Why the Rescue Didn't Give You That Puppy—It's Not About You

Sorry for all the nosy questions, but it's about making a lifelong match.

bulletin board of foster pets
Bulletin board of foster pets.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

Over the past few weeks, while I fostered a gorgeous deaf Australian shepherd puppy, I’ve had angry, disappointed, pleading, and even somewhat threatening messages from people who were upset that they weren’t able to adopt her.

Evie is breathtakingly beautiful so it’s no surprise that so many people want her. But she’s also very high energy and high maintenance. She needs a home with no small kids or tiny animals and where someone has experience training herding dogs. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Most people were very understanding when I explained why she wasn’t a good fit. But some weren’t.

Over the years that I have fostered puppies and dogs, I’ve disappointed many people. And I truly hate that part so much. But it’s my job to advocate for my animal charges and I take that role seriously.

A Daunting Process

If you’ve ever gone through the pet application process through a rescue group, you know it can sometimes be daunting. 

Depending on the group, you might be asked for details about your home. (Do you own or rent? Is your yard fenced?) And about your job. (How many hours are you gone every day?) And even about your family. (Do you have kids? Other pets?) You’ll likely be asked to provide your veterinarian’s contact information and maybe even the name of personal references.

The reason for all this nosiness is to confirm applicants have taken good care of any other pets and to make a good match for future pets. Whether people appreciate the level of detail often depends on whether they are chosen to adopt the pet or not.

So many people write in and say they “knew” this dog was the one for them. That it was meant to be or they fell in love just from the photo. But the fosters are the ones who spend weeks with the real dog, who know their real personality and what kind of home they need.

But I know how they feel because I’ve been turned down too. I applied for a puppy from a rescue years ago and never even received a response to my application. I also applied to foster for a rescue that exclusively cares for newborn puppies that need bottle-feeding and they said no.

Instead, I went on to adopt my border collie mix from a local shelter. And I went on to foster puppies for other rescue groups. There is always plenty of need.

Lots of Nosy Questions

With most of the rescues where I’ve fostered, the choice of placing the dog is never completely on the foster parent. Other members (often the board of directors) typically weigh in and it’s only after vet checks, home inspections, and interviews.

Everybody wants this to succeed for the dog and for the family. That’s why there are so many questions. Dogs are not disposable and this is a lifetime commitment.

For example, foster parents often require physical fenced-in yards. Many want fences because they know a particular dog needs to run or a puppy isn’t leash trained yet or they’re concerned a dog might be a flight risk. Or if you’ve been at work all day and you come home, a fenced-in yard lets your dog have playtime while you chill there too. I’ve adopted some dogs and puppies to people without fences; it totally depends on the dog and the person.

Most don’t like electric fences because they’ve seen or heard horror stories about dogs that have been attacked by other animals in their own yards or that have become injured or stressed using the collars. 

Small children and other pets can become an issue based on the individual dog. Most puppies, for example, are bitey. That’s hard enough to tolerate when you’re an adult. But puppies nipping kids can be an excuse for dogs getting returned. Some breeds are often more kid-friendly than others. And some dogs tolerate cats and some big dogs hate little dogs and vice versa. The goal is to make sure everyone gets along.

Work situations can matter. I exclusively foster puppies now and I won’t adopt a young puppy to someone who is gone 9-10 hours a day. There’s no way a puppy can hold it all day and can go that long without any kind of stimulation. But there are plenty of adult dogs that might be fine hanging out all day on the couch, waiting until you get home to play. 

Some rescues are sticklers about making sure adopters aren’t renting. That’s because some people end up returning their animals when a new rental situation (and new landlord) doesn’t let them have a pet.

The adopter’s age sometimes is a concern. Some rescues won’t adopt to young people under 25 because they’re worried about maturity and life changes. But every rescue I’ve worked with has made exceptions when young people have made their case and shown that they are settled and can handle responsibility and aren’t sleeping on someone’s couch with 10 roommates. 

Some rescues are hesitant about adopting to seniors over a certain age. But good rescues will make great matches (placing senior dogs instead of puppies in those situations) or making sure the adopters have a plan in place in case something happens.

Compassion Fatigue

But all these explanations don’t matter when you’re the one being told that you can’t have the puppy or dog of your dreams. I know it stinks.

Blind foster puppy Gertie weighs less than 3 pounds and she's a little spitfire. I know people will want her because they think she'll be an adorable lapdog. But see above. She's a mouse-sized ball of energy. So I'll have to tell lots of unhappy people that she's not the perfect puppy for them.

This process is hardly a science. I’ve messed up a handful of times and had puppies returned to the rescue because I misread the situation. But I hope that I averted more of those potential mismatches by asking a ton of questions and making good placement choices.

We’re all volunteers and we do the best we can. There’s a lot of compassion fatigue in the animal rescue world from people burning out. There are so many animals to save and so many cases of abuse. Dealing with unhappy or unpleasant people doesn’t make the work any easier.

There have been many times I've wanted to give up. It's often because someone has sent a mean message or berated me for not choosing them to have a puppy.

But in the end, my job is to look out for my foster puppies and make sure they have the very best lives. And when we make a good match, their families have the most incredible lives too. Please know I feel awful if I have to tell you no. But I’d feel worse if things didn’t work out.

Follow Mary Jo's dog Brodie and their foster puppies on Instagram @brodiebestboy.