when this is
not the case?  What about when the reasons industry people fear most come to
fruition; the guardian who says they want the pet and then realizes they would
rather not consistently buy and open smelly cans of pet food, change a cat box or
walk a dog several times a day or come home early from a night out to do any of
these?  And what about any of the horror stories we would rather not hear about
but that happen every day whether we hear about them or not? What happens
when the universe drops the very same animals you thought were in that forever
home right back in your world?  What then?

Not long ago I received a phone call from a woman I had never met who was
traveling southbound on the New Jersey turnpike.  She was calling from a rest
stop somewhere in southern New Jersey, not being from the area, she could not
tell me which one she was at.  She was calling to say she had “found” my cats
(and she did not sound happy about the discovery), right there at the rest stop.  
I live in Manhattan and when I heard this I was; confused, concerned, taken
aback -all three.  My pet greeting behavior on arriving home includes personal
interaction and all pets were present and accounted for.

“My cats are all home”, I said.  Why, did she think the cats were mine?  The traveler
explained that she had been taking her dog for a relief walk and found the cats in
question behind a bush, huddled closely together in the back of a carrier with the
door ajar.  It did not look as if the cats had left the carrier and they appeared clearly
terrified, all huddled into themselves and each other.  She had called me because
the carrier had a sticker pasted on the end, one with my name on it, the sort of
sticker a veterinary clinic places on a carrier with the identifying details of the pet
along with the owner information. My information was on that carrier for a spay
surgery I had facilitated.  I started thinking about cats I had worked with and
carriers I had given away and I realized which cats these must be and who had
“adopted” them.  I asked what the cats looked like:  were they long haired?  Was
one grey and one orange and white?  Yes to both.  I knew who these cats were.

Two years prior, I had worked with two four month old feral street kittens at the
request of a Soho animal shelter.  Four months is fairly old to socialize kittens to
humans but time and consideration are the magic ingredients in working with
any cat and for ferals it’s really just much, much more of each.  Another four
months of time working with these siblings, spay surgeries and recovery time
and these girls had graduated or so I thought, to being successfully adopted or
"rehomed".  But rehoming is a tough road, one not so easily traveled.

In the work that I do; people without pets will often apologize to me for not sharing
their home with pets, as if they are at fault for knowing their limitations.  I praise
those who know that pet care is beyond them and who avoid taking on an animal
they cannot care for.  Sometimes the best choices for all involved are the ones we
do not make.  And what of the limitations realized too late for those who have taken
on the responsibility of the life of another who find themselves not able to provide
care?  What is the thinking for the person doing the abandoning?

Rescues and shelter routinely ask that animals be returned if a placement is not
successful.  And while human beings are “diagnostically oriented” a/k/a judgmental,
animal care workers need to reframe situations on an ongoing basis as a survival
strategy in the field.  Reframe and go on, not knowing this, might the thought of an
animal worker’s possible judgment of a return be enough to dissuade contacting
them?  Can what one person think, if they do think it at all, be reason enough to
deprive a cat or dog from a dedicated process for humane care?  Can a person
really reasonably believe that somehow by leaving these cats in an open area they
will be able to fend for themselves?  Maybe in a Disney movie, but in real life
dropping off domesticated animals in new and foreign territory is not a chance to
strike out and make a life for themselves. Even should one persist in the belief of
a benevolent universe and laws of nature, one needs to know these laws do not
include former Brooklyn street kittens being able to figure out life at a New Jersey
rest stop on 1-95.

The truth is cats need to be taught survival skills and be in familiar territory to
employ them.  Without learning to hunt and more importantly, how to kill prey
from their mother, these cats would have little to no chance of catching a meal.  If
they were not so very, very terrified of this strange place they found themselves,
they might be able to scavenge food from the trash but being obligate carnivores
(requiring meat for their nutritional needs) they would be hard pressed to find
adequate fare.  More pressing would be the need for these cats to be comfortable
enough to venture out to try and eat at all.  And without eating they would enter
into dangerous waters, cats in starvation modes process too much fat for the liver
to handle effectively and this "fatty liver" disease once started is hard to reverse
and treat.  And of course, they desperately needed water.

Were they OK?”, I asked the caller.  She was not sure.  The day was close to ninety
degrees and the days before it had been insufferably hot as well.  Two grown cats in
one carrier crouched together, not moving.  I asked her if she could just close the
door, hoping to reassure any fear in approaching the carrier or the cats. I said that
since they had not left the carrier they themselves were no doubt terrified and
would surely stay in the back of the carrier and were sure to avoid coming close to
anyone closing the door.  She was not afraid of the cats she assured me; rather she
was upset that they had been abandoned here.  So if there is some sort of fortune in
this story with the universe bringing these cats back to me for whatever saving we
had fallen short of doing in the first place, their fortune also included being found
by a former veterinary technician who cared deeply for animals and for our
responsibilities to them.  She assured me that she would not leave the cats at the
rest stop and without any other options she would find a shelter to bring them to.

Shelters are terribly overloaded with cats and many of the cats entering shelters
will never leave them.  The ASPCA estimates that of the 3.4 million cats that enter
shelters every year, 1.4 million will be put to death  and that the percentage of cats
entering the shelters who will be adopted are about 37% with  41% being
euthanized.  The number of stray cats being returned to owners is less than 5%.  
Rescue organizations and individuals work to make a difference in these daunting
statistics that translate into too many cats and not enough people to care for them.

And in this one story of so many others, the shelter did not admit two more cats to
add to the numbers.  This one story of rehomed cats dumped on the side of the road
at a rest stop far from the place they had known as home has a happy ending for
the meantime.  Haunted by what “we” had done with these cats I tried everyone I
could think of to help, any favors to call in, any begging I could do, anyone left that
cared for animals that had not already helped and rehomed already.  Who had
room?  Who would answer?   Somehow with more fortune and people working on
the side of the angels these cats came to yet another foster home.  With hundreds
of miles of driving and coordinating of all the major and minor components of
figuring out how to get the cats from a rest stop in New Jersey to someone who
cared enough to be persuaded to help and would wait for someone else who cared
enough and would drive those many, many miles and pick them up and set them
up with all the requisite cat furniture.  Another foster, another relationship to
make, more trust to ask for from two animals that have been so far twice betrayed.

When I wrote about
working to socialize these, then feral kittens two years ago, I
wrote about the relationship of trust I developed with these cats that had no trust
for humans. I also wrote of how this work entailed a promise of sorts in which to
make it work. So far the cats are the ones doing their part in keeping the bargain.

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"when a supportive environment
and guardian come together for
the animal so does a “forever”
home.  But what happens when
this is not the case?  What about
when the reasons industry
people fear most come to
fruition; the guardian who says
they want the pet and then
realizes they would rather not
consistently buy and open
smelly cans of pet food, change
a cat box or walk a dog several
times a day or come home early
from a night out to do any of
these?  And what about any of
the horror stories we would
rather not hear about but that
happen every day whether we
hear about them or not? "
 
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"Rescues and shelter routinely
ask that animals be returned if
a placement is not successful.  
And “diagnostically oriented”
a/k/a judgmental, animal care
workers need to reframe
situations on an ongoing basis
as a survival strategy in the
field.  Reframe and go on, not
knowing this, might the thought
of an animal worker’s possible
judgment of a return be enough
to dissuade contacting them? "
 
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Frania Shelley-Grielen is AnimalBehaviorist.us
info@animalbehaviorist.us
212-722-2509 / 646-228-7813

Entire website copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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