Open Adoptions and Companion Animal Ethics





I was told recently that Ark Animal Centre do not do home checks but instead process adoptions using the ‘American system’. It’s something of a misnomer because it’s not like ALL rescue organisations in America employ the same system, but what is being referred to is ‘Open Adoptions’, a new movement in adoption processing.

For the most part, I like the approach. There is much of merit in the attitude change and treatment of prospective adopters. Have a look here for some of the positive aspects of the open admission philosophy:

It’s practical, however, to consider whether benchmarking from another country is advisable, given that comparisons can often be misleading, as can the claims made by people in another continent. Americans are the greatest marketers in the world, and often products and processes ‘born in the USA’ get far more credit than they deserve. I prefer to work off a qualified database – often, what we don’t know gives cause for caution.

Most USA states, municipalities, or other jurisdictions require dog licences along with rabies vaccination, and the licence duration cannot exceed the time the vaccine is effective. As a way of preventing the overpopulation of animals, some jurisdictions charge a significantly lower licensing fee if the owner presents veterinary proof that the dog has been spayed or neutered.

So the great majority of companion animals in the USA are licensed and that means they are registered somewhere. If an animal is surrendered, it will pop up on databases; Americans are very computer literate and the animal network is mature and effective.

That’s very different to the situation we have here. We have no licensing or registration and unless the organisation that has adopted the animal out follows up, no feedback loop. That’s a situation that open the animals up to many risks.

It’s important to understand that benchmarking is really the application of a method used successfully in a situation in which the conditions are similar enough for there to be a high probability of success. There are substantial differences between the USA and here, including welfare infrastructure, public knowledge about companion animals, licensing, legislation in different States, and consequences of animal neglect or cruelty. In short, we should evaluate a given methodology’s appropriateness in application to local variables, and assess whether it’s workable, not just ‘plug and play’ as if Americans know best.

We have widespread ignorance in SA concerning companion animal primary care; the fact that many welfare organisations do not follow basic protocols should make us dubious about the general public’s knowledge. It’s doubtful that most people who have companion animals in SA have any idea that we have an overpopulation crisis, and so they see nothing wrong with their Fluffy having ‘just one litter’… The general knowledge about primary care in SA is equally abysmal. I would not just give the average South African an animal on the strength of a conversation. Even in America, a large proportion of people knew nothing about parasite precautions.

Having done some research on Open Adoptions and the claims made regarding its success rate, it seems the rate at which animals are returned to the shelter is the main statistic quoted to support the idea that Open Adoptions ‘work’. For me, this statistic means little. The fact that animals are not being returned does not guarantee that they are being looked after in their current homes, which have never been seen by the rescue organisation.  And given that their beliefs in the ‘conversation’ method are based on a study in which they drew their conclusions from a telephonic/email questionnaire, I am even less disposed towards regarding it with any credibility. People lie.

It was also conducted over just two months in ONE shelter in Ohio, which has far better companion animal laws and enforcement than we do. One swallow does not make a summer. It’s too short a period, too biased and unrepresentative a sample, the conclusions are based on poor science and irrelevant criteria, and it’s relevance to SA questionable.


In addition, I see Ark are now promoting animals for adoption on behalf of people who are looking for homes for them because they are emigrating/bored with them/moving (I suspect Ark don’t find out). On the one hand this is great, it’s a useful service for the animals even if the owners are somewhat dubious.

But if your ethical compass is working, you should make sure the interests of the animals are protected. That’s what being a welfare organisation or worker means:

Protect the Interests of the Animals


Not the Convenience of the Owners

Not the Reputation of the Welfare Organisation and its members.

Not the Happiness of Welfare Workers


In the Interests of the Animals

The Interests of the Animals must take precedence. This does not mean ‘any home will do’ because ‘we’re too busy homing animals to do home checks’. It also does not mean we can do away with follow-ups on sterilisations of puppies; it does not mean we can just stand aside while people who’ve already abdicated their responsibility concerning their pets, find someone to take responsibility for them; it does not mean we can do away with primary care and vaccination protocols.

If any rescue organisation does any of these things, how are they different from a pet shop? They should cease to refer to themselves as a welfare organisation but call a spade a spade, since clearly the interests of the animals are no longer their chief priority.

Some years ago, Samantha Berger of Kitty and Puppy Haven

“Even though I fought you about it years ago, you were 100 percent correct. Home checks are vital. Every adoption has one whether it’s cats or dogs. We have a group of volunteers that we have trained and they do them. A home check takes 3 to 5 working days from date of booking. Only once we have a perfect report do we approve the adoption. Every booking is sent with the clients application form and the adopted animals details to the home checkers on day of booking. They then complete the report, send it to my manager and I and we approve or not. We then phone the person to tell them if they can fetch or have been declined. All our animals also leave fully vaccinated and sterilised.”

The adoption of a more personalised approach does not mean we must throw the procedures baby out with the ‘Rules is Rules’ bathwater. Let’s include the parts that will lead to an increase in adoptions while preserving the elements that ensure the protection of the animals’ health and well-being.

Fact is, there is no excuse. You cannot argue that with 70 homings a month you don’t have the time to do home checks. Samantha sarcastically asked me back then if I would do the home checks, to which I responded that with the huge membership and volunteers KPH had, they could easily find people to do home checks (people actually WANT to be involved!) and in any case there is now a mature home check network, it’s nationwide and anyone saying it cannot be done is just looking for an escape hatch. Ark have a huge Facebook membership, volunteer force and support base.

Kitty and Puppy Haven do 60 adoptions in a bad month, 100 in a good one and have done 150 before. Every one was home checked, sterilised and vaccinated. That’s ethical animal welfare.

“We don’t decline many but those that we do are scary!!! Also it gives you so much more information when you see the state and conditions of their existing pets. It is not acceptable to not sterilise or do homechecks for any animal welfare as far as I am concerned. Also handing out 6 week old puppies and kittens is absolutely unethical.” – Sam Berger

I asked Ark about these policies:

Derek: Who does the home checks for these dogs that you are networking that already have homes? Is there a check for vaccinations and what about sterilisations? If you allow people to contact owners directly you are abdicating responsibility. It seems you have other priorities rather than the animals’ best interests?

Ark Animal Centre: Derek we are extremely busy at the moment. We will deal with this when we have a chance.

I’m still waiting. Evidently they are ‘busy’ and I wonder whether their business is animal welfare or masquerading as welfare while behaving like a pet shop…


Derek du Toit