Scratch This: Adoption do's and don’ts

Here’s a guide to ensure your pet adoption is a lifetime commitment

Scratch This: Adoption do's and don’ts

I was enjoying myself a couple of days ago at Long Beach Animal Care Services watching someone bonding with this great dog and waxing enthusiastic over the phone about the animal. Love at first glance at a shelter or a rescue — how could anything be better?

The adoption went through but the next day, the adopter brought the dog back to the shelter. The names and descriptions of dog and person are omitted because I don’t want to embarrass the adopter. Apparently, the dog was too strong and not easy to handle.

This was not the first time this had happened, either at LBACS or other shelters and rescues.

“People need to go home and think about it first, and only adopt when they have a few days off after [the adoption] to help the dog get settled,” LBACS volunteer Amber told me. “These should all be requirements. I wish we could be more like rescues and really vet people. Maybe a day will come where that’s the norm for shelter animals.”

So do a lot of us, but the reality is that most public shelters don’t have the time or staff to effectively do that. LBACS manager Dr. Melanie Wagner said that the shelter’s adoption team asks the right questions during interviews, but they can’t get into every small detail about the adopter’s habits and certainly can’t conduct home visits.

Love’s not all there is when it comes to adoption

As with any relationship, there’s more to loving after the initial sparks and glow.

“I sometimes think that adoptions are like online dating—matching up is a critical part of it,” Wagner said. “Sometimes, [pet and person] get home, and it just doesn’t work.”

As for rescues, even the most dogged and conscientious of them experience adoption returns.

“This is always an issue that tears at my heart, especially when one of our kitties is turned in to a shelter,” said Annelle Baum, co-founder of Helen Sanders CatPAWS. “Our policy on adoption is that if for any reason a CatPAWS cat can no longer be cared for by the adopter, we are to be contacted to help find a solution. It’s in the contract the adopter signs.”

CatPAWS cofounder Deborah Felin-Magaldi’s ideal is a lifetime commitment to a pet. She gets her back up over adoption returns because of the harm that they can do to an animal and the effectiveness of the rescue organization.

“It places a hardship on the organization, taking away space and resources that could be spent saving another life,” she said. “And it can be devastating for the animal. We have had cats who we sent off as happy, bouncy, outgoing kittens come back to us, sometimes years later as adults, sometimes hissing, sometimes just cowering, fear and confusion in their eyes. It can take time and work to overcome that kind of abandonment and betrayal, if it ever can be overcome.”

How not to ‘borrow’ a pet

Most adoptions turn out well. That goes for the so-called pandemic pets, who were adopted during the COVID-19 lockdown. According to this ASPCA article, most of the 23 million households that adopted a pet during the pandemic still have them — 90% for dogs and 85% for cats — and they’re not planning to give them up. This Washington Post article describes human roommates willingly contending with finding pet sitters upon return to work and paying for unexpected, expensive veterinary treatment. All the subjects seemed glad to do it. That’s what they signed up for.

But the 10% of dogs and the 15% of cats that were returned, not even counting pets that weren’t adopted during the pandemic, add up to a lot of animals. Even one failed adoption is a thorn in an otherwise lovely bed of roses in the rescue community. So, why do some people surrender their pets after adoption, and is there a way to at least mitigate adoption returns?

“Most people, when they adopt, they’re trying to be committed to an animal,” Wagner said. “It’s really important that when people return an animal, it’s an opportunity for us to say, why? What didn’t work?” Wagner said. “Maybe the dog was too rambunctious—maybe he knocked over Grandma. Or the kid has allergies. A lot of times, people think they know what they want, and they get it home, and they say, I didn’t want that year-and-a-half old. I want an eight-year-old that’s going to sleep on my couch all day. These are conversations we can have with people and find them the pet that fits.”

People need to have these same conversations with themselves. What if the dog needs training? What if the furniture is a temptation for the cat’s clawing instinct? Is the rabbit just going to languish in a cage all day, and if they run free in the house, are you willing to rabbit-proof your home? What if you move? Are there pet-friendly places for you all to land? What if you die suddenly? Can you designate an amount in your will for pet care if you have a landing place picked out for them? If not, can you leave instructions for safe return to the rescue or shelter with someone you trust?

Although LBACS’ adoption policy gives new pet families 30 days to see if the pet works out, are you willing to use those days to overcome any obstacles?

As always, it’s education

Wagner said she sometimes sees failed pet adopters get slammed on social media. “I get it: sometimes, the reasons suck,” Wagner said. “But I do think that sometimes, it’s just not the right fit. I want to remind people that we don’t just crap all over someone for wanting to return an animal. They’re actually doing the right thing. They’re choosing to come back to us and say, this is not working out for me. That’s a hard thing to say. Think of all the options they could have. They could set the dog free on the street, and none of us would know better until it was hit by a car and ended up back in our care.”

That happens, and it’s even more heartbreaking than returning a pet. Animals who had microchips implanted in them have been found wandering the streets or lying dead or injured.

Just know that you can do the right thing by your new family member because truly, that’s what they are. Do pre-adoption research, and consider all aspects of having an animal in your home before you hit the shelter or rescue. Ask advice from friends with pets and from shelter and rescue volunteers as well. That’s gold. LBACS volunteer Bev, for instance, suggested that everyone living in the home should meet the pet in the shelter or rescue before adoption. If other dogs live with you, arrange a meet-and-greet with both pets, if it’s allowed. LBACS offers that option. Forget meetups with cats, for obvious reasons if you have a cat. Jackson Galaxy has some advice here.

When you take your new buddy home, Blockhead Brigade’s Laura Vena advises keeping interactions measured and calm.

