How to Decline a Pet Adoption

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Animal rescues should never begin with being so critical that the overall outcome of each adoption interview leads to a “no.”


The goal of every animal rescue should be to adopt out as many animals, as they safely can.


We operate under the assumption that most people are good people and are confident enough to care for animals in need.

We recommend contacting a qualified consultant when your animal rescue declines more than 10% of prospective pet adopters.


Unfortunately, even with the goal of approving as many pet adoptions as an animal rescue safely can, we still find many instances where adoption counsellors will need to decline prospective pet adopters.

Here are Some Reasons for a Pet Adoption Counsellor to Decline a Pet Adoption


There are many instances in which your animal rescue's adoption counsellors will need to decline a pet adoption.


Here are some of the many reasons why an adoption counsellor may need to decline a pet adoption:

  1. The prospective adopter has a history of abusing animals.

  2. The prospective adopter is unable to understand the animal’s medical or behavioural needs.

  3. The prospective adopter indicates that they plan to use physical abuse to discipline the animal.

  4. The prospective adopter does not believe that pet ownership should be a life-long commitment.

  5. The prospective adopter indicates that they plan to use the animal for an inappropriate purpose i.e. attempting to breed the animal, use a dog to be a guard dog or a cat to eat wild mice.


There are many other red flags that an adoption counsellor may notice in an adoption interview.

Your training program will need to train adoption counsellors on how to recognize these red flags.

In instances where red flags are present, adoption counsellors will need to decline adoptions.

Declining pet adoptions is a part of keeping animals safe.

Adoption counsellors should never hesitate to decline a pet adoption when they have determined that it is unsafe for a companion animal to go home with a prospective adopter.

Adoption counsellors will need to know how to properly decline a pet adoption.

Your animal rescue is who is responsible for teaching your adoption counsellors how to properly decline a pet adoption.

A good adoption manager can help facilitate this process.





Here’s What Happens When You Decline a Pet Adoption the Wrong Way

Here’s What Happens When You Decline a Pet Adoption the Wrong Way

Your Animal Rescue’s Client Satisfaction Levels Will Go Down.


Prospective adopters who are declined fall under the umbrella of ‘clients.’


Adoption counsellors need to remember this.


Being turned away from an animal rescue is a terrible experience for prospective adopters.


The prospective adopter will feel as if they’re being judged.


They may also feel as if their families, their homes and their children are being judged.


This factor can lessen your client satisfaction levels.


A low client satisfaction level can lead to a bad reputation for your animal rescue.


A low client satisfaction level can lead to your animal rescue receiving negative reviews.


Both instances can hurt your animal rescue’s ability to raise the funds necessary to help your organization achieve your mission!


1. Your Animal Rescue’s Reputation Will Suffer.


If a declined adopter leaves your animal rescue feeling judged, they’re going to need to find a way to cope with those emotions.


Most people cope with their emotions by talking about their feelings with their family and friends.


Remember, the family and friends are hearing their story, not yours.


They’re also more likely to believe their friend’s story, over yours.


This negative word of mouth is the direct result of poor client satisfaction levels.


This negative word of mouth also has the potential to have consequences for your animal rescue.


In smaller communities, these consequences are often felt with great impact.


Don’t believe us?


Try convincing a community member, who has heard terrible things about your animal rescue, to donate to help your organization achieve your mission.


We promise you it will not be easy.


2. Your Animal Rescue May Get Bad Reviews.


In some instances, community members who had bad experiences with your animal rescue will do more than just tell their family members and friends.

Sometimes bad client experiences result in negative online reviews.


Negative online reviews can prevent prospective adopters from contacting your animal rescue.


This can negatively impact your animal rescue’s adoption rate.


Negative online reviews can also prevent prospective donors from donating to your animal rescue.


This will impact your animal rescue’s operating budget which in turn will affect your animal rescue’s ability to save more animals.


As you can see, declining pet adoptions the wrong way can have very devastating effects on your animal rescue.


This is why your animal rescue needs to train adoption counsellors on how to properly decline pet adoptions.


Six Steps Must Be Taken to Properly Decline a Pet Adoption


1. Pet Adoption Counsellors Must Control Their Emotions


Adoption counsellors are usually very passionate about animal welfare.


Unfortunately, there will be some instances where prospective adopters will say things that are so appalling, that it will be difficult for adoption counsellors to keep their composure.


Here are some examples of things we’ve heard in adoption interviews:

  • I’ve never given any of my animals veterinary care before nor do I believe that any of them need it. I have no intention of providing any veterinary care for this animal either.

