You want an apple and you really love Granny Smith apples. You go to a grocery store and they have a couple varieties of apples. Fuji, Red Delicious, and Gala. But no Granny Smith. The apples they do have seem to have been there a while and are bit bruised and dented. You ask the grocer if he has any shining, new, freshly picked Granny Smiths. He says, no, we rarely have that kind, but we do have Fujis, lots of Fujis.
You really want a Granny Smith but maybe a Fuji will hit the spot. You look them over and they are all riper and softer than you like. You tell the grocer you really prefer a nice ripe, crisp apple, and you really had your heart set on a Granny Smith. Will he get any in soon? No, not likely, he never knows what he will get, but it’s almost never Granny Smith. Can he call you when he gets them in? No, whoever is in the store will get them first. Then he wants to know why you don’t want his Fujis or Red Delicious. They are all tasty. There must be something wrong with you for not desiring a slightly over ripe and dented Gala. After all, if you don’t buy them, they’ll just go to waste and rot.
But you don’t want them so you ask if there’s another store with fresh, ripe Granny Smith apples. He says, sure, the place up the road has perfect, ripe, firm Granny Smith apples. But they charge ten times as much, they just throw away their fruit the second it gets a dent, and their farming practices are horrible. But they have Granny Smith, if you are the kind of jerk who insists on Granny Smith and will patronize a place like that.
What do you do? Do you buy an apple you don’t want? Do you buy the perfect apple for more money from a place you don’t feel comfortable shopping at? Or do you just decide you don’t want an apple that badly anyway and stop shopping? You just let all the apples in both stores go uneaten and destined for the trashcan.
Now, what if a store in the next town had some past prime Granny Smith apples it could send to Grocer Number One a few which would go unsold at the out of town store and be put in the trash? They are little riper than you like, but they are still that green Granny Smith you desired and you could get nearly exactly what you wanted without buying from Scumbag Grocer Number Two.
OK, enough with the Khalil Gibran parable routine. What I am obviously describing is the current state of adoption in animal shelters. Animal shelters, for many reasons outlined in other posts on this blog, are increasingly “stocked” with a smaller number and variety of dogs. This supply doesn’t always align with the personal desires and preferences of adopters. Shelters are increasingly relying on educating, urging, cajoling, insisting that people should want the limited product on hand.
People have three options. One, adopt a dog they don’t really want. Two, not adopt at all. Three, seek one elsewhere, such as from a breeder or pet store. Adopters choosing this option is why the market share of breeders is once again increasing in recent years. One way around this quandary is to import additional selections from other shelters in other areas- the next county or state over, perhaps- which might offer something closer to what the adopters want, close enough to allow them not to seek a pet from a breeder or a pet store. Everyone wins. The adopter gets a pet they want, or close enough. The animal gets adopted so they help the local shelter facilitate a good adoption choice and help the originating shelter not euthanize an animal. Maybe breeders and pet stores don’t win, but I don’t care about breeders and pet stores.
However, there is a small chorus of those denigrating adoption transfers among the animal welfare community. Their basic argument tends to boil down to, “There are animals here needing homes; why bring in other animals from there?” Frankly, this is a profoundly shallow view, and demonstrates a complete lack of awareness of the market forces at work in shelters.
In most cases, shelters who transfer in dogs do so because they have a lack of dogs and empty kennels. The dogs they do have simply do not match the desires of a portion- a substantial portion- of the adoption market. If an adopter doesn’t want a Chihuahua or Pit Bull, and instead wants a Labrador, they won’t necessarily adopt a Chi because there are no Labs. It is not, “If you can’t adopt the one you want, adopt the one you’re with.” Do do do do do do do do! Do do do! (Sorry, Stephen Stills, I can’t even sing in type).
In fact, that’s antithetical to the entire push by shelters to make the right match for an adoption, not just any match. If a Labrador is transferred in, it does not mean that another dog isn’t getting adopted. It means a dog which might have faced space driven euthanasia elsewhere was saved by being transferred to a place with no space driven euthanasia to be adopted by someone who didn’t want the available dogs there. That’s fine. No one should have to apologize for desiring a particular breed, age, size or color of the dog they want to adopt, any more than we should have to apologize for who we find attractive, fall in love with, the art we like, or the music we listen to. Unless it’s Iggy Azalea, and then you should never stop apologizing.
Are there poor settings for adoption transfers? Yes. Shelters which are euthanizing healthy, happy dogs for space should probably not transfer. That means some shelters might choose to transfer seasonally. Shelters with limited resources which lead them to euthanize animals for health issues they can’t afford to treat might want to reconsider investing in transfers- unless those transfers help generate additional resources through adoptions and donations. Like a well-stocked store, a diverse adoption pool increases adoptions for all dogs in the shelter. Transfers can have very specific health issues and shelters prone to poor shelter health management might want to think hard before transferring. There are also additional regulatory hurdles, so a shelter which doesn’t have their act together generally, might want to reconsider.
But transfers in and of themselves are not bad or wrong, in fact they save lives which would not have been saved on both ends of the supply line and are increasingly a standard practice in sheltering. Humane Pennsylvania shelters do some limited transfers, both into our shelters when we have space and out of our shelters when we are short on space. We will help in major cruelty cases and disasters. We do it on a case by case basis and we focus primarily on animals from our region, but more for logistical reasons than philosophical ones. We know that it allows us to help save lives, make adoption matches we might not otherwise have made, drive up overall adoptions in our shelters, and build relationships with adopters and donors in our area. Did I mention it also saves lives?
When adoption transfers are done right and thoughtfully, they are a best practice in our industry. So if you hear someone pitching a bitch that a shelter does transfers, ask some more questions, dig a little deeper, and decide if the transfers make sense and are saving lives.
And always, always, ask yourself if the person bitching has an axe to grind.