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Background checks for potential adopters

  • 1.  Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-12-2019 08:30 AM

    Hello! I am a volunteer for a small rescue based in MD focused on saving dogs from high-kill shelters.  We have recently been debating the need to perform official background checks on applicants before finalizing an adoption. Does your organization perform background checks? If yes, what service(s) do you use?




  • 2.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-12-2019 03:13 PM

    Hi, We thought about it when we ran a foster based adoption program. But ultimately decided that the odds of us identifying someone with a problem were so low compared to the time and expense of the checks, that we decided not to do it. We saw it as a barrier to getting new foster caregivers that was very unlikely to weed out bad people (cos the odds of them having a record are pretty small). Might be better/less expensive to call local shelters to find out if they're willing to share their DNA list.


  • 3.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-12-2019 04:33 PM

    My group does not allow foster people to adopt out cats and dogs. Our long-time volunteers do tje checking and make decisions. After an application is submitted, two people interview the person. A final interview done by the head of our group is done before the pet goes home. We also check out landlords and applicants’ vets to make sure current or previous pets received good care. We google home addresses and find pix of peoples’ homes and check the neighborhood, look at Facebook pages and check criminal records. This is not as time-consuming as it sounds. Besides, finding the best possible homes for our dogs and cats is our top priority and any time spent is more than worth it.


  • 4.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-13-2019 05:03 AM

    I wish I knew what is all legal to use for back ground checks.  Has anyone gotten legal guidance on whether it's legal to use a criminal record to deny an adoption?  Sounds like a ridiculous question but our circuit court system points out that a person cannot be discriminated against for what they have done unless it's a job that directly relates to what they were convicted of.


  • 5.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-13-2019 05:42 AM

    We have a small all dog breed shelter and we do not foster. We do background checks on every client unless they have adopted from us within the last year. We look for a criminal background that points to animal abuse or an unstable person who might not be the best owner. For example, if you had a DUI 7 years ago and never got into trouble again then you'll get a dog. If you were convicted of domestic violence a month ago, likely not. The reason is you really need to be in a stable home, all of you working together to create a good environment for a dog and domestic violence complicates things. Also, we require that all renters have a clause in their lease allowing dogs and that weights and breeds are specified. If you don't have that then a letter from your landlord is needed. We can also call and speak to your landlord.  Just this past Sunday someone wanted a German Shepherd puppy. She finally unearthed the lease because her landlord was not answering our call. This dog had a lot of interest. Her lease said she could have a cat. A cat is not a dog and this puppy was going to probably grow to be 50 plus pounds. She could not understand why we would not give her the dog. She finally found a text from the landlord and so my boss had her print that off with the lease and approved the adoption. We have unearthed a few people who in no way should be given a dog because of background checks. Our attorney says in the state in WI background checks are legal. 


  • 6.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-13-2019 07:07 AM

    Thanks for sharing! What service do you use to do the background check?


  • 7.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-14-2019 05:44 AM

    I stand corrected. We use CCPA which is the Consolidated Court Automation Program. My confusion is our adoption counselors called it a background checks which it is not. This is a free service that we use when there's a questionable person who comes in. Of greater importance to us is the landlord conversation and or the lease allowing potential adopters to have a dog and if there are any breeds or weights that are not allowed. Sorry for the confusion. Googling the address and Facebook pages are tools that are sometimes used.  


  • 8.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-13-2019 07:23 AM

    Hi Natalie, I think this is totally unnecessary to adopt a pet. I would strongly recommend that the volunteers in your rescue read HSUS' Adopters Welcome. The situation you described is very typical of old school mentality. If the organization's mission is truly to save dogs at risk in shelters, I would guess that it is not living up to its potential by being so un-trusting and judgmental. This was exactly ME about 15 years ago! When I first got involved in rescue I was told by many of my peers and mentors that you can't trust anyone, you need to make sure that they are absolutely perfect so that the animal isn't put back into whatever horrible situation they came from, and that if people weren't willing to jump through hoops then they didn't deserve the pet in the first place. The sad thing in my case is that I totally bought into this theory and practiced it for years! It's extremely embarrassing to admit that now, but hey we live and learn! Needless to say, back in the old days I didn't save as many animals from shelters as I had hoped. 