  • I intend to adopt not one, but six cats to eat any mice who enter into my backyard. The cats will live outdoors.

  • If my birds peck me, I intend to discipline them by grabbing them by their beak and slapping them in the head with two fingers until they stop.


We’re sure you can understand how difficult it must be for adoption counsellors to keep their cool in these types of situations.


However, adoption counsellors need to remain calm and respectful towards prospective adopters even in these types of situations.


The prospective adopters simply lack education, insight and perspective.


It is an adoption counsellor’s job to provide prospective adopters with the education, insight and perspective they may be lacking.


It is your animal rescue’s job to train your adoption counsellors on how to maintain their composure, in order for them to effectively deliver this education to all prospective adopters.


2. Pet Adoption Counsellors Need to Educate the Prospective Adopter on Their Areas of Concern


In instances where an adoption counsellor chooses to decline a pet adoption, it is usually because the adoption counsellor has some concerns regarding the potential adopter’s ability to care for an animal.


Adoption counsellors need to be able to pinpoint exactly what these concerns are and then proceed with providing prospective adopters with the education necessary to address these concerns.


In some instances, prospective adopters will be able to change their views immediately.


For example, a prospective adopter may think it’s okay for them to walk their puppy twice a day.


This thought process is often the result of the prospective adopter not understanding the difference between how to care for an adult dog vs a puppy.


If an adoption counsellor explains to the prospective adopter why a puppy needs to be walked more frequently, the adopter will usually be open to walking their puppy more times each day.


However, there will be instances where an adoption counsellor will educate prospective adopters who are unwilling to change their views.


For example, a prospective adopter may have owned 3 dogs in the past, all of which were trained using physical force.


In these instances, it will be more difficult to change the prospective adopter’s perspective on which methods of training are acceptable.


Your adoption counsellors may already know that they’re going to decline the prospective adopter’s adoption, but they will still need to make the appropriate information available to the prospective adopters.


This is an important part of keeping animals safe.


Remember, the prospective adopter originally contacted your animal rescue because they want to adopt an animal.


That desire is not going to suddenly disappear just because your animal rescue said “no.”


Declined adopters can easily leave your animal rescue, contact a breeder who is not going to thoroughly screen them and the prospective adopter will end up paying more to purchase an animal.


Does your animal rescue really trust pet breeders in your community to properly educate their ‘customers’ on humane animal care?


After all, they’re not really in the business of being humane, are they?


The process of breeding animals when there are millions of animals facing euthanasia in animal shelters across the country isn’t exactly humane, to say the least.


In these instances, wouldn’t your animal rescue feel better if you knew you provided these potential pet owners with access to humane education? As opposed to simply deciding they’re unfit to adopt a pet and declining their adoptions?


3. Pet Adoption Counsellors Need to Kindly Decline the Prospective Adopter’s Adoption.

Remember once an adoption is complete your animal rescue cannot take the animal back.

That is why if an adoption counsellor has a good reason to decline a pet adoption, they should decline the adoption at the end of the adoption interview.

The specifics of the reasoning behind the decline is entirely up to your animal rescue

For example, if your animal rescue declines a pet adoption because the prospective adopter does not have enough time to care for an animal in need, then an adoption counsellor may want to say:

“Scruffy has a lot of needs at the moment and he really needs someone who will be available to spend time with him throughout the day. At this time, I don’t feel that your current schedule will allow you to meet Scruffy’s need for his human companion’s time.”

If your animal rescue intends to decline a pet adoption because the prospective adopter’s children do not appear to be mindful enough your adoption counsellor may say:

“Rabbits are very timid animals by nature. It can be difficult for children aged 3, 5 and 7 to recognize and respect Mr. Rabbit’s body language when he’s expressing his need for security. Unfortunately, I do not think that approving this adoption is what is best for Mr. Rabbit at this point.”

Your adoption counsellors need to provide prospective adopters with the reason why they are declining their adoptions.


If not, the prospective adopters will try to fill in the blanks themselves and that is not best practice.


For example, a prospective adopter may think their adoption was declined because the adoption counsellor did not like their children when the real reason is that the animal’s temperament was simply not a fit for the adopter’s home.


Prospective adopters who do not receive a reason as to why their pet adoptions were declined will be more likely to rate their interaction with your animal rescue poorly.


This will decrease your animal rescue’s client satisfaction level and can harm your animal rescue’s reputation, leading to bad online reviews.


Once your adoption counsellors provide prospective adopters with reasoning for the decline the adoption counsellor can then proceed to thank the adopter for their interest in helping animals in your community and provide them with alternative ways to help.


