If you've ever visited an animal shelter, or even an animal shelter's website, you've likely seen or heard the word "adoptable". But have you ever stopped to consider what it means?
Besides referring to pets who are currently available for adoption, meaning they have been evaluated, spayed or neutered, vaccinated, tested for common ailments and are ready to go home, what makes a pet "adoptable"? Who decides which pets are adoptable and what factors are considered in that decision?
In an animal shelter, the determination of "adoptable" happens days or weeks before a pet is made available for adoption. The factors that go into that determination can vary from pet to pet and from shelter to shelter (or rescue).
For many animals, the decision is made not long after they enter the shelter. Healthy and friendly equals adoptable, in most cases. For other animals, medical or temperament evaluations must be performed before a decision can be made, and depending on the results, the decision can fall to a shelter manager, a veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, someone else or any combination of those people.
For any credible animal welfare organization, the well-being of the animal must always be at the forefront of that decision. An elderly cat who is barely able to groom and doesn't always make it to the litter box has a very slim chance of being adopted. An abused or neglected dog who cowers in fear at the approach of a person will not do well in any home.
While not considered adoptable, pets like these are given other options. Some shelters and rescues offer hospice care, either inside the shelter or in a temporary foster home, to allow a pet to live out its final days or weeks peacefully and well-cared for. A foster home is also an option for pets recovering from illness or injury, or simply learning to trust people.
Public safety is another important factor in determining if a pet is adoptable. Not all feral cats can be rehabilitated into lap cats and can react violently to being forced into a cuddle. Many are happier and much better off when they are allowed to live among their cat colony. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs make this possible by medically treating and sterilizing these free-roaming cats and then returning them to the outdoor home they know.
Aggressive dogs are another concern. Though never immediately deemed adoptable, some dogs initially demonstrating threatening behaviors respond well to positive reinforcement, daily enrichment opportunities and lots of patience and persistence. Their adoptability may be selective, but still possible. Sadly, others can be beyond the capabilities or resources that a shelter or rescue can provide, making them unfit for adoption or foster care.
For these aggressive dogs and for any animal shown to be suffering and beyond treatment, adoptability is simply not an option and humane euthanasia is the best course of action.
Thankfully, that final option is exercised much less often than in years past. There was a time
that conditions like heartworm, feline leukemia, ringworm or even a skin infection meant immediate euthanasia for any pet entering a shelter. These days, thanks to education, expanded resources and the availability of affordable veterinary care, more and more pets are deemed adoptable and eventually get to experience a new, loving home.
Much like beauty though, adoptability lies in the eye of the beholder. What kind of pet you consider adoptable can vary greatly from another's view and depends on how much time and effort you're willing to give your new pet.
If you work long days but would like a furry companion to cuddle with at night, maybe a couple of adult cats who can entertain each other during the day (or just sleep) have a high adoptability factor for you. Or, if you're active, often home and enjoy nature, perhaps a puppy or high-energy dog is more appealing.
Whatever type of pet suits you more, it's probably waiting for you in an animal shelter or with a rescue group right now. At the SPCA Albrecht Center, staff are happy to talk to you about your home and lifestyle to find the best match and the pet with the highest adoptability factor for you. Get started by seeing who's available today at LetLoveLive.org.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.