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All right, this is not a rant, but a genuine question. The shelter I most frequently volunteer at has been having this discussion recently, and I’m sure we’re not unique in that. As the discussion turned into an argument, as discussions of such a sensitive nature have a tendency to do, I thought I would try and find a good article that describes how “adoptable” can be better defined.

I couldn’t find one.

We throw this word around in the rescue/shelter community all the time. We have “adoptables”, this cat is “less-adoptable”, this dog is “unadoptable”. It seems like we’re using a word that has no meaning and cannot be defined. Where is the line that we draw in the sand on whether an animal is “adoptable” or “unadoptable”? Is there a gray area? Is it a clear-cut line down the center where we split the animals like the Red Sea casting one side off to be euthanized and the other to be saved? Or is it more like a Venn diagram, where there’s a little bit of both and a whole lot in the middle? Is it rigid or fluid? Should we have rules or not?

The answer isn’t a simple one, which may be the reason this question isn’t easily solved in a blog article or a forum that pops up on Google.

less adoptable pet

Image courtesy of http://www.petfinder.com

If you’ve “liked” a couple rescues or shelters on Facebook you’ve probably seen the image above before. These are some of the categories of animals that are deemed “less adoptable”. But is that universal? Do all people consider the animals above “less adoptable” or do some place a hugely high value on them?

Scared and fluffy

Really skinny

The dog above was considered “less adoptable” by the rescue he came from, and he may have been considered “unadoptable” by the shelter I volunteer with. Black, big, sick, skinny, “vicious breed”, resource guarder, aggression issues with dogs and people, walked funny, four different kinds of worms, submissive peer, can’t live with cats or kids, unpredictable, terrified, the list goes on.

But he was adopted. And in case you don’t recognize him, that’s Panzer, when he was first rescued and able to walk enough to go outside.

P jumping

Same dog, better days.

Panzer was never “unadoptable” for us. In fact, he was highly adoptable. As much as I complain and despair and wonder how I get stuck with these problem dogs, I actively seek them out. I like having a “project” dog around to keep my training skills keen and evolving and because I know that they’ll be safe with me.

This leads me to believe that the term “adoptable” is fluid and changing, for every dog and every potential adoptive family. You can’t take a dog who has resource guarding issues and bites a rubber hand in a bowl and say that dog definitively has to die because he’s “vicious”. You can’t take a cat that won’t pee in a litterbox because it’s been living under a porch and eating out of the trash for the past three months and say it has to die because it can never learn. There’s no bright line “rule” to what is and is not adoptable. I know people who adore pit bulls and would never want to live with another kind of dog. They don’t consider a pit bull “less” adoptable, they consider it more adoptable. I know people who think black cats are the most gorgeous animal on the whole planet, and I know people who think that senior dogs are the best fit for them because they have less exercise requirements. I have seen animals come to the shelter who I worried for, fearing they would never get adopted, who have been adopted within hours. I have seen animals come to the shelter who I figured would be a no-brainer who have been returned or sat there for months.

I know, I know, but what are the odds that that person, who finds your “unadoptable” or “less adoptable” animal “highly adoptable” is going to walk through the door of your overcrowded and underfunded shelter? Truly, that is a different problem all together, perhaps for a different post, although I cannot emphasize enough the aid that rescues can bring to the table.

But what I’m trying to say is that our nomenclature may need tweaking, or changing all together. If we can’t define it, what’s the point of having it? Why do we need to label these animals in the first place? By calling them “less adoptable” for example, aren’t we attaching a negative stigma to them when we want to highlight them? Why can’t we just tell the truth?

And again, I’m not saying that all dogs or cats are right for every home or even, in some unfortunate cases, a home, but I am saying that they should all be treated as individuals and not cast off because a line with no gray area has been drawn. That of course, is not an original thought.

Instead of trying to label away the problem, let’s celebrate our animals for all their differences. What about you? How do you define (or not) adoptable and unadoptable?


Judge is a hound mix currently up for adoption at the Chester County SPCA in West Chester PA. He’s pretty low energy, but he does get his run on when there are other dogs around to play with. He recently appeared riding shotgun in the annual West Chester Halloween parade, dressed as a hot dog. He does bay a bit, but that’s just his way of saying “Hello! Do you see me and my awesomeness?” Please consider adopting Judge today!