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Finding the right fit

Adopting an animal is not the same as choosing a pair of shoes. There are no refunds or exchanges; one size does not fit all. "Every animal that comes into the shelter is unique in their own way," said Sheila Love, manager for the Animal Rescue F...

Lexi

Adopting an animal is not the same as choosing a pair of shoes. There are no refunds or exchanges; one size does not fit all.

"Every animal that comes into the shelter is unique in their own way," said Sheila Love, manager for the Animal Rescue Federation of Superior, and shelter staff make it their job to find homes to meet each animal's needs.

"We take a lot into consideration," before placing a pet in a home, said Mike Licari, director of the Friends of Animals Humane Society in Cloquet.

Sometimes, the process leads to broken hearts.

A home for Lexi

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Last week, Donna Horn chose what she thought was the perfect pet. The Duluth woman searched the Twin Ports for a dog after the death of her 15-year-old German shepherd.

"She wanted to rescue one," said Horn's daughter, Jeannie Ball. She found the pet she wanted at ARF. Four-month-old Lexi, a white American Staffordshire terrier - also known as a pit bull - sat in her cage calmly, winking at Horn. They took the dog for a walk and Horn filled out an application. The petite woman, in her 70s, indicated relatives would help with exercising the dog. She had a fenced in back yard and a home to share. Puppy classes were mentioned.

Ball called her mother's home ideal.

"It's what anyone would want for any dog," she said.

Yet the adoption was denied. They were offered other dogs, but not Lexi.

"It just wasn't the right fit for the dog," Love said. American Staffordshire Terriers have specific needs, she said, and they need someone physically capable of providing them.

Ball said they were told that Horn was too old to adopt the dog. Love disagreed.

"It had nothing to do with her age," the shelter manager said. "Even the youngest, most energetic person who jogs every day, if it is not in the best interest of the animal, we're not going to place them."

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The pit bull pup is expected to grow into a 60-pound dog with a high energy level and a need for lots of interaction, Love said.

"They have to have a job, they have to be stimulated," she said. A fenced yard isn't enough.

Ball said her mother is used to working with large dogs, and was searching for a lifetime pet. The gentle pit bull pup, she said, was it.

"My mom chose her; the dog chose her," Ball said.

Experience has shown Love that having family members help doesn't work out; they stop helping when the newness wears off. Lack of exercise can lead to bad habits, bad behaviors and a return trip to the shelter.

"We reserve the right to refuse adoption to anyone," Love said. "All decisions are based on the welfare of the animal."

Another applicant interested in adopting the puppy was also turned down, Love said. The woman had young children and worked nights, also not an ideal situation for Lexi.

A trip to the shelter Tuesday revealed that the puppy was adopted, two days after Horn's application was denied.

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"I wish we had that problem with all our animals - three good homes," said ARF Board Member Jay Johnson.

ARF still has four pit bulls among the 48 cats and 12 dogs awaiting adoption at the shelter. All four are young, strong, high-energy dogs capable of taking their owners for a walk instead of the other way around, Johnson said.

He credits the shelter's screening process for the low animal return rate at ARF.

The Friends of Animals Humane Society of Carlton County has a similar intensive pre-adoption process, including a three-page application. Licari said they deny adoptions several times a month. There is also a wait of at least a day before an adoption is approved.

"The goal for us here at our shelter is to find a good match," Licari said, which means, sometimes, making tough decisions.

Making a match

Two other area shelters take a different approach.

At Animal Allies of Duluth and the Humane Society of Douglas County, the adoption process focuses on what people expect from their new pet. All dogs and cats are personality profiled when they come to the shelter, said Animal Allies Director Linda Baumgarth.

Potential adopters fill out a Meet Your Match survey. It includes questions on whether the adopter wants a dog that is laid back or playful, if they are willing to train the animal and how many hours a day the dog or cat will be home alone. Using the answers, shelter staff can direct people to animals that would be a good fit for their lifestyle.

"We don't screen; we work to find a match," Baumgarth said. "It's more about education."

Adoptions are seldom denied, she said, unless the adopter is planning to break a city ordinance - such as keeping the dog outdoors all the time within city limits, which is prohibited.

"We don't want to knowingly place an animal into a home where it won't succeed," she said.

But education and follow-up calls can help adopters ease into pet ownership, even if it didn't appear to be an ideal match.

"People are coming and trying to do the right thing," Baumgarth said. "It's important for us to help them."

At the Humane Society of Douglas County, an older woman recently adopted a high-energy German shepherd. Staff at the shelter said they helped her find a way to control the dog for walks through the use of a "gentle leader." Adoptions are rarely denied, according to shelter staff.

Baumgarth said that five years ago, the Duluth shelter utilized an intensive screening process similar to ARF's. With adoptions at an all-time low, they looked for a way to improve the number. The shelter adopted the Meet Your Match program in 2008. Although the process is not perfect, Baumgarth said, it helps potential pet owners narrow their focus and get to know the animals better without putting them on the defensive.

Education is one of the keys to a successful adoption, according to shelter staff throughout the area. If you have a particular breed in mind, do some research to make sure it will be a good fit for your life, many said. They also suggested that potential adopters know the adoption guidelines and process at a shelter before stopping by. Not every pet is the perfect fit, and not every application process is the same.

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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