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Returns Reframed

The ASPCA’s Bert Troughton reminds us to keep looking for the positives in returns—and returners.


I started in this business before we had personal computers, so our “information technology” was a big peg board behind the adoptions counter with a bunch of clip boards. Each clip board held a list with a cover sheet in big letters: “VOLUNTEERS,” “WISH LIST (people looking for a certain breed),” “SURGERY,” “LOST,” “FOUND,” and “DNA.” No—not the building blocks of life—the “Do Not Adopt” list.

We had staff people who pulled out that DNA list like they were pulling out a gun. You could find yourself on that list if you lied; if your dog was brought in as a stray; if you visited and your kids were ill-behaved (and really, if they were just acting like kids); if you were rude (regardless of whether you felt you were put on the defensive); if staff didn’t like your attitude about dog training (or your methods), or if your pets at home weren’t spayed/neutered or up-to-date on vaccinations. But perhaps the strangest reason of all that you could end up on that list—which was obviously a very long list—was if you returned an adopted animal. Mind you, our adoption policy required that you return the animal to us if you could not keep him/her for any reason!

Things have changed a lot since then. Thankfully, the predominant policy I ran into when I taught workshops on open adoptions was one of not penalizing people for returns. But I hadn’t seen as big of a shift in attitudes. I saw and heard people casting a whole lot of judgment on those who return…eye-rolling about the reason, saying things like, “I could have told him the dog was too much for him,” and just generally implying that people don’t try hard enough or should be more committed.

Interestingly, in these same workshops I found that the people who used to behave this way were zealous, like ex-smokers can be zealous, in trying to convince their colleagues that returns aren’t a bad thing. But I’d never heard anyone make the perfect case for seeing the positives in returns—and returners—until I read this blog. In this short, sweet, post “He's Back: when cupid’s arrow misses,” this foster mom demonstrates an amazing capacity for acceptance and compassion toward animals and people that is truly worthy of the term “humane.” She writes, “They want a dog who is ready for any experience…and they deserve a dog just like that. There are zillions of them in the world. It’s just that Nutty Brown isn’t one of them yet.” In this one sentence—as in the whole post—she acknowledges that the people are okay and the dog is okay, just that they weren’t the right match for each other.

From here on out, whenever I want to encourage a new attitude about returns, I’m going to share this touching blog post.


Bert Troughton, MSW, is Interim Senior Vice President of Animal Health Services at the ASPCA, where she works with several talented teams: ASPCA Animal Hospital, ASPCA Poison Control, Community Medicine and Humane Alliance. Bert joined the ASPCA in 2003 after 9 years as CEO of Monadnock Humane Society in New Hampshire and 10 years as a clinical social worker in community mental health. Past president of both the New Hampshire and New England Federations of Humane Societies, Bert is a guest blogger on human dynamics in animal welfare and the author of the chapter on working with adopters in Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.




Related Links

Blog: “How Does Your Return Rate Measure Up?”
“He's Back: when cupid's arrow misses”