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Call to Action
  1. Make adoption a priority. At the shelter where Blue was found, unless a rescue group intervenes, the annual kill rate is about 95 percent. It is accepted as policy that the majority of dogs will die. Shelter managers need to make it a policy that rescue and adoption are a big part of the job. Nationwide, this attitude is the first thing to change in shelters that improve their adoption rates.
  2. Hire people who embody the philosophy of rescue. Sometimes personnel changes are necessary, but sometimes people can grow through education. Either way, you need people on-site every day who care about adoption, and you need to give them the resources and job flexibility they need to succeed.
  3. Give the dogs names. At the shelter where Blue was found in Person County, N.C., the dogs don’t have names; they are given numbers and expiration dates. The adoption coordinator at Robeson County Shelter in Saint Pauls, N.C., told me that when she began working to turn their program around, the first thing she did was name the dogs, because a name shows that someone cares about them as individuals. It affects the entire staff’s attitude toward what happens there day in and day out. It is harder to kill a dog who has a name. It makes people want to do more to help the dogs.
  4. Tap into the nationwide rescue community via sites like Petfinder.com (full disclosure: Barron’s is donating a portion of the proceeds from Little Boy Blue to the Petfinder Foundation). Even if you’re in an economically depressed area and can’t find local adopters, you can find responsible rescue groups in other areas—even in other states—that are willing to transport and foster the dogs while marketing them for adoption. The pipeline exists. Use it.
  5. Take photos of the dogs outside of the shelter environment. With my own foster dogs, the photos I take of them just a few hours after they’ve had a chance to calm down and play in my back yard are far superior to those I get at the shelter. Anything you can do to help them relax will make them look happier and healthier in their adoption photos, and thus increase their chances of finding a home.

B: How does a dog benefit by being fostered?
KK: When I wrote Little Boy Blue, I’d had just two foster dogs, Izzy and Summer. I now have fosters number 16 and 17, Ginger and Sally, staying here at the house with Blue and me. So I’ve gained a good deal of experience in this area.
The shelter environment itself is stressful for dogs. On top of that, they’ve been abandoned by the only humans they’ve ever known, or perhaps they’ve been starved or intentionally harmed. Then they come to my home, and while they’re friendly and curious, they’re still stressed.

When they see how calm Blue is, they begin to understand that they are somewhere happy and good. In a very short time, each one turns into a completely different dog. Sometimes it takes a few days, or a week with the shy puppies or those who need medical care, but it happens every time. They know they will get their own bowl of food at mealtimes. They have a sunny, grassy back yard to run and play in. They have me hugging them and giving them toys. They have a big, clean crate where they feel safe and can take a nap in peace and quiet. They ride in the car, they go with us for walks at the park. They learn basic commands like “sit” and realize they can do things to earn treats.

That’s when their real personalities come out—the personalities that we can tell potential adopters about. We have a much better chance of matching people with the right dogs if the dogs come out of foster care, because we have a better sense of who the dogs actually are compared with what they were like in the shelter.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | August 20 2012 |

"Numbers and expiration dates." That is disgusting. Communicating just this bit of information to people about shelter dogs could be enough to change hearts and minds.

Submitted by Lyn deMarrin | September 16 2012 |

As a long time weekly volunteer at an animal shelter I support Kavin's recommentations. However, I must strongly assert that getting an animal adopted must not be an end that justifies any means. Prospective adopters must be interviewed (and perhaps other strategies employed as well) to determins, as much as humanly possible, if they will be good owners. After years of witnessing the results of heinous behavior of bad owners, I have come to believe that there are much worse things for animal than euthanasia. Let's follow Kavin's recommendations while remembering that adoptions should not be about adoption numbers or about reduction of kill numbers, but about successful pairing with a loving home.

Submitted by Kim Kavin | September 21 2012 |

Hi Lyn,

I couldn't agree more. That's why "Little Boy Blue" talks about the five-page adoption application and home visit that Lulu's Rescue required before I was allowed to adopt Blue.

Hopefully you will read the book and see how it supports the very thing you are suggesting.

Kim Kavin

Submitted by Mary DiBlasi | September 17 2012 |

I read and enjoyed the book for the most part. But early in the book there was a comment about the price of rescue dogs and rescues making money. I volunteer with a rescue and have contacts with several others. Believe me, no one in a genuine rescue makes money. The adoption fees charged barely cover the cost of the care put into each dog and if it more than covers the care of one dog, it goes toward the care of another whose medical care or training expenses were exorbitant. Some of the puppies come in with parvovirus which is very expensive to treat, some of the older ones come in with heartworm, which is also very expensive to treat. Even just the basic round of shots and testing for parasites, etc. is expensive "up north" and microchipping is routine and not inexpensive. Now that you are more familiar with rescue I hope you see that the fees are not out of line, but I wish you had not exclaimed over paying $450 for a "shelter dog" who has since brought you so much joy and affection. Would a $1,000 purebred have brought you more?

Submitted by Kim Kavin | September 21 2012 |

Hi Mary,

I'm glad you enjoyed "Little Boy Blue." I'm guessing you skipped the chapter later in the book where I do indeed delve into the costs that rescues pay, and make clear to the reader that most rescues actually lose money on most dogs.

Most people who adopt do in fact question why a "free dog from a shelter" costs $400 or so when it gets to a rescue. "Little Boy Blue" makes very clear that I was just like these people, and then I educated myself to find out it's because reputable rescues are providing medical care and more.

Kim Kavin

Submitted by Mary Shepherd-Ennis | January 17 2013 |

Little Boy Blue is wonderful. It is well written and moves along so well. Hated reading about the gas chambers but since I have done cat rescue for over 40 years along with some dogs and varied wildlife, I read that early.

I ask this of you. Please research Dr. Melanie Joy. Please read her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. Your rather casual comments about not being vegan loving and eating summer bbq's tells me that you are missing some very important emotional intelligence and emotional understanding of animals. In SKorea at a notorious market you can pick your live kitten, cat or dog and have it prepared any way you like...while it lives through being boiled fried or roasted....your choice. Pigs are known to be the 5th smartest animal, way above dogs. So how would you feel about someone taking Blue to cook alive? Those SK dogs are the same as Blue and when the cats and dogs are rescued they make the same wonderful pets as Blue.

It is actually more cruel to kill animals loving life, cared for and eating well than those who would love to die to end their suffering. Please read the above.

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