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Free adoptions still pose concerns for animals

Dr. Michael Fox

Dear Dr. Fox: Some animal organizations have jumped on the bandwagon and are promoting free adoptions, just to empty out the kennels and to keep the euthanasia rate to a minimum. This will look good on paper: Increased adoptions equal decreased killings. What more could the humane public ask for? However, the crucial part missing from this happy equation is a concern for the quality of life for the animal. This is the responsibility of the adoption agency as well as the adopting person/family, and calls for concern and empathy—the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

To those facilities that give away animals without any concern for the animals' safety and well-being, I would like to pose this question: "Where is your humanity?" One would hope that over time, we would have made more progress on the empathy scale. In fact, I thought we had grown way beyond attitudes from the past that animals are disposable commodities. Free adoptions are only part of the solution.

The second part is to formulate a different approach to adoptions. In my opinion, such a plan would include the following steps:

1. Arrange for home visits, both pre- and post-adoption.

2. Educate the public about "breed-specific legislation," which prohibits some breeds in certain areas. These laws are often, basically, pit bull bans, and are determined by individual municipalities. But not all dogs are the same! In many communities, there are experts who can help with temperament testing and provide classes in dog handling/training at the shelter or another facility.

3. Form a respectful partnership with volunteers, and work in tandem with them. Their help is priceless. It is also free of charge. Volunteers are not only loving caretakers, but they can help educate by developing a rapport with the public via community outreach. These are just a few suggestions. Many more options are available if we only open ourselves to the possibilities. In my opinion, animals should never be offered "free." There are worse fates than euthanasia—for example, being used as a "bait dog" and suffering a protracted, slow and painful death. Another is winding up in a neglectful or abusive home. The animals depend on us!—H.S., St. Louis, Missouri

Dear H.S.: Your excellent synopsis of one of the dark sides of the "no kill" animal shelter movement will be appreciated by many as a wake-up call to communities where this practice of animal shelter giveaways is going on. I would stress that those engaging in this periodic activity should be closely watched by local media and humane investigators. I also invite other readers to share their concerns about animal welfare and protection issues.

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Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox's website at