    Once I had a bit of a philosophy adjustment and realized that most people were good and that I'd be better off trying to help the person be a good pet owner rather than punishing them for whatever wrong doings I thought they had committed.... I ended up tripling my adoptions which meant I truly was making a difference in the open admission shelters around me that faced euthanasia decisions daily. 

    I realize that fear is the number one barrier in making change, but I promise you that if your volunteers did a trial period of just having a conversation with the adopter instead of worrying about background checks, then followed up with calls or emails to make sure everything was going well - I bet they would see that it not only saves time but allows you to help more animals that need to be transferred from shelters. You can learn so much more from a conversation than from long forms, background checks, etc. Keep in mind that dogs and cats aren't nearly as judgmental as we are... I try to be more like them every day! I hope this doesn't come across preachy, it really is my story and since I've made the switch to open adoptions I feel like I've been liberated.  Cameron


  • 9.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-13-2019 07:50 AM

    Hi Cameron,

    thank you so much for sharing this with me. I agree with you completely, but unfortunately as a volunteer, I’m somewhat limited in my ability to change policies, though i am trying :-) would you be open to having a conversation with me? Would love to get your thoughts on how to present this “philosophy change” to people.


  • 10.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-14-2019 07:52 AM

    You bet! I'm happy to speak with you. Feel free to email me and we can set something up.

    What might also be an easier approach as a volunteer is watching some webinars and then sharing them with the leadership team. You can say I just saw this fabulous webinar and think we could really help more cats if we tried this.....Maddie's has some great pre-recorded webinars that you can listen to at your leisure. Here are some links:

    Let Them Go Home - Increasing Adoptions

    Accelerate your Lifesaving

    Is Your Adoption Process Really Working?


  • 11.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-13-2019 09:01 AM

    Our organization is a small cat only group.  We learned at the knee of Maddie's Fund the philosophy of starting with "yes" when someone expressed an interest in adopting from us.  We have conversations with our potential adopters that are extremely helpful in assisting them in selecting the purrfect cat for their household and personal preferences.  In our adult cat program, there's only one person who handles the adoptions; we've found it to be super helpful to have the program leader know as much as possible about the adult cats and work to make those matches.  Plus, taking that responsibility off the plates of the adult cat fosters has helped us to recruit more adult cat fosters!  In our kitten program, our kitten fosters are given the choice of whether or not they're comfortable screening their own potential adopters.  If they are, they're trained to do so.  If they're not, then the kitten program leader is happy to do so.


  • 12.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-14-2019 03:07 PM

    There are some great resources you can share with your group, including the Adopters Welcome program that Cameron mentioned, that could help with this. The current best practices and leading thinking in our field is to give more trust to adopters and to make the adoption process more conversation-based. You learn much more from prospective adopters when you're having an open conversation (and when they aren't on the defensive, which they are more likely to be if the application and process seem "us vs. you" or "pass/fail"). 



  • 13.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 03-30-2019 07:07 PM

    We have saved many dogs from bad situations  by doing bar checks


  • 14.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 04-03-2019 08:23 PM

    A background check on the adopter is a must, and I support you.


  • 15.  RE: Background checks for potential adopters

    Posted 04-09-2019 02:46 AM

    I support the background  checks, when used in a logical manner, simply to verify stability of a home ad the address the pet is being adopted to, is really the correct address. I will say as a foster, I LOATHE home visits and refuse to do them. I've always said I could get the most important info from the neighbors. THEY are the ones that know if the people have the dog tied out back or are beating the dogs. They are also the ones seeing people walk their dogs, pick up after them and take the dog with them in the car. IMHO The adopters might fool me but they haven't fooled the neighbors....

    Lastly, I'd  comment, I wish all shelters would do like the rescues and be the FIRST person on the chip to be contacted if the pet is abandoned. I know shelters are overburdened, but when they adopt a pet out, they owe the pet a safety net. When I foster for new rescues or ones in deep debt, I chip the dogs to ME, then the adopter. Only with two rescues have I had that bad feeling the dogs wouldn't have their safety net and I was right with both. I keep in touch with my adopters and want the dogs I trained and loved to be safe for LIFE, even if they have to come back to me.