Flexible, Websters Dictionary defines it as, capable of bending easily without breaking, able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances or conditions. ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances. synonym, accommodating, amenable, co-operative.
As facilitators of adoptions for our feathered friends, this concept is very important to getting an adoptable bird out of the shelter and into a home. Time is an over arching pressure we face in the rescue business. Time equals money spent, feeding, housing and vetting residents. Time spent caring for many residents equals less quality, individual time for each. Time spent out of the family environment equals harder adjustment periods for those adopted. The time and effort it takes to navigate the process of adoption equals discouraged applicants who drop out from frustration. In short, Flexibility and time should be what drives our application process. They should be.
The bird world seems to have an exaggerated sense of protection for its charges. We understand that these creatures are sentient beings with cognitive abilities akin to a human toddler. This makes anxiety over the perfect placement run deep. Many of us stay awake nights pondering worst case scenarios that doom potential adoptions to failure or worse cause harm or death to the bird. In “the best of all possible worlds,” every applicant would be retired, but young; people with unlimited wealth, preternatural sympathetic instincts and an undying devotion to their pets that supersedes even their own needs. In short, everything we are, or wish we could be. If only we could clone ourselves so every shelter bird could have what would surely be the best of all possible homes!
Unfortunately life plays us fast and loose. The best laid plans can fall apart due to the smallest of unforeseen circumstances; and often do. When we place extraordinary demands on potential adopters, we do so with the best of intentions. “Surely, anyone willing to go through this must be the right person for my bird?” Well, recent studies done by the ASPCA and the National Humane Society, in conjunction with shelters and rescues across the country are giving very surprising results. Animals adopted at high volume events at considerably lower adoption fees have a 17% better success rates of remaining in their new homes passed 12 months. Wait, what? That’s right. Long application processes and high fees DO NOT translate to higher rates of success! Affection and devotion aren’t proportional to the process or money amount.
“Minimizing length of stay (LOS) is critical for the minimum care and well-being of animals in the shelter environment.”1.
It is safe to say that the amount of time spent in our shelters by a bird is inversely proportional to the time it takes to complete the application and approval process. Conversely, the amount of time spent in our shelters by a bird is directly proportional to our flexibility within that process. We become rigid by placing labels on people, responsible vs irresponsible and birds, sensitive vs sociable, etc. We pigeon-hole individuals through the prism of the collective and in the process lose out on many potential adopters who don’t meet our arbitrary standards. Kenny Lamberti, director of strategic engagement for The HSUS, wrote an enlightening blog post in which he points out our glaring mistake in depending on these labels to ensure success:
“We spend an inordinate amount of time creating guidelines for what makes an individual a worthy pet adopter, what qualifies someone….These guidelines are typically decided arbitrarily and vary depending on who creates them, and after all that time and energy creating rules, the system remains flawed. The best example of this may be the process we force people to go through in order to adopt a pet… We ask this long list of questions to a potential adopter, who by making the choice to adopt in the first place may have already given us all the information we need. Maybe the “responsible” thing for those of us in the animal welfare field to do is to think twice before imposing our personal opinions on the general public. What if we focused more of our energy on providing information and resources to them so they can provide the quality of life for their pet they wanted to all along? We might not get as much credit for being heroes, but significantly fewer animals might need “saving.” I challenge us all as professionals, advocates and volunteers to spend significantly more time examining our own policies, words and behaviors for fairness, clarity and helpfulness, and a lot less on determining whether or not pet owners are ‘responsible.’ “
‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’ George Bernard Shaw
Until then, what do you think our true responsibility is as animal advocates? What does a “responsible pet owner” really look like, and who gets to decide?(2)
In conclusion, I want to clarify that; 1. I firmly believe those of us who set their adoption process up to avoid getting the “wrong” type of person, have the very best of intentions. They are not evil, they simply want what’s best for their birds. This desire in type A, highly driven; sometimes obsessive/compulsive, perfectionists can translate to a rather draconian style that may put off some very good potential adopters. However, it still originates with an ardent desire to see a bird achieve happiness and stability, to never suffer uncertainty, abuse, neglect or disease. 2. There still needs to be a process. We can’t just hand our birds over to anyone who walks through our door. It’s a fine line between efficacy and expedience that we must tread every day; and it is the life we have chosen.
(1.) Evaluation of a Novel Dog Adoption Program in Two US Communities;
Heather Mohan-Gibbons, Emily Weiss, […], and Meg Allison
(2.) What Does “Responsible” Pet Ownership Really Look Like?;
Kenny Lamberti, director of strategic engagement for The HSUS, reflects on what it really means to be a responsible pet owner and who gets to decide.: http://www.animalsheltering.org/blog/what-does-“responsible”-pet-ownership-really-look, March 8, 2016