Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Returns and Refunds
Just back from the shelter, and I did a walk-through to check out the Adoption Room dogs. One of my adoptions, a hound dog mix female named “Cosmo” had been returned. It always knocks the breath out of me when the dogs come back, and it’s even worse when it’s one of the animals I helped place.
Our county shelter has an extremely generous adoption policy—most placements are “foster-to-adopt,” with a 10-day grace period where the adopter can return the animal at any point for any reason, and receive a full refund ($100 for female dogs; $95 for male dogs). The county takes checks, and will provide vet care for the animal on the condition that the adopter brings the animal into the shelter for treatment by the staff vets. If an adopter takes a sick animal to an outside vet without the proper clearance, there is no reimbursement.
The downside of this arrangement is that the transfer of responsibility from the county to the owner is dragged out. All too often, the policy enables the adopter to chicken out and return a dog for reasons that could be addressed through time and basic training. While the 10-day foster period is meant to build confidence, it also suggests that these animals are somehow less valuable than dogs obtained from other sources. We don't have data on returns, nor do we keep records on how many times any particular animal might cycle in and out.
Private rescue groups that I’ve worked with have much shorter return-with-refund policies. Of course, no one wants an unhappy owner to toss the animal on the street. Like the shelter, almost all private rescues will take back their animals if the owner wishes to surrender the dog. Often the owner who returns a dog to a private rescue group receives only a partial refund, if any refund at all is offered. Plus, a returned animal will prompt the group to red flag that adopter’s record, preventing or limiting the conditions for future adoptions.
Our county shelter’s policy is as good as Wal-Mart’s—as long as you have the paperwork and meet the 10-day foster period, you can return the dog and get your money back or select another dog. Which is fine, except that dogs are a more serious aqusisition than, say, a pair of shoes or a DVD player.
An older couple selected Cosmo and took her home on February 21st. I didn’t do a whole lot more than assist with the paperwork, but the application looked good and the husband was the one who had picked Cosmo out, so there was no sales pitch from me.
Meanwhile, we have no information on why Cosmo was returned—does she bark incessantly, chase cats or dig out? We’ll never know because the staff people who man the front desk simply don’t have time to make note of the answers to these questions. However, each time a dog is returned to the shelter environment, the animal runs the risk of getting the kennel-crazies. Certainly many returns are valid, but we’re not doing the dogs any favors by creating an environment that creates a revolving door for pets and adopters.