Monday, August 22, 2011

Return? Or Sleep-Over?

Julep, from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, on an outing.
 I thought this story was interesting enough to share. I could identify the shelter involved but I won't because I can see this happening in many shelters. I always wonder if shelter directors ask "secret shoppers" to come in and then relay their customer service experience, so the director can implement training for staff that are treating customers (potential donors and adopters) badly.

Here's the story:

A 55'ish woman (I'll call her Beth), professional but semi-retired,  divorced , no kids and self-sufficient; was thinking that it would be nice to have a dog for companionship. She had the time and resources to spend and was a little lonely. She thought she would like to adopt an older dog that needed a home and who would enjoy walks and outings. So she headed off down to her local shelter with a hopeful heart. Her family had a black lab when she was growing up so that's what she decided to look for.

Wouldn't you know it? The shelter had just put a litter of black lab puppies onto the adoption floor. Beth visited on a Thursday afternoon and fell in love with a puppy (who doesn't?). She filled out her application form and went home to anxiously await a decision. The shelter said that she should hear by Friday if she had been approved. Friday morning came and the shelter called to say Beth had passed all the requirements with flying colors.

Beth headed to the local pet supply store to buy the latest and greatest pet supplies in eager anticipation of her new arrival. Friday afternoon she went to the shelter to pick up her puppy, sign the adoption papers, pay the adoption fee and head home with her new little bundle of joy. Somewhere in the next few hours she realized she had made a horrible mistake. She realized she had gotten a puppy on impulse and that this little guy would make a perfect dog for a family with an active lifestyle.  She needed an older, steady companion. Saturday morning she packs up the puppy with his puppy supplies and returns to the shelter before they opened so that he would be back on the adoption floor for the busy Saturday hours.

She was hoping to explain her situation and be able to choose an older dog that would suit her needs. She really didn't think there would be a problem.

Guess what? She was not able to choose an older dog OR receive a refund for the puppy. She was treated with disdain and disgust. The staff made her feel like she was the most horrible person in the world for returning the puppy.

Stop for one minute and think how you would feel if you were treated this way in a retail establishment? You bought something and returned it in good faith and then were made to feel like the scum of the earth. Would you tell a friend? Or two? Or ten -  about the bad treatment you received? I think so. Maybe you would put it on Facebook and tell a hundred or a thousand people.

Why do shelters consider returns as failures? Best Friends Animal Society has a sleepover program. You visit their sanctuary, volunteer for the day, and then can check out one of their sanctuary dogs for an overnight stay at your hotel. In the morning you bring the dog back and fill out a short report on the dog's behavior and experience. It's a win-win situation. The dog gets socialized, it gets out of the sanctuary for a few hours, and it gets more on it's "resume" that can be shared with potential adopters. You have a great time with a great dog. It's not a return - it's a sleep-over. The program is SO successful it is now being offered with cats.

Some of my best memories of being at Best Friends are the hours I've spent with a dog that I've taken out.

Back to Beth's story. Beth chalked it up as a learning experience.  She headed to the next closest shelter where she chose her new best friend . She has become a loyal supporter and donor. And she has told more than a few people about her bad experience at the first shelter.

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts.
It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
Jeff Bezos, CEO


  1. I love this story Kathy...and agree that there would have been no harm done in doing an "exchange". Plus, it actually helps the shelter by replacing an older, harder-to-adopt dog in the shelter with an easier-to-adopt puppy. And yet, I have a feeling that the response this woman received would be fairly standard. We do "trial adoptions" all the time. Sometimes it works out, some times they come back, but we certainly adopt out more than if we turned them all way.

  2. Totally agree with Brent - I would have thought the shelter would have been happy she did the right thing when she realized it wasn't a good match. And the fact that she wanted to take an older dog instead? The shelter should have been thrilled, as the older ones are almost always harder to adopt than puppies. This is a very sad thing to have happened, on so many levels.

  3. Another excellent article Kathy. So many people get "sucked in" by cute little puppies, and overlook the older or more experienced dogs. Shame on Humane Societies that behave in this unacceptable manor. I hope this serves as a wake up call for them. That is IF they are forward thinking enough to read this.

  4. Thanks for the mention, Kathy!

    Don't forget, you can now take pigs on sleepovers too!


  5. Shame on the shelter.

    Our rescue allows people to do a "view to adopt" for 2 weeks in case they have any reservations about a dog they want to adopt. If after the 2 weeks they want to adopt, then we go ahead with the adoption. If things don't work after the two weeks, then they return the dog to their foster home, and we help them look for another suitable companion. No hard feelings!

  6. I am posting as anonymous here because I seem to be alone in siding with the tone of the shelter. If you are considering any pet, you should always take the time do just that. Stick to your guns when you go in and don't lose focus. I disagree with Beth's actions here, honestly. However I think that the sleepover concept is a wonderful decision!

  7. To Anon:

    I agree with you - getting a pet is something thagt people shouldn't take lightly, and it requires a lot of consideration.

    It sounds like Beth did this, and kudos to her for going the rescue route when SO MANY just hit up Kijiji and other classifieds.

    Unfortunately she made a mistake, but she realized it very quickly. It's not as if she waited a week - she went back the very next morning. People make mistakes. It happens. Even as a foster I took in a dog once that I shouldn't have, but my heart got the better of me. It happens.

    What is your suggestion for Beth, then? Should she have kept this dog, even though he was not what she was looking for?

  8. Our rescue actually does a "foster contract to adopt"...that way, the new owner is actually acting as a "foster" and should it "work", then can permanently adopt, and if it doesn't, the dog comes back, and we try another dog, if we have one that we feel will fit the home. It's hard to know if an individual animal is going to work out. Especially if there are children or "other" pets in the home. Every "dynamic" is different, and can't be known until the animal is actually IN the home. My local shelter (municipal AND open admission) does allow for returns. And it doesn't seem to hurt their placement rate, which is around 80%. I understand that shelters have neither the staff nor resources to deal with home placement programs, but this woman did the responsible thing, and was unfairly punished. Most likely at the expense of an older dog that she could have saved.

  9. I would think with certain cats it might prove more difficult, since sometimes they are scared and take more than one night to acclimate.