4. Pet Adoption Counsellors Need to Provide the Prospective Adopter with Alternative Options


Prospective adopters come through your animal rescue’s doors because they want to help companion animals.


Even in instances where a prospective adopter is unfit to provide an animal with a forever home, there are still many ways for them to help companion animals.


Here are some examples of the many ways that a failed adopter can help companion animals in need:

  • Volunteering

  • Donating funds or other used goods

  • Fostering animals in need

  • Educating other community members about your animal rescue’s mission and the ways they can help.

However, you can’t expect failed adopters to know how they can help if your adoption counsellors don’t tell them.

If declined in an empathetic and polite manner, you might be surprised by how happy many of the declined adopters are and will be more than willing to continue supporting your animal rescue’s missions.

5. Provide Alternative Ways for the Declined Adopter to Help Animals.


Your relationship with the declined pet adopter does not have to stop here!


If the declined pet adopter is open to volunteering for your animal rescue, your adoption counsellors will need to walk them through the process required to volunteer with your animal rescue.


If the declined pet adopter is open to donating to your animal rescue, then your adoption counsellors will need to walk them through the process required to donate to your animal rescue.


At the very least, your animal rescue should be asking to keep in touch with the declined adopter moving forward.


Your adoption counsellors will need to advise the declined adopter on ways to keep in touch with your animal rescue. 


This process can be as simple as having the declined adopter provide their email address to subscribe to your animal rescue’s email marketing list. 


Many declined adopters will be curious to know whether they will be considered for pet adoption in the future.


In these instances, your adoption counsellors will need to explain to prospective adopters what the process will be.


Should they return for another interview in 6 months? Your animal rescue will need to decide on what the process will be.


6. Pet Adoption Counsellors Need to Record Detailed Notes on All Pet Adoptions.


There will be many instances where a declined adopter will return in the days, weeks, months, maybe even years to come.


If the previous adoption counsellor had concerns with the declined adopter, you’ll want to make sure those concerns are communicated to the new adoption counsellor.


This can only happen if the original adoption counsellor took notes. 


Remember, the declined adopter will be familiar with your animal rescue’s adoption process now. That will make it easier for them to cheat the system if they simply come back next week.


Your animal rescue must have some idea as to who the declined adopter is and when they were last interviewed as soon as they contact your animal rescue for the second time.


If the second adoption counsellor, who interviews the adopter, is aware of the initial adoption counsellor’s concerns, that will guide them to pay particular attention to specific details during the declined adopter’s second interview.


This is an important part of keeping companion animals safe.


7. Pet Adoption Counsellors Need to Place a Warning in Their Animal Rescue’s System.


Your Adoption Counsellors need to place warnings on prospective adopters, that your animal rescue has deemed unfit to adopt a pet.


‘Warnings’ are pop-ups that appear in your animal rescue’s software when an adoption counsellor types the prospective adopter's name into your animal rescue’s database. 


Most animal rescue software will allow you to place warnings on declined adopters.


Here’s how ‘warnings’ generally work:


1. An adoption counsellor identifies valid concerns with a prospective adopter causing the prospective adopter to be declined.


2. The adoption counsellor creates a profile for the adopter that was declined on your animal rescue’s shelter software.


3. The adoption counsellor selects the ‘warning’ option and inputs as much information as possible regarding the details of their concerns with the declined adopter. Next you would hit save.


4. If the declined adopter returns, they will fill out a new pet adoption application or questionnaire.


5. At the time of receiving the questionnaire, an adoption counsellor will enter their name into your animal rescue’s shelter software.


6. The ‘warning’ placed on the declined adopter’s profile will pop-up immediately communicating the previous adoption counsellor’s concerns to the new adoption counsellor.


7. As you can see, these warnings are a very important part of keeping animals safe.


8. Spreadsheets won’t help with the task. This is why we recommend using a good shelter software, as opposed to relying on spreadsheets.


A good shelter software may have a cost associated with it, but the benefits outweigh the minor costs associated with using it.


Concluding Thoughts.


There will always be instances where your adoption counsellors will need to decline pet adoptions.


Your animal rescue needs to make sure adoption counsellors are clear on when to decline prospective pet adopters.


It is equally important for your animal rescue to make sure all of your adoption counsellors receive the training and support they need, in order to decline pet adoptions properly.


This will help your animal rescue maintain your client satisfaction levels, and help you safeguard your animal rescue’s reputation.


We hope that you found the information in this article helpful and we ask that you please subscribe to Rescue Corner for more information on how to improve your animal rescue!

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