Slumber Parties Lead to Successful Adoptions

By Judith Gardner, June 2015

Most of us remember slumber parties as a great time to have fun, stay up late, play and just be ourselves while hanging out with our friends. Well, it’s not so different for shelter dogs and cats looking for new homes and families.

At the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA in Phoenix, we put this idea into practice. In 2013, we began allowing our dogs (and cats) to go home for a few days with potential adopters.

Showing an adoptable dog in a shelter environment often doesn’t allow the dog’s true personality and individual characteristics to be seen; the abnormal and often chaotic setting in which they are meeting can put a damper on the encounter.

Most adopters expect a dog to happily run to them with tail wagging, and they are often disappointed if the dog shows no interest in them or, even worse, acts timid and afraid of them. Also, before taking on the commitment of a new pet, people are concerned that the new dog won’t get along with their other pet(s), or perhaps will be destructive and hard to handle, or that someone in the family might be allergic.

To address these concerns, over the past two years, AAWL & SPCA has sent more than 1,000 dogs and cats home for three days with potential adopters, along with food and other necessities. There is no pressure or commitment. The potential adopter only needs to fill out some simple paperwork and provide good care. During the “sleep over,” we call the potential adopter to see how things are going and to answer any questions that may arise. After three days, they can either return the pet or adopt him/her. The good news is that 73 percent of the time, the pet is adopted!

Saffire was one of our success stories. She was a terribly shy, black-and-white Lab mix. Adopted as a puppy, she was surrendered to AAWL months later, having had literally no socialization. She would hide in her kennel and shake when new people came to visit her. She spent days sleeping under staff members’ desks as they tried to help her overcome her fears and, eventually, she came out of her shell with those who spent time with her. Time and again, however, when adopters came to look at her, she would run around the play yard; her anxiety and shyness would scare away potential families.

Finally, a gentleman came and spent some time with her in the yard. Even though she exhibited her shy behavior, the adoption counselor told him about her playful puppy nature, her goofy personality and her belief that she was a 40-pound lap dog. We invited him to take her on a slumber party so he could see the “real” Saffire. He agreed, and the rest is history: the two of them fell madly in love, and Saffire is happily in her forever home.

One of our favorite cat stories concerns a little black cat named Sabriye, who went through several months of treatment after her diseased eyes were removed. She was a brave girl whose loss of eyesight didn’t slow her down. She was an explorer, and constantly pushed the limits by jumping and climbing. After a month in the shelter, Sabriye still hadn’t been adopted. Our staff decided that she might have a better chance if she went to our Adoption Center in our very busy Chandler Fashion Center mall location. She quickly won the heart of an older gentleman who worked in the mall. Each week, he visited her and gave the staff $20 to put toward her $75 adoption fee because he was afraid she wouldn’t be adopted. Sabriye caught the attention of a woman, who decided to take her home for a slumber party. Two days later, she returned to fill out the adoption papers. She was surprised to learn that Sabriye’s adoption fee had already been paid by her “secret admirer.” Now, Sabriye knows the entire layout of her new house, she has a favorite chair and toy, and is living life to its fullest.

Our feeling is that it’s better for an animal to have a trial run with interested and qualified adopters than to miss an opportunity to find a home. Even if the dog or cat isn’t adopted, we learn more about their behavior and personality, which helps us find an appropriate placement for that animal the next time. We consider it a win/win practice.

—Judith Gardner, President and CEO
Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA