Helicopter Parenting for Pet Owners


When Lisa Weiss and her family decided to adopt a dog a few years ago, they contacted a rescue organization near their home in Chappaqua, New York, and were told to fill out a form.

"It was, like, 20 pages!" Weiss, a lawyer, recalls. "It took me an hour. I was very honest and very detailed because I was pretty proud of what great pet parents we are. I thought we were fantastic. We had a Lab rescue who had lived to 13, which was well past her sell-by date. She died of old age, no illnesses. She was a happy, outside dog. We had an electric fence and she came and went as she pleased. She was a completely independent soul."

Right on—free-range!

And yet there was still more information the form demanded. "It also asked things like 'Who will take the dog if you die?'" recalls Weiss. "And 'If you both die, who takes the dog?'" Slightly freaked out, she nominated her sister-in-law.

When all her ts were crossed, she submitted the paperwork and waited to hear back from the rescuers.

And waited. And waited.

Finally, she called to ask what was taking so long "and they were like, 'Oh, we rejected you.'"

The problem, they said, was that Weiss planned to allow her dog to be outside unsupervised…and he might get stolen.

And there you have it: proof that as go kids, so go pets. Not only are human children barely allowed to walk by themselves from the house to the bus stop, but pets aren't allowed to play by themselves in a merely electric-fenced yard.

Debra Caruso Marrone, a publicist on Long Island, insists she truly appreciated the rescue organization she was dealing with: "They were very nice people." And yet, she says, "To get a dog you fill out a questionnaire: Are you home during the day? Do you work? What time do you come home?" It sounded as if only stay-at-home parents would be good enough.

They also wanted to know if there were other dogs in Caruso Marrone's extended family. "We told them yes, our daughter and her husband have a dog." The rescue folks told her that the dog she wanted had a history of not getting along with other animals, so they were giving him to her—on probation. "They asked us to take pictures of our newly adopted dog interacting with our daughter's dog, because they weren't convinced the two could coexist."

Caruso Marrone found herself in the strange situation of arranging a puppy playdate and staging a photo shoot—but it did the trick. She got to keep the dog, who later became good friends with her daughter's pup.

Two decades ago, Amanda Uhry, president of Manhattan Private School Advisors, a consulting service, adopted her daughter from China. Recently, she tried to adopt a dog from a local rescue. "The only parallel I can see is that human adoption appears to be easier," she says.

To adopt her daughter, Uhry had to pass a home inspection and be interviewed and fingerprinted. To take in a needy poodle? "They were like, 'Do you have a dog walker? Who's going to be the vet? What kind of classes are you going to take your dog to?'"

She did not get a dog.

No doubt there are bad people out there who mistreat animals. That is shameful. But the vetting process, as it were, is following the trajectory of most bureaucracies—piling on more and more rules with little thought as to whether they're actually improving the situation or even doing the opposite: driving potential pet parents away in frustration. "It's easier to get into the Pentagon," one would-be adopter seethed to me.

A chef in Southern California who didn't want to give her name for fear of ruffling any fur went to a rescue center whose rules stated, for some reason, that its dogs could only go to people within 15 miles. "They wouldn't adopt to me because I was 15.2 miles away," she says. "I Google mapped it. I said, 'I love your dogs. I want to get a dog from you guys!' And they were like, 'You're out of the 15-mile radius.'" Sorry, ma'am, just following the rules.

She ended up buying a dog from a breeder.

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  1. So dogs needing rescue will die, because no one is good enough to adopt them? Yeah, that is a great system to rescue dogs. And now people will be going to unethical breeders if they want a dog, they will sell to anybody to make a buck. PC culture wins again.

    1. Or they could go to ethical breeders. Just because you breed a dog on purpose, doesn’t mean you’re unethical.

  2. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.


  3. In the business, we call them Dog Nazis. They are so intent on finding the perfect home that they’ll turn down enough people that they have to start putting dogs down. I’ve even seen it in “no kill” rescues. Most people are decent pet owners. Most dogs are happy with a yard and some food. They’re even happier if they’re trained and it increases their chances of staying on a home but it happens to be the one thing that rescues aren’t interested in. Rescuers are probably the people who know the least about dog behavior.

    The last few years that I had my training business and kennel, I recommended that people just buy from breeders because they were saner than rescuers and you knew what kind of dog you were getting. My opinion is that people who want to rescue dogs are the people that should be kept as far away from dogs as possible.

    1. Thanks for the sanity. And people who own dogs are not parents. That’s why these agencies have people jump through hoops because they want to pretend it’s the same as adopting a child. It’s completely different.

  4. I’ve been through this process.
    Lengthy application followed by on over the phone interview. Requests for access to my vet records for any previous pets. Next came the home visit. Once the placement coordinator decided on which dog suited my personality and lifestyle I had to travel to the home of the fosters who currently had possession of the dog. They had the final say whether I got the dog based on our interactions together. It was a lengthy process but I didn’t feel very put out. As opposed to a picking one up from the pound I knew the history of the dog. All the dogs in the rescue are placed with a prisoner who volunteers to train the dog. The basics, crate train, sit, lay down etc. It’s a private organization so they should be able to set whatever parameters they want and it was my choice to jump through their hoops.

    I ultimately got the dog and he’s a perfect fit. I appreciate the process more now having gone through it. If you don’t like it go to the pound and take one home no questions asked or spend thousands at breeder. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of alternatives to these rescues. And unlike the pound the animals aren’t put down if they’re not placed within a certain amount of time.

    1. These are such first world problems. Visit most countries and people don’t even let their dogs in the house. They’ll let their drunk brother in law sleep on the couch but the dog goes on the porch.

  5. I’ve volunteered for a breed specific rescue group, a non-profit organization run by unpaid volunteers. The screening tools we used (not as restrictive as what has been described here) are in place to place the dog in the right home the first time.

    Rescue groups foster the dog for months, seeing how they behave in a home, socializing them, training them, ensuring their medical care has been attended to. It’s a different experience from going to the animal shelter, where dogs are stressed, and no one has spent time with them to understand their behavior or how to best place them.

    Breed specific rescues are like buying a used car from your kind uncle who was a mechanic – you can be sure that what you’re getting is a known quantity and is right for you. Going to the animal shelter is more akin to going to a police auction for a car.

    I spent hundreds of hours of time and hundreds of dollars of my money to foster dogs, and had multiple applicants for each dog. I selected the best home based on the dog’s personality/needs, and all of those dogs have thrived because of that careful selection.

    Finally, the model is successful for rescue groups from the perspective of permanent placement of dogs. It is their prerogative on how to run their organizations. If prospective adopters don’t like it, they should seek a dog elsewhere. Why would Reason would object to that?

  6. This clearly varies from location to location. My wife and I have two cats, gotten from two different shelters when they were kittens, and the adoption process wasn’t nearly this bad. Yes, there were forms to fill out, but the questions seemed reasonable and I don’t think completing them took more than about 15 minutes. The entire adoption process, from the time we walked in the door to the time we walked out with our new family member, took maybe an hour. There was no followup paperwork or phone calls or such, the entire process was complete when we left the shelter.

    I do recall a roommate from decades ago telling me that he tried to adopt a cat once, and got turned down because he checked a box that said the reason for getting the cat was “mouser”. Sure, that was one reason he wanted it, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have taken proper care of it.

  7. Here in central Arkansas, there are dozens of rescue organizations to choose from. Some are more “helicopter-y” than others. I find that the ones that work with a city’s animal services are the easiest to work with. If one organization wants to be persnickety, I guarantee there are 10 others who would LOVE to help someone find the right animal for their family.

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