All animal rescue groups eventually fill up their foster homes. There are just so many pets out there needing homes that it would be impossible to take them all. Many will be in the shelters dying and you can’t do much more than send volunteers to those shelters to help the animals that cannot be pulled. Many people will call you and leave sad stories on your voicemail about why you should take their pet into your foster care system. You think you have heard their sad story a hundred times, so their pet is no different and in any case, you are full so you can’t do anything. But you can do something about these people who call even if you are full. You can start a private adoptions list!
A private adoptions list connects people who are looking to rehome their pets, with people who are looking to adopt. How many times have you had an adopter say that you just didn’t have that pet they were looking for at the moment? Has your organization ever turned down someone on a small issue, one that many people wouldn’t have minded if they were adopting out their pet? Do you have a small number of foster homes and feel like you want to make more of an impact, but can’t afford to take on new foster homes right now? A private adoptions list may be the answer to being able to further help your community.
Setting up a private adoptions list is easy. If you do any adoption events or have your name out there at all, you probably already get surrender calls. Your first step is to set up either a separate voicemail box for these calls or just record the information somewhere. Designate a volunteer to call people (or email them) back and take down some additional information if they would like to be part of the private adoptions list. I’ve found it is easiest to record this information in Microsoft Excel. Take down information such as: owner name, pet name, pet’s age, breed, color, any current medical conditions (you’d be surprised at how many people want to give up special needs pets), the city the pet currently resides in, and a phone number of email address to contact the current owner at.
Here’s an example of how surrender calls can be handled. Let’s start with a sample voicemail message (no real names are used): “Hi Rabbits Rabbits and More Rabbits Rescue! This is Veronica and I have a cute Netherland Dwarf rabbit named Fluffy. I would like to give Fluffy to your organization because I am allergic to rabbits. Please call me back at (phone number) and let me know when and where I can drop off Fluffy. Thanks!” Veronica seems rather pleasant, but there are 50 rabbits currently in local shelters and you really can’t take her rabbit in. If you don’t currently have a private adoptions list, you probably respond to these calls by letting the owner know that you’re full or that you don’t take surrenders anyway. You might even give them a few tips on placing their animal if they don’t hang up the phone as soon as you say that you can’t take their animal. For this example’s sake, let’s say that Veronica is not going to hang up the phone when a volunteer calls her back. Here’s a sample of what a volunteer could say when they call Veronica back: “Hi Veronica! This is Melanie from Rabbits Rabbits and More Rabbits Rescue! Sorry to hear about your allergies! Unfortunately, our rescue is currently full and many rabbits are waiting to come into the rescue’s foster home system. However, we do have a private adoptions list if you would be able to keep your rabbit in your home until someone can adopt directly from you. If you’d like to be added to our private adoptions list please give me the following information…” Then proceed to ask Veronica for the information needed. Now Melanie can input the information on Excel and Veronica’s Fluffy is now on the private adoptions list.
Now you’ve started a private adoptions list. You may only have one person on there, but it’s started. So what do you do with it? In comes the other kind of calls you get, adoption requests. Here’s a sample potential adopter calling, “Hi! This is Bob here with my wife Jenny. We’re looking to adopt a rabbit! We’d like a sweet Netherland Dwarf to share our apartment with us. The rabbit would have full run of 2 rooms and we’ve got the whole place rabbit-proofed. We’ve already talked to our landlord and she has house rabbits as well and happily approved. Please call us back at (phone number) and let us know if you have the rabbit we’re looking for!” Let’s say you don’t have any Netherland Dwarfs currently in your rescue. But Bob and Jenny sound like such great adopters! You’d hate to send them away and have them go to a pet shop or breeder rather than rescuing. But thanks to your private adoptions list, you do know of a Netherland Dwarf that is currently available, Fluffy! So you have your adoptions counselor call Bob back. “Hi Bob! This is Allison from Rabbits Rabbits and More Rabbits Rescue! While we have a lot of rabbits, we don’t have any Netherland Dwarfs right now. If you’re not interested in other breeds, we do currently have a Netherland Dwarf named Fluffy on our private adoptions list. Her owner hasn’t spayed her yet, so you’ll need to have that done. We haven’t personally seen her, but her owner claims the rabbit is healthy and friendly and that she wouldn’t be giving her up if it weren’t for severe allergies. Would you like to go meet her?” If you don’t personally see the animals on the private adoptions list (and you probably won’t have time to), let adopters know that you can’t really give any kind of health guarantee. But if someone is looking for a specific breed and a known personality, talking to either foster parents or current owners is going to give them the best idea on personality. They can go see the pet for themselves and decide if it’s really the right pet for them.
Of course, it’s not always as easy as just matching up one call with the next. You’ll probably have to call people on the private adoptions list every so often to make sure their animals are still up for adoption. You’ll still have those people who call and hang up as soon as they hear that you cannot take their animal. But you will help more animals get adopted and people who call in to surrender their animals will not feel so rejected. At least you are still helping them even though it would be impossible to take the animals of everyone who calls to surrender them.
It’s a good idea to continue (or start) giving out other information on rehoming. Let them know of any websites that you know of that may help. Give them the traditional advice about putting up flyers at the vet’s office. Don’t let people trying to surrender think that your private adoptions list is all they’ll need. You want them to continue trying their hardest to adopt their pet out so they don’t have to resort to dumping the animal at a high kill shelter. Guide them in their search for a home for their pet. Give them advice on screening new owners as well. Unless you are actually going to pre-screen adopters before giving them the private adoptions list, let people rehoming their pets know that people who call them have not yet been screened and they need to decide if they want to adopt their animal out to those people or not. You don’t want to give either the adopters or those surrendering their animals a false sense of security.
The beauty of the private adoptions list is that it is relatively easy to maintain and saves a lot of lives. If you’re doing this list by email rather than by phone, you can even ask an out-of-state volunteer to help your organization. In many cases, it is better if someone out-of-state is maintaining the private adoptions list. Someone local may be tempted to take in an animal with a particularly sad story themselves, while the out-of-state volunteer would be unable to even have that temptation realistically. You could have a single volunteer maintaining the list or have a group of volunteers. Your private adoptions list will soon grow and become a valuable resource for both adopters and those seeking a new home for their pets. People rehoming their pets will get to see who actually adopted their pet, because they’ll handle the adoption. You’ll even help in teaching responsibility. Next time Veronica decides to get a pet, she might consider having allergy tests done. You didn’t just take her rabbit off her hands for her, instead she had to wait awhile for an adopter to come along. She may have also posted ads elsewhere as you suggested and thus she hopefully realized the work involved in rehoming an animal. Bob and Jenny got the rabbit of their dreams that they wouldn’t have found without the help of your private adoptions list. If you don’t already have a private adoptions list in your animal rescue, consider setting one up. Without much more effort, your organization can be saving many more animals and provide a valuable service to your community.