Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Art and Science of Home Visits

When I told my mom I was going on a home visit with Karina on Sunday, she recalled being on the receiving end of these rites of passage. A rescue came to "check us out" in process of adopting the family golden retriever, Abby. At the time, my mom thought the rescue’s procedures were a bit invasive.

This is my post to convince her (and others) otherwise.

Home visits usually happen after an application has been put in for a dog and we believe it could be a good match. The home visit is not a white-glove inspection. It’s not for the rescue’s volunteers to gossip about the size of your home or your interior decorating or how much money you make. After all, these things are of little value to us. In our own home, our couch has turned into a giant wee-wee pad, our comforter has been chewed to pieces, and our carpet has more vomit stains than I care to think about.

The point of a home visit is to make sure that the dog and the people will both be safe and comfortable in the living environment. We look to see that the dog interacts with all family members—human, canine, feline—in a positive way. We look to see that there are no utterly apparent dangers that could pose harm to the dog. For dogs with special requirements, such as a fenced-in yard, we make sure that their needs will be met.

On Sunday, I drove out to Pennsylvania to do a home visit with Karina and her old foster mom. The family was extremely nice; they were true "dog people." Karina, while a bit jumpy and curious, was a doll with all of the family members. When they let Karina out into the fenced-in back yard, I was so busy thinking about how much she would just love being able to run around for hours. Then her old foster mom, who has years of rescue experience, pointed to the vertical slits in the 4-foot fence. Because we know (and the family knew) that Karina has issues with other dogs, she suggested that the family ask their neighbors to let their dogs out so Karina could meet them through the fence.

Despite a mildly positive initial introduction, Karina went bonkers on one of the dogs. And the slits in the fence were so wide that the dogs could stick their muzzles through and potentially do damage to each other’s faces. And, being that it’s a 4-foot fence, we believe that Karina could also jump it in pursuit.

Before even meeting Karina at adoption day, we told the family she was dog selective. They said it would be fine because they are a one-dog family and don’t frequent the dog run. But at the home visit, the family saw the reality of her behaviors in their own background. With a teenager who would be letting Karina in and out most days, they didn’t feel comfortable putting their child, Karina, or the other dog in that situation. And I don’t blame them. The family decided not to adopt Karina.

And this is what the home visit is for. It’s the most accurate indicator of what life will be like if you adopt the dog.

It’s one thing to buy a cute puppy at the pet store; the employees could probably care less if your home has dangling electrical wires or if you're hoarding dozens of animals. All they likely care about is commission. But when you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into a dog, as Karina’s old foster mom has done with her, you need to find a really good match. So while it may be tempting to jump at “any” home, you have to face the reality that not every home will be perfect for every dog.  

I’m 110% confident that family will find the perfect dog to fit into their home. Karina was just not it. 


  1. Great post. I think it will help people understand why this is a necessary step in ensuring a dog is going to a suitable situation.

    And why it matters to the foster home that the dog get a permanent, suitable situation!

  2. It's a shame rescue centers here do not adopt such policies. It's sad to see how the amount of dogs that get returned because they're not compatible with the family. Then again, adopting isn't very popular here yet. Many still prefer to buy from pet stores, which is a shame. The lack of adopters makes the shelters desperate I guess, so anybody goes. It's a painful situation, but I guess they're working with what they have. Perhaps one day situations for rescue animals will get better.


  3. Thats a good explanation! I volunteer at a shelter and a lot of people are nervous when they hear a home visit is involved. They probably assume you'll be checking all over the house and trying to see if it is clean or if they seem to have nice things. But it is really all about making sure its a good place for the dog... and also kind of to make sure they were telling the truth, like if they say this will be their only dog and you go to their house and they have ten dogs in the yard!!!