“Don't expect too much, and don’t throw too much at them,” Vena said. “Place yourself in proximity to people who can help. Just be careful — there are a lot of trainers who use somewhat abusive and ill-informed practices.”

The 3-3-3 Rule — actually, it’s more of a guideline — provides a path to giving the best quality of life to your new BFF — and that final F stands for “forever for them.” The guideline is directed at dogs, but you can modify it for cats as well, as long as you’re willing to acknowledge the feline sense of entitlement.

Graphic courtesy of Rescue Dogs 101.

“The need for pet-owner education is at an all-time high,” LBACS volunteer Susan P. said. Hope this column helps.

Yours Drooly

K-9 Kismet is the lucky beneficiary of the Inaugural Fetch Gala (see Tail-wagging and nose-booping things to do). The rescue has pulled last-minute red-listed (scheduled for euthanasia) dogs from LBACS and has found many good homes and fosters for seemingly hopeless pups with disabilities and medical conditions. All three of these dogs are looking for forever homes, and Ivy is also in need of a foster, unless you want to take her home right now. Visit their website and access all the tabs for all the dogs, plus specific links to adopt and foster.


Ivy is an incredibly affectionate, medium-energy dog. She hasn't met a human she doesn't love! Ivy is good on leash and likes playing with toys. She’s still learning to be confident and comfortable around other dogs, so for now, K9 Kismet feels that Ivy would do best as an only dog or paired with a calm, older dog about her size. Ivy first came to K9 Kismet in the summer of 2022 as a two-year-old mama pup with seven nine-week-old pups. They all lived outdoors in someone’s backyard—they were all hot, dirty, and flea-infested.

K9 Kismet immediately accepted them to keep them from being surrendered to the overcrowded Long Beach Animal Care Services. Everyone’s medical needs were addressed, and they all went to wonderful homes. Sadly, Ivy’s world was turned upside down in March 2024 when her adoptive mom died unexpectedly. But once a K9 Kismet dog, always a K9 Kismet dog, so she was welcomed back into the fold. K9 Kismet is urgently seeking a foster, a foster-to-adopter, or an adopter so Ivy can get back into a home, where she belongs.


Willa, 10, reminds us that age is just a number and that it’s never too late for a second chance at love. Willa doesn’t seem to have gotten the message that she’s a senior! She’s bouncy, energetic, and as full of life as her younger counterparts. She’s also friendly and affectionate with everyone she meets and loves to climb into people’s lap to cuddle. She’s a quick study and aims to please, so she’ll also deactivate her Velcro properties when you ask for space. Willa is taking to her obedience and crate-training quickly—she’s treat- and praise-motivated—and is ready to be a prized family member. She’s grateful for this second chance and lets her people know it with an infectious grin.


Levi is a good boy who loves people and all that goes into being part of the family. He enjoys getting out and about to smell all the smells and meet all the people. He’s affectionate, cuddly, and finds a way to snuggle close and lay his giant dome on your lap. Just make sure that when you see Levi approach, you hit the bathroom and have absolutely nothing left to do in your day because, as you’ll tell yourself, only a monster would get up from under his big, doting eyes. Levi is five or six years old and is rebuilding his stamina after being found as an emaciated stray with an abdominal blockage, but he’s now showing all kinds of pep in his step on walks and mini-excursions!

Tail-wagging and nose-booping things to do

Inaugural Fetch Gala 2024, to benefit K9 Kismet dog rescue

K9 Kismet is a local rescue that partners with Long Beach Animal Care Services to help ease the burden of overcrowding by taking in dogs in danger of euthanasia because of health or behavior issues. This year, Kimberly Mangan, a volunteer at both K9 Kismet and LBACS, has partnered with Modica’s Deli for an evening of fun and fundraising. The “small but mighty” K9 Kismet, in Mangan’s words, will be the beneficiary of the gala. You’ll have more fun than chasing squirrels as you play bingo for prizes with Long Beach’s much-honored drag queen Sabreena, laugh at comedy by Felize Gee, and meet actor and animal advocate Tom Kiesche (Clovis from Breaking Bad) Your participation will support the most vulnerable dogs at LBACS by providing a landing for their four — and sometimes three — paws.

The Fetch Gala will take place Friday, May 10, 6 p.m.–9 p.m. at Modica’s Deli, 455 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Tickets $40 at ticketleap.com.

Enter your pet in the Face of Fog City photo contest

Your pet can be the face of Pet Food Express’ new brand, Fog City Pet! Fog City was named for Pet Food Express’ Bay Area origin and is an exclusive brand based on sustainability and reducing waste. Fog City Pet features durable pet bowls, beds with 100% recyclable filling, plant-based shampoos, and limited-ingredient treats for dogs and cats. To enter your pet, boot up your Instagram or set up an account, follow Pet Food Express, upload a photo of your pet and tell why they should be the face of Fog City Pet. Tag @PetFoodExpress and use #FaceofFogCityPet in the caption. Your best buddy has a chance of being crowned the Face of Fog City Pet!

Entries accepted through May 26. The grand prize winner gets a professional photoshoot of their pet, a year’s supply of Fog City Pet goodies, and a $500 Pet Food Express gift card. The new face will be featured in Fog City Pet’s marketing on social media, their website, and digital advertising. Five second-place winners receive a $250 Pet Food Express gift card. Photo entries will be reviewed and voted on by a panel of Pet Food Express employees. Winners will be chosen June 3 and notified through Instagram direct message. Further information here.

Need a low-cost veterinarian, information about trapping community cats, places to volunteer—anything pet related? Follow this link for resources. And please add your own ideas in the Comments section.