As animal control professionals, we spend a lot of time trying to get into the heads of the animals that we are preparing for adoption. When we are not inside the heads of animals, we are inside the heads of their previous owner. All of this “head time” frequently leads us down the wrong path. We often mistake signs of behavior problems to incidents of abuse. It is much easier to excuse an animal’s behavior, if we wish to believe that the animal was abused.
Claiming an animal is abused frequently helps us on the adoption front whether or not the animal was actually abused; the animal could simply be stubborn. A prospective adopter would be more willing to accept an abused animal into their household than accept a stubborn one. We live in a society in which people are in constant search for public praise, so posting to social media that they “rescued” an animal carries more points that claiming they “adopted” an animal. More points are given to those who take in an “abused” animal.
Shelter staff recognize this social media obsession with “likes” and we feed into that that. We are quick to post that an animal has been adopted on our Facebook page and even post a photo of the person leaving the shelter with their new pet. This social media posting does two things: it celebrates one fewer animal in our shelter and it sets the stage of making it more difficult for the new owner to return the animal. For a society that seeks praise, we have a low tolerance for people disliking our actions. Believe me, people can be pretty cruel to other people when their adoption doesn’t work out.
To understand a failed adoption, we have to get inside the minds of an adopter. Social media has created a group of people who rescue animals in order to receive public praise. Only in actually adopting an animal does the person find that caring for an animal requires more than praise, it means work; more work than is necessary for posting on social media.
Too many people adopt animals for the wrong reason and when they find out that they are not ready to bring a new pet into their family, they have to face the wrath of their social media “friends” for turning the animal away. This social media craze makes it all the more important for adoption screening; but the earnest desire for public approval will cause the worst candidate for adoption to appear as one of the best. Adoption screening is more necessary than ever and adoption staff needs to look beyond moving an anima out of the shelter to making sure that they are placing animals into the best homes. Our screen process must consider the possibility that the adopter’s purpose is only to seek out the public approval that the adopter is desperately seeking; these people generally make poor owners and then have to later face a public beating.