April 24, 2007
Take this dog, please

Interesting story about how the dog shelters try to make sure that once an animal has been adopted it stays adopted.

In an effort to reduce animal returns, municipal and private shelters tinker with their systems. Harris County, for example, used to give a training DVD to families after an adoption was complete. Now, the DVD goes home before the pet. The agency also is developing a post-adoption survey aimed at heading off problems with animals and their new owners.

Shelter staffs also use the information accompanying a returned animal to help with subsequent efforts. In some cases, they are able to give dogs behavior training to address obedience issues. The local Humane Society once sent a deaf dog for training in hand signals after it was returned four times, none of the adoptions lasting longer than a couple of weeks. The dog has now been with a family for nearly three years.


The Houston SPCA, which had 536 animals returned from March 2006 to March of this year, started a program last summer called Forever Friends to determine behavioral characteristics of older dogs.

The five-part assessment measures the dog's level of interest in play, how it reacts to someone walking into a room, or how hard it will work for a treat.

It also scores a dog on how it behaves when it's alone, with staffers watching the animal on a video monitor. Does it jump on the furniture? Does it chew on toys? Or does it wait patiently at the door?

Dogs are placed in color-coded categories for high (yellow), average (green) or low maintenance (blue). The personality color is matched with a description -- bed bug, comedian, party animal -- that is placed on the dog's cage.

I've been thinking about this sort of thing lately because our dog Harry (seen basking on our back deck here) is getting up there in years - I adopted him in 1997, when he was about two years old - and I know that the day when he'll no longer be with us is approaching. After all this time, I'm a dog person, and when Harry goes to the great kibble bowl in the sky, I want to find another dog to fill out our family. I was very lucky with Harry - he was more or less foisted on me by my then-boss, who was foster caring for him after a friend of hers found him on the street - because he was a good personality match for me. Next time, as I'll not be operating out of complete ignorance, I'll have to do a little research and kick a few figurative tires to try to get it right. I'll also have at least three more personalities to take into consideration. Which may mean our next dog is more Olivia's or Audrey's than mine, though of course it'll still be up to me to walk and feed him. And you know, that'll be fine, too.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 24, 2007 to Society and cultcha