Rescue groups use special events to link adoptable animals with new families

FROM HOTEL TO HOME: Lolly, a papillon/Chihuahua mix who was the 100th dog adopted through Aloft Asheville Downtown's foster dog program, found her perfect match in new owner Karen, who lives in Flat Rock. Photo by Madison Roberts Photography

Sniffing out a good home for our furry friends is no easy task. To ensure those in their care fall into the right hands, animal rescues use a variety of approaches to match prospective pet owners with their ideal companions.

For many of these organizations, adoption events have been an effective way to accomplish that goal, allowing people the opportunity to meet future pets in an environment outside shelter walls. Though animals’ physical needs are met in the shelter, a little fresh air and some new experiences can provide animals with a welcome change of pace that can get tails wagging and kittens purring.

According to Denise Bitz, founder and president of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, shelters and adoption centers are not always appealing to those in search of a new pet. A first impression is often better made beyond the confines of metal bars or small crates, and she’s not the only one who feels this way.

“When you’re out at an event, the dog is out running around; it’s happy,” says Kim Smith, president of Charlie’s Angels Animal Rescue in Fletcher. “They see another side to their dog, and they don’t come into a shelter and get sad. So it’s another avenue to let people see the true personality of a dog shine.”

In a typical year, Brother Wolf hosts over 60 adoption events, and Charlie’s Angels puts on about 150.

Powered by volunteers

Aside from finances, scheduling and general communication with the venue, putting together a team of volunteers is key to organizing adoption events.

While the events can be good times to recruit future help, running a volunteer-based organization requiring around-the-clock staffing comes with its own set of challenges, which Smith describes as “a double-edged sword.” Though a larger staff would allow for smoother operations, using a smaller crew allows a rescue organization to put more money toward the animals.

Another important consideration is making sure the animals are ready to handle the commotion they’re about to face.

“Animals that go to off-site events need to be ‘bombproof,’ as they have lots of people looking at them, wanting to touch them, other dogs going by, etc.,” Bitz explains in an email to Xpress.

Some animals are unsuited to these events and must remain in the shelter until their adoption day finally comes. That’s OK with Bitz. “We give them however long they need,” she writes. “They do not have an expiration date on them.”

At Brother Wolf, it’s not uncommon to see up to 12 animals adopted in a single day. Each adoption event provides a home for three animals on average — not bad, considering only a fraction of animals housed in the rescue are brought to the events.

Results may vary

But some shelters aren’t finding as much success with adoption events these days.

Adam Cotton, manager of community alliances at the Asheville Humane Society, describes the adoption scene at these events as “touch and go” for his organization. An animal that might have been adopted within hours at the shelter will often end up without a home by the end of an event, he says.

“Ten years ago, we may have taken 20 highly adoptable dogs to an adoption event at PetSmart or Petco and all of them would be adopted,” Cotton recalls. “Now we take four puppies to an adoption event, and sometimes not even all of those puppies get adopted.”

He explains this phenomenon as part of a growing trend among larger shelters, where fewer animals are finding new homes at outside events. Instead, prospective pet owners have been growing more comfortable with the idea of going to their local shelter to pick out a new family addition.

“People don’t look at animal shelters as pounds full of pound puppies anymore,” he notes. “They see it as a retail space where you can find the perfect animal for you to go home with.”

Gimme shelter

To combat any lingering stigma associated with shelters, AHS provides its animals with full-time veterinary care, comfortable living spaces and play groups for dogs, which foster sociability and overall well-being. Recently, the organization hosted a Pilates with Puppies session, which helped offset the decrease in event-based adoptions and brought more people into the shelter than might have visited otherwise.

CAT POSE: The Asheville Humane Society puts on some pretty creative events to bring people who might not visit a shelter in contact with animals in need of a home. Here, participants in a “kitten yoga” class don’t seem to mind the distraction of a fluffy feline. Photo by Heather Hayes

AHS staff has also worked to find more creative approaches to off-site events. For example, they introduced Beer City Behavior, a program that brings animal behaviorists to breweries for an hourlong pet training session, as well as pop-up cat cafés, where visitors can enjoy a beverage while interacting with adoptable cats.

Though it’s anything but a typical animal shelter, the Biltmore Avenue hotel Aloft Asheville Downtown is actively involved in finding new homes for a rotating roster of lucky dogs.

Through Aloft’s foster dog program, dogs in search of a home live at the hotel, where staff takes part in caring for them and guests enjoy interacting with the resident canine. The unique approach, says Aloft staffer Emily Scott, “allows locals and visitors to interact with the adoptable dog in an intimate setting.”

Over 100 dogs have been adopted since the program’s launch in 2014. Four years in, Scott says, many of the dogs that have passed through the hotel will never be forgotten.

“We had a brother and sister pair, Spencer and Summer, who were so bonded,” she says. “Whenever they were sleeping, one would use the other for a pillow. And when they played, it was all good-natured, and they took joy in seeing each other have fun. The adopting family took both of them into a home with two young daughters, which made the bond complete between family and dogs.”

Another alumna of the program, Bianca, who left the Aloft Asheville Downtown in December 2016 with her new family, sent an update on her new life with her Austin, Texas, family by mail. “I go for walks around the river a few blocks from home, play at the off-leash dog park and can even do three-mile jogs with mom,” Bianca — presumably with some help from her adopter — wrote. “I hope you continue helping other pets like me find their fur-ever homes.”

As part of the season’s final Sunday Live @ Aloft, the hotel will host an event starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28, to benefit Charlie’s Angels, its rescue partner since 2014. Scott says the event will be “very dog-friendly, and attendees can also meet our current adoptable dog.” The hotel will put on a Howl-o-ween dog costume contest; those canines (and their human costumers) wishing to enter must arrive and register no later than 7 p.m.

Second thoughts

The adoption process doesn’t always go smoothly. Large shelters and small rescues alike deal with the problem of adopter’s remorse — a change of heart that leads some pet owners to regret the decision to accept responsibility for a new family member.

“We do see more animals returned due to those types of split-second decisions than we would see if somebody were to come into the shelter,” Cotton says.

To mitigate the problem, Charlie’s Angels maintains a strict policy forbidding same-day adoptions.

Smith says she’s seen quite a few instances of remorse during her tenure with Charlie’s Angels. “People get all hopped up, and then they go think about it,” she says, often leading them to return an animal they only thought they wanted.

“They’re live creatures. They don’t understand what’s going on, either,” Smith says. “We want the least traumatizing situation for that animal.”

As one of the smallest animal sanctuaries in the area, Charlie’s Angels approaches the adoption process deliberately, conducting background and reference checks in an effort to ensure the best possible living situation for the animal.

Larger shelters and rescues also exercise diligence in screening prospective families, but the number and variety of animals that pass through their operations make intensive scrutiny of adopters impractical. To help ensure a lasting connection, many suggest exercising caution when adopting a pet.

“Remember, no animal is perfect, so be prepared to show patience and compassion when bringing home a newly adopted animal,” Bitz advises.

Happily ever after

Sometimes it’s the patience and compassion required to adopt that motivate someone to seek out a new pet.  After her husband died, one woman visited Charlie’s Angels hoping to find a new friend to keep her company. After discovering a good match, the rescue approved the adoption, and the pair went home hand in paw. They’ve been together ever since.

“We are doing everything in our power to make sure that that animal is going into the most successful possible situation,” Cotton says of his organization’s efforts on behalf of the animals housed at AHS. “[We] guarantee to the best of our abilities … that animal will live out the rest of its life in a happy, healthy home.”






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